“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” ~Sam Keen
I heard this story the other day about the collection of homes called Favelas surrounding Rio De Janeiro.
If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a large collection of small run-down homes built on the side of the hills surrounding the city. They scatter and protrude across the landscape like paper litter in the tall grass along the highway.
The conditions can be poor, and unsanitary, often with raw sewage running down the side of the hill where the houses are built. Many people live right across from houses that sell drugs or prostitution. Even reaching the houses is difficult, with the only options being a treacherous road or walking up as many as 800 stone steps.
When a man who was giving a tour of the area was asked if most people living there are poor and have no choice but to live there, the reply came back “No.”
Many people work, make a descent living, and choose to live here. In fact, he explained, he himself lives there. That begged the question: why not move out if you can?
The man answered, “Because my life is here, my friends, my family. I love it here.”
I thought to myself, how could anyone love it there? How could anyone love those houses, love that neighborhood, those living conditions?
But then I thought, what does it mean to love something? What does it mean to be loved by someone?
You see, growing up, and most of my life up to this point, I don’t think I’ve understood this. Love is, for most of us, what the world says it should be because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. That’s what we’ve been taught.
Love is a frantic kiss and a firm embrace at the end of a Hollywood movie.
Love is what you should feel when you see a beautiful model wearing exquisite clothing rocketing away on her motorcycle in a crisply baked marketing ad.
Love is what you want to feel, what you want to have, how you want to look, and how others should look. If I had that, if I looked that way, if I had that girl for a girlfriend, I would love it—because I would be loved.
I think that’s what I always thought. I had this idea in my mind of what was needed to be loved—a list of requirements defined by what I was taught and what I thought love was.
I also had a pre-defined idea of what love would be like when it finally came knocking on my door. There would never be any run-down shacks with raw sewage in my life. That’s not what made sense. Love would never be something with as many flaws and imperfections as that.
After that thought, there was another, this one deep inside my consciousness, just barely a whisper: Hey wait, what about me? I’m not perfect. I don’t even drive a motorcycle. How will I be loved?
That thought strangely reminded me of a pair of shoes I once had. These shoes weren’t anything super special.
They were comfortable; they kept me warm and looked pretty good doing it. The older they got, the worse they looked. There were scuff marks in the leather, and the soles were worn out, but the shoes actually got more and more comfortable as the years went by.
I knew everything about these shoes: how they would react if I stepped in a puddle, how much snow I could walk in, if they would slip on ice.
Other people would comment on how bad they were starting to look, but they still looked pretty good to me. Sure I bought other shoes, ones that had a new style and performed better, but I still preferred that old pair of shoes.
The older they got, the more I admired them. They had a strength about them. Not perfect at all, but way more than good enough, and next to impossible to part with.
So is love or finding love about smoothing out all the rough edges in your life and relationships, about looking your best, about acting perfectly and living a life of adventure?
Or is it instead about gathering all that life is, all the gifts it has to offer, along with all its imperfections in a blind tight embrace of understanding?
That’s a freeing thought—one that says it’s okay for us to love ourselves just as we are, even if the world doesn’t see it that way. Just like those houses in Brazil.
Photo by Carmela Nava