Aside from playing catch and riding in the car, our dog Gracie enjoys taking walks more than anything. She loves the exercise, the sights, the smells. Especially the smells. But what she likes best of all is that we’re doing it together.
Again and again she smiles up at my wife Joy and me. If we absent-mindedly drop the leash, she’ll take a few steps before noticing. Then she’ll stop in her tracks, look over her shoulder, and give us an expression that says, “Really? Seriously?”
It’s as if she’s embodying my favorite Ram Dass phrase: “We’re all just walking each other home.”
We’re not just solo walkers who happen to be striding along the same road, oblivious to and unconcerned with who might happen to be in the lane next to us. On the contrary, as we travel a shared path we braid our lives into a common fabric. You become part of me. I become part of you.
Joy and I have been together for nearly forty years. Sometimes I look at her and my chest tightens with the realization of how intertwined our lives have become through the adventures we’ve shared, the people we’ve loved, the sorrows we’ve endured, the burdens we’ve carried, and the joys we’ve celebrated.
This is what it means to love. Love can be far more than a strong attraction or a deep affection. To love is to give ourselves so completely to each other as we wander this planet together that, over time, we are woven together. We are still ourselves, and yet we are intimately, undeniably connected.
I feel that tightness in my chest when I acknowledge that we are finite. We have each been allotted a limited time to walk this road. In all likelihood, Joy or I will continue walking after the other’s journey has come to an end.
So, finite beings that we are, because we have given ourselves over to love, we will probably know grief.
No wonder some people resist love’s self-surrender. It leaves such a painful mark. But that is ultimately a fool’s game. It is our very essence as human beings to give and to receive love. We cannot help but yearn to love and to be loved.
When we resist this yearning for very long, we will succeed only in distorting love into a desire to consume or to control. Our hearts will harden with loneliness, bitterness, and cynicism. We will not protect ourselves from love’s sorrows so much as replace those sorrows with self-inflicted spiritual and emotional wounds.
As for me, this finite love is made worthwhile because I believe that it participates in something more. Through the finite love we give and receive in our brief span on this earth, we participate in the infinite, eternal love that brings all things into existence. We participate in the very life of God.
Jesus once said, “I am the Way.” (John 14:6) His way of being—a way of self-giving love—connects us not only to one another but to the very source of all things. When we love, our lives become intertwined with God’s own life. In other words, we get a foretaste of eternal life in the Jesus-shaped love we share right here and right now.
In Luke’s Gospel, the crucified and risen Jesus appears to his friends. They don’t know what to make of it. Is he a ghost? Are they seeing things?
He tells them, “Look at my hands and my feet.” (Luke 24:39) In other words, he’s saying something like this:
Remember the love I modeled all the way to the cross. It can be costly and painful. But that love connects you to God and is the pattern of a new kind of life. A life over which death no longer has any power.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown older, but I’m especially aware these days that Joy and I are walking each other home. And I’m convinced that we are all of us—no exceptions— just walking each other home.
Love is a long, uneven walk. The thought of it sort of breaks my heart. And it gives me a glimpse of life eternal.