*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand, used with permission.
The scent of fresh-baked bread seduced my masked nose upon entry. The place was packed, filled with people with growling stomachs and salivating mouths. And the aisles were lined with all kinds of right-out-of-the-oven deliciousness.
But while we were there for the treats, our priority was lunch. We’d been on the road for nearly 4 hours, heading to Mammoth Lakes, and I was famished. The sandwich line was long, but it moved pretty quickly. So within 15 minutes, we were seated at an umbrella-topped table not far from the establishment’s entrance.
Midway through our lunch, a seasoned couple sat down at the table in front of us. The man was wearing sunshades and a warm smile, and his wife was wearing a very comfortable scowl.
“Stay right here, and don’t you move,” she barked as he nodded in response. “I mean it, don’t move,” she reiterated while rising to re-enter the shop. But before walking away, she paused momentarily to kiss him on the forehead.
From my vantage point, I could tell that he was mildly impaired, and he was trying his darnedest to comply. But the sun’s rays were getting the best of him.
He moved to the chair on his left, which put the sun at his back. But within 5 minutes, the sun had the upper hand again. And so he walked over to stand beneath the building’s awning.
“He’s going to get in trouble,” I said to my partner. “Mmmhmm,” he replied.
The heat of the sun was making the man very uncomfortable. And he was doing the thing that we all do — trying to get his needs met.
My partner and I finished our meal right around when the wife exited the bakery.
She stormed toward the table with tightly-knitted eyebrows and pursed lips, dead set on getting after her husband for disobeying her explicit order.
But before she could light into him, I said, “we’re moving so that you can get out of the sun.” At first, she appeared to be perplexed, so I repeated it. “You can have this table so that you can get out of the sun.”
Her face softened, just for a moment, as she replied, “God bless you.” But the grimace was swiftly restored when her husband asked, “What did she say?” I responded before she could bark, “We are offering you this table so that you can enjoy your lunch in the shade.”
A grin immediately spread across his kind face, “that is so nice of you,” he said. We exchanged smiles as my partner, and I walked away.
Now I won’t claim to know what her life is like caring for someone with an impairment, and I can imagine it comes with a fair share of frustration.
But I do know how confusing it can be for a child, or in this case, an adult with compromised cognition when love is gift-wrapped in anger.
In the absence of context, love paired with annoyance sends a particular message.
Perhaps you received a similar message as a child, and maybe you interpreted it to mean that love hurts. Consequently, you may find that you use a similar delivery method to express your love for others.
But clipped words topped with a sprinkle of constipated love does not feel loving.
How you communicate and express love matters. And the more familiar you are with the other person(s), the easier it is to blend wrath and tenderness. But believe me, when I say, who you love doesn’t matter nearly as much as who feels loved by you.
So I invite you to be mindful of the way you love. Bring your awareness to the words and phrases you choose. Pay attention to your tone and diction. Notice whether your delivery and your intention are aligned.
Should you discover that your love feels less than loving — first, be kind to yourself, and then be kind to the one you love.
Originally published at https://medium.com