Sometimes we learn best by seeing someone else—to watch someone practice love in the face of hostility can create a light in us as we observe it. Once, when I was in my twenties, I saw a young woman named Nelia arrested in an act of civil disobedience. She refused to walk, refused to give answers to questions on any forms, refused to cooperate with the police who were arresting her. But she radiated such kindness and love to each person who interacted with her. She smiled, and reached out her hand to shake theirs, and told them her name, and asked about theirs. She spoke of why nuclear submarines were not useful for human beings, and invited conversation.
I don’t think I had ever been able to imagine this combination of non-cooperation and love, until I saw her doing it. Yet once I saw it, it seemed so simple. She was practicing the power of love, and it discomfited and engaged all of us around her. Her tenderness was compelling. Her vulnerability was profound, because the other thing about Nelia was that she is blind.
Make no mistake—it wasn’t about being nice to everyone or pretending not to notice the painful realities that cause suffering in our world. Nelia was practicing her simple acts of tender engagement right on the front lines of the conflicts that seem so hard to confront. She showed me what courageous, creative people can do in the face of violence, what the power of love can do.
Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love, asserts that whenever we encounter another person, we always have the choice to see them through the lens of fear, or through the lens of love.1 Our lives are meant to be a school for learning to let go of our fear, and to choose more and more the power of love. This is not an easy thing to do. It may take a whole lifetime to let go of fear, to learn how to live in the power of love.
And perhaps there is not such a big difference between loving our enemy and loving our neighbor. Each demands the same respect for self, and respect for the other. Each requires seeing the utmost dignity in our selves and in the other.