When I was in Secondary 2, I bought a baby rabbit in Shanghai because I believed that I loved it so much. My mentality then was that, because I loved it, I have to buy it, so that I can love it more.
|My pet rabbit, Tutu.|
I was wrong.
It took me three years to realize that my “love” for the bunny then was immature. I bought it because it was adorable, and I loved petting it, complacently thinking that loving an animal was so easy – it was all about petting and stroking it.
I was wrong.
It took me three years to realize that my supposed “love” for my rabbit was not real love at all. In fact I now wonder if the love was for Tutu, or for myself. It was a selfish form of love: I buy a rabbit and I put it inside the confines of a larger cage with occasional free times, just so that I could feel happy watching it nibble on carrot strips and do cute things like washing its face. All the while, I had declared to anyone who would listen to me, “I loved my rabbit Tutu.” when in fact, I am really, selfishly loving myself.
Why? Because loving something isn’t about making yourself happy and arrogantly believing that just because you are happy, the object of your affection is, therefore, also happy. It is about being more selfless (I say “more”, because I suppose that absolutely selfless love is a rare commodity), and putting the welfare, the needs and the sentiments of the item of your adoration before your own.
On a whole uglier picture, consider this:
A man claims that he loves you. Because he loves you so immensely, he must have you for himself. He keeps you locked in a house, brings you food and takes you on occasional outings to have fun. He also makes love to you, why? Because he declares that “he loves you”.
Is that loving you? Or himself?
We can see so much more clearly here that the man is most likely to be loving himself, and it is doubtless that that is a very very twisted, psychopathic form of love.
Was my supposed “love” for my rabbit any better? It wasn’t.
What have I done for my rabbit that had made its life better? Nothing lasting. Petting, I learnt, is a very very shallow form of love, also the easiest type of love that often stems from self-satisfying needs.
My form of love is insufficient because I couldn’t, and I didn’t do anything for it. If it had been bought by another owner who had given it a much better hutch filled with soft hay, a decent water bottle, a shelter from the cold, and plenty of variations in food, that would have been love for the rabbit. Instead of me, who kept it in a bare cage, left to my grandfather’s care and very often exposed to the cold, no lining, no nothing.
I did it so so much wrong.
If loving is about grand words and speeches, then my feelings would have been considered love. I spoke often about getting my rabbit a new hutch, hay, organic carrots and grains, but none of these materialized. My whole family must have been taken in by this grand appearance of love, because they said that I was crazy concern over the rabbit, a title that is far too noble for my selfish self.
I learnt from then that genuine love is about a consistent show of concern, not a pontification of ideals, much less empty words and no action. My grandfather must have loved it more than I did, because when I returned home, he was the one who took care of the bunny tirelessly, cleaning its cage and clearing out its poop, remembering to provide for it daily. What are my empty words of passing concern (“Is Tutu doing well?”) compared to this loyal display of concern and care? Delving deeper, my grandfather took such care of it because he knew it was precious to me, and he loved it like he loved me.
Never once did I hear my grandfather speak of the rabbit fondly, much less claim that he loves it. He complained about having to clean up after it so frequently, and always having to wake up early to buy it fresh vegetables, grumbling that it is such a hassle to a busy doctor like himself. While I indulged myself in whimsical, dramatic visions of a tear-inducing reunion with the rabbit, daydreaming about how it would bound up to me, its whiskers twitching in delight, my grandfather loved the rabbit silently and tirelessly.
I was so so foolish.
I didn’t even notice when Tutu started to be less active and more sedentary, or when his bright red eyes lost their shine and started to look dull. I, with my superficial and selfish love, just continued to smile at the rabbit foolishly and sighing over how adorable it was to by lying on its side, when really, it must have been so weak that it couldn’t move. I didn’t notice it when it died.
My grandfather did.
He never shed a tear, merely wrapping it up in a black bag and tossing it to the bin. In a stark, almost ridiculously-comedic contrast, I played the part of a bereaved owner, crying and blubbering and once again, wailing that we needed a funeral for the rabbit. I wonder now, whether I was crying for the rabbit or for myself, and I now realize that my tears were as useless as my love – they were for myself.
I also only learnt, too late, that funerals are meant for the living and not the dead. There is little point in eulogizing the dead that we didn’t appreciate it while it was living. I must have wanted to console myself for being a terrible owner that much.
A Korean drama taught me that,
The opposite of love is not hate, but that “I am sorry, I can’t do anything for you.”
I didn’t love my rabbit because I did nothing for it and everything for myself. It was myself whom I loved from the start, and I was too much of an ignoramus to understand it.
It has to take me so long to realize that loving a person, or a thing, isn’t really about telling the person, “I love you.” but allowing the person to feel that you do. I understand now why my mother has never told me she loved me, but I am so absolutely sure about her maternal love. She, unlike me, has proven everything through everything she does. For one thing, she always keeps me on her mind, effortlessly, because I am that important to her.
She told me that love doesn’t need words. She is right.
She also told me that loving a person means to put the person at topmost priority, to be always worried or anxious about the person, and about doing everything just to make a person happy. It is never really so much about making yourself happy, because that would be loving yourself.
She is right.
She said that love isn’t about expecting what you can receive from the person, but about what you can give to the person.
She is right. Again.
My rabbit taught me to not mistake the love for myself to be a form of grand love for others, and that words really don’t count that much. It taught me that loving someone is to be there when the person most needs you, and to give without anticipating returns.
It taught me how very very wrong I was to believe that “loving something” was enough.
It was more about commitment, patience, endurance, care and concern that never wavered. My rabbit, and my family, taught me how to love truly, through their actions, not words.
Three years later, I am still learning to love genuinely and selflessly and at times, I still fail to do so. At the very least, I have learnt not to call feelings of affection “love” or to love something selfishly.
I am learning to devote and to commit to my family more than what I have done before, because love is also at the very basic, a form of responsibility. I think I will learn to do that eventually, because the last lesson I learnt about love, is that it can never be learnt fully.