Is there such a thing as too much love?
I’ll be honest – I used to think so. Looking back now, I think this is because I didn’t think much of my capacity to love.
I thought I couldn’t love well if I had lots of beings I needed to love.
This is kind of harder to explain than I thought it would be. But basically I have never had many close people or pets in my life at one time. I’ve always been the type of person who has had one or a few close friends and one pet at a time.
Mostly, my dating relationships have been short-term, except for this last one, which is a topic for a whole separate blog post (or book or encyclopedia series).
I come from a small family – two parents, one brother, one dog. Our relatives never lived close by. We saw the grandparents once a year or so. Everyone was all spread out all over the country with paths that rarely intersected.
So “more” has always been a rather big concern of mine. I didn’t want to get overloaded in case I couldn’t handle it.
Perhaps this speaks well of my desire to live well, do well, love well, or maybe it mostly points the finger at the perfectionistic streak that has long attempted to convince me that anything I can’t do perfectly isn’t worth doing. I don’t really know. Maybe it is a bit of both.
The reason I am even attempting to articulate this whole issue is because of my three pets. Pearl, Malti and Bruce were each surprises in my life, each in their own way.
Pearl came to me at a time in my life when I absolutely, positively and completely didn’t want to have another pet parrot….ever. I had just lost my precious three-year-old cockatiel, Jacob, from congenital kidney failure, a long and painful process ending in me howling with grief while burying his tiny bird body behind the fence at my parents’ home.
My parents decided I needed another bird and went scouting at local pet stores to find a cockatiel. They called me up one day and insisted I swing by the local Petsmart on my lunch hour. I really didn’t want to….but I went….and the rest is history. Pearl and I locked eyes – me a desperate, still grief-crazed ex-cockatiel mommy and him a downy grey ball of henpecked fluff covered in baby bird formula desperately in need of rescuing.
We rescued each other. My heart expanded in a way I thought it never could after Jacob’s passing.
Fast forward a few years and I’m in the middle of a very painful separation.
I’m supposed to be on Craig’s List looking for apartments to rent, but instead I spontaneously navigate to “reptiles.” I type in “tortoises.” Malti’s very cute baby picture pops up alongside a caption reading “baby redfoot tortoises ready for rehoming.” I am instantly smitten and before I know what I’ve done I’ve written to the breeder to ask if he has any babies left.
Two days later I am hurtling down the highway with a tiny tupperware container filled with moss and shredded carrots strapped into the passenger seat. Inside is Malti, the tiniest, most feral, frightened, wild creature I have ever beheld. We spend the first year together in mutual confusion, she hiding at every opportunity beneath loads of fresh wet sphagnum moss and me thinking this was the biggest mistake of my life because clearly she hates me more than any other creature alive.
Then one day we are out together on the lawn for her playtime. One minute she is there. The next minute she is gone. She stays gone for six days, and during that time I notice – for the very first time – the tortoise-sized gaping hole in my heart that WILL NOT FILL until she comes back home to me.
My heart expanded again.
The morning of the sixth search day, I get a call from a young couple who swear they have found Malti. They tell me they are driving her over to my house now. I rush outside as my eyes are frantically searching for her small tortoise body in their cupped hands. Instead, I see a small brown round form who is clearly not Malti yet looks strangely familiar. With a start, I realize it is the same box turtle I was called about three days prior – this time he was found stepping out onto a busy road where he would have met with instant death.
This young couple rescued him and, assuming he was the missing tort, brought him straight to me. When they realize he isn’t “the one,” they ask me what to do. I say that I will foster him until a suitable situation can be found for him. In relief, the young couples’ faces break out into smiles. The wife exclaims, “So, a happy ending after all!”
But I’m not at all happy….until later that same afternoon, when instinct takes me out on one last search and I discover my little girl hiding under a clump of pansies just a couple blocks away. The tortoise-sized hole in my heart fills up. And then I remember the new brown body who has now entered our lives and is even now making a home for himself in my office.
I head back home with Malti in tow, and securing her in her habitat for a much-needed nap, I venture into the office to have a look at the Bruce, a three-toed Texas native box turtle. I have no idea at the time what species he is, whether he is female or male, how old he is, whether he is healthy or not, what he needs, what he eats, or what to do with him.
Unlike me, Bruce doesn’t seem worried. He stares at me, making direct and unblinking eye contact with his brilliant whirling red eyes. He seems to be trying to tell me something. He takes over the office, living there for the first week with utter confidence even while refusing to eat anything I offer him. At the end of that week (and with lots of help and support from a wonderful animal communicator), Bruce joins our little flock.
My shaky heart expands again, busting out with stretch marks from anxiety and sheer love.
Looking back now, I can see how afraid I was to add “one more.” I thought I just couldn’t love more than one being at a time well. I thought I wouldn’t have enough love to go around. I thought I would play favorites, harming one without even meaning or wanting to because I just wouldn’t have enough love to give each being as much as they wanted, needed and deserved.
I was wrong. (And I’ve never been more glad to say any phrase for any reason, ever, in my whole life.)
Pearl, Malti & Bruce have taught me that I have enough love. They have also taught me that they each need love and give love in different ways. They need different types of love from me. Pearl needs hands-on love – lots of neck feather scratches, belly kisses, cuddling and affection. This is his love language.
Bruce, on the other hand, needs to be left unhandled if at all possible. He needs food, shelter, water, protection – eye contact is his love language (and occasionally he will also stand on my foot, which I looooove).
Malti is somewhere in between. She needs shell scratches and interaction and lots of treats. Malti loves to eat. She LOVES to eat. She has been on more diets than most humans I know. Her love language is to let me pat the soft flexible skin on her head and neck in exchange for crispy freeze-dried mealworm treats.
Not only have I realized I truly do have enough love for all three of these precious ones, but since they are each utterly unique individuals who give and receive love in such different ways, I never have to worry about “running out” of a specific type of love or burning out of giving a particular type of care.
My heart, tired and worn and weary as it may feel some days, still has plenty of love at the end of the day, every day.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever looked back on some choice or decision or time in your life and thought “what WAS I thinking?!” Has there ever been a time when you have made a commitment spontaneously to some person or animal or something else and later wanted to back out because you thought you just didn’t have enough of what you needed to follow through? What did you decide to do? What did you learn from those experiences?