We all long for human love when we are suffering. It’s a natural desire of the heart, especially when so many other consolations recede into the background. I think of that beautiful scene at the end of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Return of the King, where Frodo and Sam, in the heart of the Dark Lord’s kingdom, are lying on the side of Mt. Doom, wasted in body and spirit, watching as that kingdom collapses around them because of the destruction of the ring. The journey was long, arduous, and beyond their strength. As lava is flowing around them and inching closer, Frodo believes this is their end. The book picks up:
” ‘Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee,’ said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away [the ring]. There was the dear master of the sweet days in the Shire.
” ‘Master!’ cried Sam, and fell upon his knees. In all that ruin of the world for the moment he
felt only joy, great joy. The burden was gone [the ring]. His master had been saved; he was himself again, he was free . . .
“[Frodo said] ‘The quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.’ ” (Italics mine)
That last line of Frodo always touched me: ” ‘I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things.’ ” It expresses, for me, that deep desire in man to not be alone in his suffering. What makes the trial bearable is that there is another there with us. These verses came back to me when I went through a surgery recently. The procedure went well and I had about a week and a half of recovery time– much of it lying down, sleeping, and praying in my bed. I had little contact with the Community. At different points the longing in my heart for human love and physical contact was quite intense. I felt a deep aching to be cared for, looked after with tenderness, and, more than anything else, to have another just be with me . . . to just sit there with me. I longed for the presence and love that only a brother can provide.
As I observed this desire within myself I felt a new understanding and compassion for the sick and suffering. So often I had noticed this desire for human love and physical touch in the sick I’ve been with who were often isolated– whether physically or emotionally– from those around them. I had seen the profound difference it made when I met that desire; a gentle caress on the shoulder, a moment of holding their hand, or a heartfelt embrace seemed to give them new life. I had seen it but I never understood their experience. I had labeled it “neediness” and viewed it as a sign of spiritual immaturity and weakness. I had the unspoken thought: “if they were holier people they would find all their comfort and strength in God alone and not need anyone else. They must not be very holy.”– this was a strong judgment on my part, and one that I regret. Thanks be to God the experience of my own longing for love began the process of conversion from a stance of immature and inflexible judgment to one of compassion and understanding.
It’s a consolation to see that Jesus is able to work with me despite my immaturity and judgmental attitude. Each day I pray, in the “prayer in union with Jesus”, “Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to empty myself and be filled with Your love, peace, patience, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and understanding . . . ” It seems He’s beginning to answer that prayer in unexpected ways.