I like to think I don't have any enemies.
No one I secretly wish I could hire a hit-man to knock-off in the middle of the night, anyway. But I did have someone several years ago whose face I used to envision...with my fist smashing into it. (Go figure. I'm so non-violent. Oh, yeah don't read that post about me and my sister.) Seriously, though, I can't put a single name on my bona fide "enemy list". Osama Bin Laden? Gotta admit I don't pray for the guy. But he doesn't seem like much of an immediate threat, either. Too far away.
But what about those people we cautiously avoid? What about those to whom we are merely courteous, masking an internal grimace? What about the folks that cause us to de-tox after spending any quantity of time together? Do we still have to love THEM?
This is one of those commandments we think is reserved for the almost-perfect.
We tend to put it on our list right after doing some serious family history research.
But my mom was different.
When I was growing up, there was a kid in our neighborhood named Ricky Riggs. He was the quintessential bully. He had a buzz haircut and one of those kid-villain faces that just looks mean. All the time. This was the guy who would throw numerous burrs in the girls' hair on the way home from school, often causing us to cry and scream and get clumsy new haircuts because we couldn't get them out. He would pick on kids younger and smaller than he was and beat them to a pulp. He pretty much terrorized the neighborhood. Even at church. I don't know anyone who liked him, although he was probably friends with some of the bigger boys. The rest of us avoided him at all costs.
Then one day Ricky came tearing down the hill on Claremont Drive on a Big Wheel (he probably stole it from one of the little kids up the street), flying like a bat out of hell. All of the sudden he wiped out on the corner and cut open his leg on a sprinkler. We were playing out in the front yard and saw this happen. There was a lot of blood. The next thing I knew my mom was dashing across the street with a handful of cloth diapers. I had a hard time wrapping my seven-year-old mind around all this. "What are you doing?" I asked in disbelief. She explained that the diapers, just returned from the diaper service, were the most sterile objects in our house. "But do you know who that IS?" And she proceeded to take care of Ricky Riggs. She bound up his wounds, bandaging his leg, his heart, and his wounded pride. That stands out as one of the most poignant images of my mother in my early childhood. She was at once Florence Nightingale and the Good Samaritan. To the neighborhood bully. The enemy. She taught me by example to love even the likes of Ricky Riggs. And truth be told, I never felt the same way about Ricky after that. I can't say I sought out his company, but I didn't hate him or consider him my enemy. Not after I saw my mother minister to him.
My mother likely learned to love from her maternal grandmother, Marmee. (Marmee was widowed at a very young age, with four young daughters, much like the Marmee in Little Women.) My mom told us countless stories of Marmee living with them as she was growing up, caring for the children while their parents served on bank boards and church boards. The most memorable Marmee phrase that came to me via my mother, and has stayed with me since, is this: The people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need love the most. Talk about a paradigm shift. That single sentence has been powerfully pivotal for me in learning to see hard-to-love people in new ways. Lovable ways.
And sometimes I succeed.
I hope people who put me on their own enemy lists will grant me the same benefit of the doubt. Recognize my distance and reserve for the masked shyness it is, overlook my irritating quirks as insecurities and love me all the more because of them. (It's a strangely humbling thought.)
And I'll try to do the same.