The Harlow monkey experiment is about monkeys who are not taken care of by their mother. The monkeys who had the wire mesh mother and no love grow up to be very strange. They do not know how to love; they do not know how to care about the other monkeys, some of them cannot even mate. My students read this and they wonder. Some of them have no loving parents. Does that mean that they will grow up and be unable to love? They wonder.
Because many of us grow up without love and we want to love anyway. Everywhere I see parents who stay with their children, who stay with their spouses and family. People who love wildly and dream big.
But I also see hollow people. Something is missing from many of us in America. You see people who don’t understand that the greatest of these is kindness. Just being kind seems to be missing from the DNA of way too many people.
Hollow people can leave their children. Can fail to take care of their wife and children. Can push past you on the street. Can cut off old ladies in traffic. Can come up to pregnant women and say, I hope it’s a girl, they’re so much easier. Can say to a pregnant woman, I hope it’s a boy, a man needs a son. Can say to a pregnant woman, I hope it isn’t autistic; autism is such a curse.
Can say to a parent of an autistic child, How can you bear it? Can say to a parent of a disabled child, Are you in mourning? Do you feel that God has abandoned you? Can say to the parents of a gay kid, Is there any chance that your kid will get better? Can say to the parents of a lesbian, Is your daughter the boy or the girl; I’ve heard the boy lesbian likes breasts and the girl lesbian does not. Can say to the mother of a child who is “different,” Maybe he’ll outgrow that.
Can say to a person who is underemployed, Just work harder, do what I do. Can say to a person who is poor, Why do you choose to be poor? Can say to a person who hasn’t found love, If you looked harder, love would find you. If you tried harder, love would come to you. If you were a different person, you would be loved. If you were normal or could pretend to be normal, you would be loved.
If you were thinner, you would be loveable. If you didn’t have that crazy kid/kids, you would be loved. If you didn’t have that shitty job or live in that shitty trailer park, you would be loved. If you walked in the world like a Ralph Lauren model, you would be loved. If you cleaned up your act, you would be loved. If you were somebody else entirely, you could be so happy and loved. Everything would be so perfect, but you’re not.
And what I say to the hollow people? I am. Indeed, I am. I inhabit the I am.