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Keeping love at the center of our relationships
Gloria models what it means to love unconditionally
Wendy’s mom greeted Wendy and me from the kitchen. “Come on in!” she said with a big smile and a wave. She proceeded to stir something in a pot on the big stove and then check the oven for something else. “Everything’s almost ready.”
“Whatever it is, it smells good,” I said.
“Well, I didn’t know which would come out better, so I made two different recipes,” Gloria said, still busy lifting pans, stirring pots, loading plates, and taking pies out of the oven. Yes, pies—plural—there is rarely only one.
I’m certain Gloria went on to describe the ingredients of each dish she had planned for me and for everyone else and the steps she took to prepare them, but I honestly don’t remember what they were. I enjoy good food in the moment I’m eating it—and Gloria’s food is always good—but after my plate is empty, what I ate is pretty much lost to me.
What I do remember is that early on in my relationship with Wendy I decided to go vegan. That lasted a couple years and then I transitioned to vegetarian before eventually returning to being an omnivore. As a vegan who doesn’t like tofu or mushrooms, I wasn’t easy to cook for.
Even with those restrictions, Gloria cooked some amazing meals for me—butternut squash and black bean empanadas, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, and a host of other dishes she researched online or discovered in Veganonmicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, which we had loaned to her.
Wendy’s family—both her parents and her brother’s family, who often join us for meals—are omnivores all the way. That meant that every time we went to her parents’ house for dinner during my vegan/vegetarian years, Gloria cooked a special meal for me, and sometimes two, because she didn’t know which would come out better or which I might like better.
Gloria takes pleasure in satisfying the wishes of everyone she loves. When she bakes and frosts a cake, we laugh at its odd appearance because she leaves one portion with no frosting for Wendy, another with no coconut for me, and a third with all the fixings. When she makes her yummy potato salad, she makes two batches, one with onions and then another without because that’s the way her husband likes it.
Very few people I’ve known have the generosity of spirit that Gloria projects in everything she does.
When Wendy and I got together in 2009, Wendy told me how important her parents were in her life. “I try to spend time with them whenever I can,” she said. “We’re together most holidays, birthdays, and I go there other times just to see them.”
I gulped. With almost 15 years between Wendy and me, age might impact our relationship in ways I hadn’t anticipated. One day I found the courage to ask a question that had been gnawing at me. “So, um,” I paused to steel myself, “how old was your mother when you were born?” I tried to sound casual about the question—just making conversation—but my heart rate told me I wasn’t feeling the level of calm I tried to project.
“She was only 19,” Wendy replied with no indication she grasped the angst behind my question.
I gulped again. That meant less than five years separated her mother and me. What would that be like? I thought. Could her mother accept me? How would I deal with the discomfort I might feel about that? Was this a deal-breaker?
It didn’t take long though for me to discover my answer—our age difference didn’t matter to Gloria as long as her daughter was happy, and, in all the years we’ve been together, there’s never been a question about that. Gloria has accepted me into the family with graciousness and love.
For Gloria, love is who she is. Even when she disagrees with someone about their stances on political or social issues, she doesn’t hesitate to be there for them when they need her. Even in those awkward first dinners when we were getting to know each other, Gloria extended herself to me, made sure I had my favorite foods, and showered me with love.
I believe that if more of us kept love at the center of our relationships, no matter what disagreements we might have, no matter how distasteful we think another’s views are, or the years, miles, or dietary choices that separate us, we would be a better country and a better people.
Gloria models that for me and regularly reminds me what unconditional love really looks like.
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