If you stop taking acts of service motivated by love for granted and instead see them as the most significant, valuable things any person can do, everything starts looking very different.
I am not talking about the stuff we notice and celebrate — the usual heroic acts of self-sacrifice, or overcoming insurmountable challenges to achieve the impossible, or anything requiring moments summoning will or bravery to do some great deed that has a defined beginning, middle and end.
I am talking about unceasing, interminable day-in-day-out, night-in-night-out persevering labor of care. I am talking about commitment to the endless, strenuous, stressful, frustrating, unglamorous, often mind-numbingly repetitive work that sustains our lives, both now and across generations.
It is the easiest thing on earth to take these love-driven acts of service for granted as a given, part of the invisible background of life. If we don’t work to notice, we are likely to remain oblivious to it.
Because love-driven acts of service draw on the deepest internal resources, they require no external motivation. On the contrary, they keep going despite every discouragement and danger. For this reason, people moved by these inner-resources are easy to exploit, and we do often exploit them shamelessly.
What we notice most, it seems, are those actions that we cannot depend on, which require payment of external resources. If payment is not made, the actions do not happen.
But those external reward driven actions are not the most valuable acts. They are only the most conspicuous acts. Precisely because we must reward these externally-motivated actions , we notice, respect and esteem them. But the love driven acts keep happening whether or not we notice them or whether or not we adequately reward them.
People who do this kind of love-driven work are everywhere, holding things together. We can find many of them on the front lines of service. Nurses, teachers, social workers, cashiers, waiters, and, of course, mothers. They are frequently overworked, under-compensated and unnoticed, but they don’t stop.
It is terrifying to recognize how much we owe them for what they have done for us and how dependent we are on their service and their love.
Can we bear feeling as much gratitude as we owe?
Maybe our blindness isn’t as innocent as we would prefer.
What if the real job all the rest of us have — those of us situated far behind the front lines of service — is not to order our front-liners around, and not to exploit our front-liners and their unconditional willingness to serve, but rather to give them the support they need, even when — especially when — they don’t demand it, so they can better do this sacred work that makes our lives worth living without burning out or falling into despair.
Our strength depends on their strength.