- by Ronnie Herrema
The List. A Parable of Love
Lately I’ve been using the phrase, “It’s been said.” I have no idea if ‘it’ has actually been said, but it makes me sound (and what I’m about to write), more romantic. And romance always feels true, even if it’s not. When I say, “It’s been said...” it is really just me who said it, and for whatever reason, I’ve decided to deliver it that way. Sometimes I’m stuck between fiction and non fiction, so I just choose both.
So, that being said, please let me tell you a little story about love.
It’s been said...
...that when we die, we are handed a pencil and paper and are asked to write down the names of everyone that we think truly loved us. We must be careful and thoughtful and only put down the names we believe to be true. When we’re done, we are to turn the paper in. This is a very important task, we’re told, because what is written on that paper is the measurement of our life.
Were we able to be loved? By who? By how many?
The young boy thought about the list. Sitting there chewing his pencil-end, tapping his foot, he re-traced memories and faces and events and asked himself, “Who truly loved me?” He thought of every example from the few people at his birth, to the many that attended his funeral. He became nervous though. He thought for a moment that maybe this one person did, but then things changed and maybe they didn’t. He saw fragments and glimpses of love, sure, but did anyone give him – true love? He didn’t know.
How can one answer that question?
Somehow or another, the boy seemed to find the answer to this question. He stopped chewing the pencil, got over his fear, and began writing down names. Once finished, he turned the paper in. The examiner took the paper and as he started to look it over, something made his eyes open wide. He pulled out a pair of glasses and scanned over the paper more intently, to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. He would read a few names then look up at the boy, studying him, then a few more names then back up again. After a short pause he opened his mouth to speak but the boy interrupted him, “There’s more on the back.” And indeed there was. The examiner flipped the page over to see name after name filling up the entire side, just like the front.
As surprised as the examiner seemed, a small sparkle appeared in his eyes. Choosing his words carefully he said kindly, “Young man. I’m not sure you understood the assignment. There’s far more names here than anyone ever puts down. Most people can only think of a handful of people they believed truly loved them in their lifetime. But you…you’ve written so many. Umm…how do I say this? Do you really believe all these people truly loved you?”
“No sir. I don’t.”
“Then why did you write their names down? Did you misunderstand the assignment?”
“No sir. I understood it quite clear.”
“Then why follow through with it the way that you did?”
“I tried to, but I couldn’t.”
“Because you told me to be honest. You told me write down someone who truly loved me. As I thought through my life, searching for the people who I knew truly loved me, I realized something.”
“And what is that?”
“I realized that there’s no way to know for sure. I can see how my mother fed me, my father provided, my older sister stood up for me, my friend forgave me, my teacher instructed me, but still, amidst those wonderful moments, I have no idea what was really in their hearts. I can’t tell you honestly that it was true love. I know it was indeed good and lovely and it meant much to me. But I don’t know if it was true love, only they did.”
“So why write all these names.” The examiner asked puzzled.
“Because, I realized that I can’t answer for someone else. I can’t measure my life by who I think loves me or doesn’t. I can only measure it by who I know I love. By the love in my heart. Because that, I do know for sure. That I can answer you honestly. So instead of giving you a list of the ones who loved me, I’m giving you a list of the ones I know I loved.”
“But, many people on this list didn’t love you. And you still wrote them down. Why?”
“I did think twice about it. But I again reminded myself, that life isn’t only measured by love returned, but love given. Even when love is not returned, there is still reward. The reward your own heart gives itself. There is a store-house, a treasure inside, and the door to it, often only unlocked with the key of ‘love unreturned.’ For “It’s better to give than receive.” This is the law of love, and today, I know it is true. I loved the people on that list. And that is how I measured my life.”
At this point the examiner smiled. For the boy had passed the test.
He took of his glasses and said, “Well done young man.”
“You mean I’m not in trouble?”
“Trouble?! Of course not! The only ones in trouble are the ones who followed the first assignment.”
“Why are they in trouble?”
“Trouble, because you are right. No one can answer that question. No one can know who truly loves them. No one can write those names down. No one can measure their life that way. Those who try to, struggle and waste their life force on complements, reputation and acceptance – an imagined fantasy – loves pretend twin. Those who measure their life by love received, may perhaps pen a few names. But those who measure it by love given, shall never stop writing.”
The man placed his hand on the paper and instantly it multiplied into many letters, lifting his hand off the table.
“What’s happening?” Asked the boy.
"I’m creating copies. One day, the people on this list will arrive here. And when they do, we like to welcome them with true love. Sometimes when you enter a new place, it’s good to know you’re welcomed and that someone who loves you is waiting.”
He then reached behind his desk and handed the boy a letter. On it was written the names of those who had completed the assignment before him; the letters of those who put his name on their list. Whether they failed and only wrote who they thought loved them, or they succeeded and wrote who they truly loved, this letter held all the names of those who loved and were loved by this young man. He took it and looked it over. Joy filled his heart as he saw the names, and a surprised gratefulness when he saw the names of people not on his own list.
He walked away smiling. How precious a thing to be loved. His heart was full, though, not from the letter he just received, but from the one he wrote. P.S. Feel free to share this article if you want to let someone know, “You’re on my list.”
Ronnie is an artist who's ideas have launched businesses, apps, music albums, and as of late, cartoons. Visit his website here. He thinks outside the box but don't tell him that, he doesn't believe in boxes, unless you're in a movie cinema. Ronnie lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A with his wife Anna and their three boys Jack, Griffin and Maverick.
See all previous articles by Ronnie Herrema