17. I Can’t Give You What I Don’t Have

17. I Can’t Give You What I Don’t Have

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

I Can’t Give You What I Don’t Have

Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.

~Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

I watched two young boys sharing some candy. It didn’t take long for them to eat all of it, and the younger boy asked the older one for more candy. The older boy said, “I don’t have any more candy.” But the younger boy kept asking for more. Finally the older boy said, “I can’t give you what I don’t have.”

I didn’t know the boys and the scene probably took less than two minutes, but it changed my life.

I’d learned an important lesson. People can’t give what they don’t have. The older boy wasn’t being selfish or mean; he wasn’t hoarding candy to eat later. He simply didn’t have any more candy.

I’d had a very unhappy childhood. My mother hadn’t wanted a child and she was cold, indifferent and never displayed any signs of affection toward me.

I spent my childhood trying to be perfect so she’d love me. I was quiet, kept my room clean and was very little trouble. As a teenager I helped with the housework, got good grades in school and never talked back. She admired a necklace in a store one day and I skipped my school lunches for a month to save money to buy her the necklace. After she got it, she never wore it. I vowed someday I’d be rich enough to buy her gifts she’d like and then she’d like me.

As an adult, I lived in another state but sent her cards and gifts for every important occasion, and because she was on a limited income, I often sent money to her. I called her but she didn’t call me. I sent her cards and gifts but she didn’t send even a Christmas card.

I was sure eventually, if I was good enough, if I loved her enough, if I did enough, I’d win her over and she’d love me. It was like trying to thaw a glacier with a candle.

And then watching two small boys sharing candy taught me more than I’d ever learned from books, or therapy, or counseling. People can’t give what they don’t have.

No matter how old I got, when I was around her I felt five years old, begging her to hang my kindergarten drawing on the refrigerator door, wanting praise, wanting acceptance, wanting love. I could go to her every day for the rest of my life asking her to love me, but it would never happen. There was no love to give.

A cousin had been telling me for months that I needed to travel across four states to visit my mother in her nursing home before it was too late. She emphasized the words “too late.”

My mother had not asked me to come. In fact she hadn’t answered any of my letters for a year.

There was no reason to travel hundreds of miles to be disappointed. She wasn’t going to suddenly throw her arms around me and hug me and say she loved me and she was sorry for being cold and distant all these years. No. Nothing had changed, she had not changed.

But I had changed.

I’d blamed her for withholding love from me as both a child and an adult. I’d been hurt, angry, wounded, frustrated, and confused. Why couldn’t she love me? Why wouldn’t she love me?

The answer was simple. There was no love in her to give. She wasn’t withholding anything; it simply wasn’t there. She couldn’t give what she didn’t have.

And now I could let go. I could stop trying. I could stop crying. I could stop hoping things would change. I could let her go. I was no longer angry, I was just relieved. I could give up.

I wasn’t going to make the long trip in hopes of salvaging something that never existed.

I don’t have a puzzle to solve, I didn’t do anything wrong, I wasn’t a bad child. My mother was a woman who, for whatever reason, had no maternal feelings.

The long struggle was over. I could never win her over. I was never going to hear the words, “I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m glad you are my daughter.”

I’m letting you go, Mother. You don’t have to say anything.

I know you can’t give what you don’t have.

~April Knight

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