“To be rich in admiration and free from envy, to rejoice greatly in the good of others, to love with such generosity of heart that your love is still a dear possession in absence or unkindness — these are the gifts which money cannot buy.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
I’m a quote-a-holic. I admit it. Sometimes someone else’s words just capture my thoughts and express what I want to say so eloquently, so perfectly, that I just let that quote speak for me. Susan, one of my fellow coaches, reads and uses quotes with the same kind of zeal, and we share them back and forth when we find ones that really resonate. This is one.
Not only is this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson a deep one, but it makes the brain engage. I love those kinds of quotes. For me, the part of the quote that sticks its leg out so I’ll trip over it is this: “…to love with such generosity of heart that your love is still a dear possession in absence or unkindness…”
Seriously. It stopped me. I read it again. And yet again. I rolled it around and around in my brain. I spoke it slowly, bit by bit. Like a literary critic, I wanted to know exactly what he meant, to dissect it, to understand his purpose. And for what reason? Because at first glance I didn’t interpret it in quite the same way as most people, that’s why. I didn’t want to look stupid.
Thankfully, I overcame that gremlin with a quick (but loving) shove out the door. I then penned a missive to some friends soliciting their thoughts. And I gave my unencumbered brain full rein to consider Stevenson’s meaning. Amazing what a little clear thinking and perspective work will do.
I believe Stevenson has penned something, whether purposefully or by accident, that opens itself up to whatever interpretation we may need to hear in any given moment. Yeah, that’s right. It’s variable.
At its very heart, this quote speaks of unconditional love. You know, the kind of love a dog shows to us even when we’ve been off on vacation forever or the words “No! No! Bad Dog!” roll off our tongues constantly.
On one hand, I think, Stevenson is trying to say that whether I go missing in a friendship or I’m mean — or whether it’s you who unfriends me or gets angry — the best gift either of us can receive or give to the other is a love that doesn’t waver — to be loved so well that the love remains, regardless. What a gift, whether you appreciate it or spit on it.
I get that; I really do. But my brain keeps tugging me back, because there’s some other concept running loose. Like I said, it’s a deep thought with layers of meanings. And then it hits me. The gifts Stevenson refers to — these are traits we possess, not gifts we’re given by others. Having a generous heart, offering unconditional love — the gift is in the fact that we possess these traits, if that is, in truth, the case . Not all of us are so lucky. That is what is more precious than gold. Not that we receive them at all, but that they are a part of us and we hold them sacred, even in the face of unkind words and turned backs. There’s a difference, subtle or not, in that interpretation.
The literary critic in me is satisfied, now, just as the coach in me has found another truth that resonates. And there you have it: What I love most about these kinds of quotes. We pull out of them what we need most in any given moment: whether it’s the assurance that we are loved despite our actions (or that we continue to love others despite theirs) or whether it’s the deeper understanding that the ability to love generously is the greatest gift we can possess.
Either way you choose to interpret it, I hope you always treasure it.