Dirty Boots: “Where there is no love, put love”

Among the most popular posts on this blog, two that get read quite often are a pair from 2013 about reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. Not long ago, I re-read those posts myself and was reminded of a passage that I quoted there, one I hadn’t thought of in some time: “where there is no love, put love and you will find love.”

When I read or hear sayings like that, I wonder why doing something so simple can be so difficult. I think that it’s because other responses, rooted in self-preservation, come more naturally when we find ourselves in situations where there is no love: walking away, pretending not to notice, blaming someone, acting ugly back, complaining later. I used to work for an old veterinarian who would say, “Foster, it’s easy to be nice to nice people.” But it’s hard to be nice to unfriendly, unpleasant, or problematic people, and before we can interject something positive — call it love, if you want — into a negative situation, we often consider our own feelings, our own fears, our own well-being first. Then, if those personal concerns seem satisfactory, we may allow ourselves to be a small light in the otherwise-darkness.

Here at Christmas, we have reminders about the power of light in the otherwise-darkness, about how we should put love where there is no love. We top our Christmas trees with a star to remind us of the star that the wise men followed to find Jesus, and we sing about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer making Santa’s delivery possible during a dark, winter storm. In both cases, there was darkness to be traversed on the way something worthwhile, something greater than the self.

I know that this is a hard thing to do, because I struggle with it, too. I think we all do. It’s easier to go about our business, worry about ourselves, be nice to nice people, and avoid the not-nice people. It’s hard to abide by Dorothy Day’s simple advice . . . But Day was a true Christian, a woman who turned away from a selfish life to create and lead a movement for Christian charity. Day provided light with her life and with her writings. She put love where there was no love. Notwithstanding her deep personal sacrifices, which few of us are willing to make, that, at least, seems worthy of emulation.

I hope that everyone has a Merry Christmas.


“Dirty Boots: A Column of Critical Thinking, Border Crossing, and Noblesse Oblige,” a weekly column published every Tuesday afternoon, offers a Deep Southern, Generation X perspective on life in the 21st century. To find and read previous posts, click here for a full list.

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