By Jill Parshley-Cardillo
Whether you are religious or not, you may have heard this poetic verse written in a letter by Paul in the Bible, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Growing up in Astoria, NY- there was a mosaic of cultures, as Queens is one of the most diverse communities in the world. Predominantly, however, on the surrounding blocks where we lived, was Greek families, culture, schools, festivals, restaurants and churches. One of my Greek best friends at the time would call me “agape-mou”. It was sort of like she was calling me, “my-love”. I found this to be an honorable title for me to hold, and I truly appreciated and welcomed that coming from a dear, platonic, supportive friend’s term of endearment. It came at the perfect time, since I was feeling scared and insecure, braving puberty, art and dance club, volleyball tournaments, competitive cliques, gossip, and peer pressure, all while coming of age in sophomore year of high school. At the time, my young mind and growing heart knew that agape meant something along the lines of “unconditional love”, however, I never actually looked up what the definition of that word meant, until now. Brittanica.com explains it best as, “the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. In Scripture, the transcendent agape love is the highest form of love and is contrasted with eros, or erotic love, and philia, or brotherly love.”
Agape is challenging to put into words. To me, it is more of an action. It is the service, the generosity of loving all of humankind, it is empathy, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, giving, letting go of one’s natural ego and judgement, and instead, making a sincere choice to be loving, kind and tolerant across the board in your life, as “God” would do…not just with family, friends and neighbors, but also… beyond. Beyond what is expected of you. Of me. Simply…beyond.
That is why Chooseafamily.com is so unique in its structure. Because, it is not just about what you may receive from a relationship, but it’s based on what you can offer. When you freely unconditionally give yourself an opportunity to be a substitute family figure or mentor in a stranger’s life, you are emulating a higher love, allowing, if I may say “God’s” love, to work through you. For some of you who are active members, you may have experienced that surprising joy, while you are of maximum service helping to mend a broken piece of someone’s personal internal and external puzzle, you found in doing so, that you heal as well.
I remember walking into my high school for the first time and seeing a huge emblem embedded on the floor upon entering. It was majestic and all encompassing, it was the Golden Rule- “Do Unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So, even before I actually knew the definition of agape, I felt the comforting benefits as the recipient of it’s meaning. When my Greek friend and her parents would invite me over for dinner, they’d offer Gemista (pronounced ye-meeSTA)
a delicious delicacy of roasted tomatoes and bell peppers stuffed with rice and herbs. It was a few years after our father passed away. Our single mother, sick with Lupus and other ailments, was working hard to help put me and my sister (Kim -Chooseafamily creator & CEO) through private school and make ends meet. Kim was in school all day then working long hours at a sales job after work. After my part-time shift at the local supermarket was over, I had no place to go, no where to eat on the days when our mom’s casserole and TV dinners were obsolete. That’s when my Greek friend would say, “Come on over for dinner, agape-mou”. When I went through my first big heartache, she would console me and give me an ear, lend a hand, and lift my chin up when all I wanted to do was sulk. And last, when I had endless palpable poetry, deep words of pain left unsaid that needed to be heard, she would invite me to recite it and truly listen, only like family could. After all of her actions and more, I did not have to research the nickname “agape-mou” when she would call me that, because deep down inside, I already felt inexplicably what it meant. By the way she would say it, the actions that complimented it, the context of her sentence while using it, I was engulfed in a love that was beyond looking for something in return, beyond “brotherly love”, beyond the pleasures of intimacy; if God could come down from the heavens and walk in the shoes of humans and take my hand, that is what she did for me. They say people come in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. She was there for a reason. To teach me agape. And since then, I’ve been beyond grateful to continuously practice how to pay it forward.
As you make your selections here on Chooseafamily.com, choose wisely, because you never know if agape is mysteriously already waiting for you in a profile, or truly ask yourself if you have more than enough for your needs and it’s time to give, as the Hebrew Bible says, “My cup runneth over”.
I’ll close by saying the year our father passed, Donna Summers and Musical Youth came out with the song, “Unconditional Love” (partial lyrics below). Til this day I know all of the lyrics by heart. During this COVID-19 pandemic when my friends passed away, or I saw conflicts on the news amongst neighbors, people fighting about mandates, quarantines, vaccines, laws and moral being broken, big crimes and little crimes (like a neighbor on line at the store taking the last can of disinfectant spray or toilet paper!) or when the annoying endless NYC traffic came back in full swing as each lockdown subsided…every time, I felt I was being taken care of by some sort of Higher Power, perhaps the same HP who brought you here, today. As the world is slowly reopening it’s doors, and there may be conflicts, remember agape…we don’t need to aggravate or engage in any of those stressful situations by acting out of self-will. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day by welcoming new, sincere relationships in your life. When and if you are faced with stressful times, turn the other cheek, inhale deep breaths and meditate, take a break by scrolling through some profiles here, and sing the lyrics to this song, in your head or aloud, just like I do.
“Give me your unconditional love
The kind of love I deserve
The kind I want to return.
… Don’t try to change
Or tear your brother down,
Let him make his mistakes
And he will come around.
…True love transcends all time
…That non-reacting, everlasting love
… Give me your unconditional love
The kind of love I deserve
The kind I want to return
… Give me your unconditional love, My torn heart to discern,
This agape love to learn.”
Jill Parshley-Cardillo is a freelance writer and a blog writer for Chooseafamily.com. Contact her at Info@Chooseafamily.com. Follow her on Facebook on her page “In Between Brooklyn & Queens” or Twitter at @jillparshley