So we talk a lot about unconditional love on this website. Unconditional love for the beautiful creatures whose home we share. But what the heck does that mean? Really? I am going to try to wrestle the concept to the ground, here goes nothing…
Wikipedia (what did we ever do before Wiki?) says ‘Unconditional love is known as affection without any limitations, or love without conditions’. The dictionary definitions (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com) are ‘An intense feeling of deep affection’ and ‘Not subject to any conditions’. So how does that apply to unconditional love for animals?
Let’s go first for cute and fluffy, easy to love, right, but without conditions? As a kid I had a Welsh Springer Spaniel, wow she knew how to chew. Mainly shoes (the occasional table leg, but mainly footwear).Then she chewed one of my new height of fashion wedgie sandals (in which I looked oh so cool, as I teetered down the boulevard…). Was I pissed with her? Oh yes. Did I still love her? Oh yes. When she had worms that she could have given to me, did I still love her? Yes. If she had had rabies, would I have still loved her? Yes, though probably through glass. Many, many years after her death, do I still love her? Hell yes.
So let’s move on to cute and fluffy, but not living in your home as a member of your family. Like a tiger. Now we love tigers, the clue is in the name. When you see a tiger walking towards you, and it looks into your eyes, the feeling you get is nothing short of profound. In that instant, for that instant, you understand the interconnectedness of all life, your Chi, your Prana, the fire in your belly, they are also in this magnificent being. Then afterwards you wonder was that distain in his eyes, was it indifference, or was he weighing up whether I would make a nice snack. So do I love this animal that I may never see again? Yes. Unconditionally? Well, the tiger leaps straight to the condition of my dog with rabies – pretty darned dangerous, not to be fondled. Does this represent a condition upon the love I feel? Not really.
Okay, what about if the tiger was about to kill me, or someone I love? Ah, now it gets more tricky, doesn’t it. If I am a villager, very poor, collecting firewood, and as I bend, I look like a deer, tiger dinner. The tiger may well not eat me, having discovered what I am (so no intent), but I am still dead. What are the realistic chances my husband, wife, sister, mother children will unconditionally love the tiger? Not that high. Now I am not in that position, so maybe it’s easier for me to have this highfalutin, groovy, hippie view of unconditional love.
I once nearly was in that position. In South Africa, with a guide, we walked to see, from a distance, three young rhinos play fighting, it was totally magical. Walking back to the jeep, there was a pounding sound, and the guide put his hand up for us to stop. Stop everything, walking, breathing, blinking, because just a few (well, 20) yards in front of us was the daddy of all rhinos, who had been attracted by the noise of the young bucks. Now, rhinos charging can run faster than me (no, we would not have made it back to the jeep), but they have very poor eyesight so unless we moved it may not see us, and also our guide had told us he was a crack shot. So I did think it likely he could get the rifle up and shoot it before it killed me. Actually, I did not think about that at all, at the time, I thought, this is it, this is the moment where it all ends. Then he snorted (rhino not guide) and trotted off to join the lads. We went back to the car, and celebrated being alive. I dined out on the story for years. Did I unconditionally love that magnificent animal? Not quite, there was a condition that it should not kill me. Would I have given the order to shoot? Yup, the panic stricken me would probably have been yelping (as I ran) shoot it, shoot it! I am not very brave. But what I did do was to decide no more walking in the bush. The day before it had been elephants (in a safer scenario, but still close). And one thing I knew for absolute sure, if for my pleasure one of these magnificent beasties ended up shot, I would never fully recover.