I don’t remember a time I did not have a crush on someone.
When I was a young girl, there was this boy named Jarod who lived just a few houses away from me. We went to the same elementary school, directly up the street from my house.
Every day, I road my bike around the corner and in to the cul-de-sac where his family lived, and I’d wave to him if he happened to be outside. It always made my day when he would wave back.
I have always been equal parts shy as I am amorous. It has never been an easy thing for me to hide my feelings (an open book is more like it), but I thought beneath the mask of my shyness, that I could perhaps do an adequate job of keeping my crushes secret. That is, until I wanted them to love me back.
One day, determined to win over his affections, I decided I would create something beautiful for him. Something I could make with my own two hands, my imagination, and my young artistry. I grabbed the only medium I could find to paint on—a segment of a wooden two by four in my dad’s wood pile in the carport.
By the time I was done painting, drawing and writing various phrases on this block of wood, I stood back and admired my masterpiece. It was colorful. It was vibrant. It was beautiful. It was my heart displayed on a block of wood, declaring my love for Jarod. I just knew he would like it!
I mounted my bicycle, one hand occupied with my new work of art, and drove straight to his house. I knocked on the door. My heart was beating out of my chest. He would finally see how much he means to me. At last the courage to share my heart with him would be rewarded.
He opened the door, and in an all-together-too-eager-display, I shoved the block of heart-art into his hands and turned and ran away. And I kept running.
I continued running until I made it home, amazed that I had done it. I had done the most terrifying thing in my life (at that point): I had given something to the boy I loved, that was evidence of how I felt about him.
I had also left my bike.
After catching my breath, more from the fact I had made myself woozy with such antics than the running, I gathered myself together and decided I simply must retrieve my bike, especially before sunset when my mom expected me home.
I built up the bravery to walk back around the corner, praying under my breath that he would be inside. I could see my bike laying in the street where I had left it, and Jarod was nowhere to be seen. Whew! Relief washed over me as I walked a little faster toward my bike.
That’s when I saw him.
He was standing with a group of other neighborhood boys. He was holding the colored block of wood, and they were all laughing and shoving each other the way boys sometimes do. They were teasing him mercilessly, and he was laughing at the gift I had made special, just for him.
The tears welled up rapidly and I could not contain them. A hot wave of shame rippled through my body as I grabbed my bike, and walked it back home. I wanted to disappear.
That was the day I quit creating art.
Of course, this is a memory some 30 plus years old now. It is no longer painful and hasn’t been for quite some time. The innocence of youth is incredibly forgiving. But the impact of that moment, the actual reality I have lived with since then, that part has stayed with me.
The part of me that dared to be creative? She completely shut down for much of my life.
The part of me that dared to love a beautiful boy and be bold about it? She could never be restrained from loving, but being bold about it, being real, being vulnerable? No. Better to play it safe.
The part of me that believed I was worthy of the affection and respect of the object of my love? She is only now, finally beginning to awaken.
There is a point to all of this reminiscing, and it is this:
We all have something inside of us—a gift, a talent, a calling, a purpose—it is the part of you that goes on untouched by anything that has ever happened you.
It is the great mystery inside that continually calls us forward into unknown territory. It beckons us to explore unseen shadows. It is the glowing ember in the pit of our deepest despair keeping our gaze hopelessly locked on someday-I’m-going-to-feel-better-than-this. It is the slightest courage at the end of each day to inhale deeply and exhale it all and trust that tomorrow will come.
The way I love, myself and others, is my gift. It has taken me many years of denying that, hiding it, fighting it, pretending it was otherwise, for me to come to terms with what this means for me. It is as simple, as complicated, and as profoundly moving as this: I am simply a lover. I love.
My invitation with this story is to ask you dear reader, what is inside of you that calls to you? What turns on the light in your eyes? What is it that takes your breath away? What brings you a sense of wonder? Remember how it felt to be exhilarated? Remember what it was you used to dream about?
My challenge is this: Dare to explore that one thing. Nurture it. Observe it. Open it. Share it. Spread it around like glitter confetti. We are here for such a brief moment, so fragile, so fleeting—we must step into the darkness (especially our own) and let our light shine.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: elephant archives