I’m lactose intolerant, so it’s okay that I won’t be getting chocolates this year.
And getting flowers is completely awesome, but not because it’s what you’re supposed to get as dictated by some heavily commercialized holiday.
It’s also okay that there will be no romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant or that moment where I open a velvet box containing some shiny object and then express joy that a man has purchased a material symbol of his affection, which I can sport around whenever I need to reassure myself of his love.
That means I’d like to stand here and tell you that, given the above bit of ridiculous some couples enact on February 14, I’m deliriously happy with this single state of things and therefore am absolutely impervious to the zillion messages of love and devotion floating around television, social media and every single store I walk into between the time of the Christmas displays and when Easter bunnies come out, but look: the truth is that I’m not impervious and it does make me sad, just not for the reasons most people would imagine.
What I absolutely miss most is being known. (As much as any of us can be known.)
That person who sees into you, and you’re constantly amazed by how simple it all is. Being with them is so easy! There’s no parlor trick, no pressure, no need to do cartwheels or navigate flaming hoops and firewalks. The person isn’t straining to understand you. They just do. That’s all. No big deal. They let you be exactly who you are because what would be the point of anything else? Plus, they happen to think the person you are is pretty cool.
If you’ve never experienced this, let me tell you, it’s nothing short of miraculous. It feels like breathing. You realize that before, what you’d been calling breathing has actually been a lot of hyperventilating, or flat-out suffocating—and now you’re doing something way better. Once you’ve had that experience, it is a challenge to settle for less.
Here I am waking up most days walking through the spaces before me feeling invisible. Unseen. Unknown. Unfelt. My hands touch the natural world, and it’s only there that I feel some sort of connection, a tether to this earth and to my life.
People might call me a hippie for wanting to be barefoot in the grass the second the weather turns warm, but the truth is that it’s the only thing I can feel sometimes—this ground beneath my feet, this solid mass when otherwise everything in life feels so unsubstantial. I am disconnected, and there is no one to take me in their arms and tell me, “Beautiful, I can feel you.”
That is what we all want: to have some sense that the person we truly are—all that is wild within us, the heart we keep secret because to set it loose would be too frightening, all that is dark as well as radiant—can be seen and cherished by someone else, without agenda, without the need to change us to something that would be a more comfortable fit for them.
This is every wish I have for us all.
And as I get older, as time marches on and I find more gray hairs but fewer illusions, I realize that this is a lovely wish—and it may not come true. I don’t get to have any control over what other people see and don’t see! I am who I am, and then the rest is pretty much out of my hands. I become less and less apologetic for my spirit, but I do so with the understanding that the only love I can guarantee is the love that comes from me. I know what I can give. I know what I can see.
The more I look into myself, know myself, the more I can love. But that only works if I’m willing to accept that the love I am capable of feeling cannot be fueled by feeling loved by others. It cannot be fueled by how much I am seen or known or felt; by how much others value me.
That source is completely unreliable. It’s finite. The only source that isn’t is the one that is within, what is connected to the greater spirit of everything that is around me. This ground beneath my feet. This sky that reminds me of the larger universe.
The wisdom inherent in nature that shows me birth/death/rebirth in every season—a cycle that we are desperate to fight in our own lives looking for stability and peace and unending everything wonderful, but which works in us the same as it works on the trees outside our windows. Sometimes we are bare and skeletal; sometimes we are lush and green and so heavy with fruit and flowers we spill them to the world around us.
I could tell you a dozen ways to be nice to yourself this Valentine’s Day. Treat yourself. Hold yourself close. Be of service. Reach out. But I will also tell you this: if your heart is broken, let it be broken. Let it be in so many pieces that all there is, is this incredibly soft part that is open to the shadows and the light, to the bare bones so many of us shy away from and pretend don’t exist.
Let me see you, because I’m not afraid to. Because I’m not afraid of your dark, and your absurd, and your pain, and your ridiculous sadness since I know my own so well.
That is the gift that does not come in heart-shaped boxes. That is the gift that does not hang from gold chains or come written in Hallmark cards. We think we don’t want it because it’s not shiny. It doesn’t always make us feel happy, but this longing isn’t an affliction to be cured.
What is beautiful within me is made of this longing. What is alive in me is this fierceness to be untamed, to have this heart and these hands and these bare feet all reaching for what will bring me closer to surrender, to releasing the need to have anything be other than This. There is no label for it—not “alone,” not “single,” not “unseen”—simply, yes, life.
Author: Stephanee Killen
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Marc Tasman/Flickr