View this post on Instagram
I used to write about love.
I published a book about it. I wrote articles about connections and what they mean to us. I wrote about authenticity and taking responsibility for our feelings. I wrote about freedom and what it means to love without making it a contract.
Then the world changed. Perhaps it didn’t change so much as the cruelty of its leaders seemed suddenly amplified. What slight connections we had frayed even more or underwent a severe and violent rending.
Now, I rarely talk about love. Some might argue that now is precisely the time when I should talk about it, but I feel as if people cannot yet see the humanity of their neighbor. What good does it do to talk about loving them?
Instead, I talk about the rest of human nature—about what I observe happening in this world between you and I when we are fed a diet of fear.
But the world spins on, which means here we are again at Valentine’s Day. It is that commercial time of year given over to diamond sellers and chocolatiers in the name of “love.” Some are lucky enough to be in partnerships where connection is valued and celebrated without the need for Hallmark holidays, but for others, this day is a ridiculous theater, full of empty gestures.
As a single, middle-aged woman, I do sometimes feel a twinge of longing for some symbolic exchange—flowers or little stuffed bears holding hearts. Really, I’d be happy with the words, “I appreciate my connection to you,” written on a scrap of notebook paper.
Whatever it was, I’d save it somewhere special and bring it out on days when warmth feels scarce so I can remind myself, by the feel of this tangible thing in my hands, that, Yes. I am connected to someone in this world, and they appreciate their connection to me. See! It says so right there!
The hardest days are the days when I feel I have no impact.
I’m far enough along in my journey that I understand the importance of being able to say, first and foremost, “I am connected to me.” Before we can form genuine connections with others, we must first forge that bond with ourselves.
I have been in relationships where both parties have said, “I love you,” and only one or neither of them meant it. Those relationships came with all the traditional trappings and Valentine’s cards, the various certifications of love, and still the reality is that each person’s heart is a world unknown.
Sometimes we have an invitation to visit. Other times, where we are stepping is an outer ring, and there is no going any further.
For me, love is still there, even when I’m alone, even when I’m fierce and political and ranting about injustice. I speak of things that can be defined and quantified—and about love, I can do neither. I could contain it to a word, but it is not that word. Like the candies in a heart-shaped box, that word is a symbol to be consumed.
We want our love to have a function. We want it to be a performance of some kind, to entertain us when we’re bored, or to serve as medicine when we’re emotionally ill. But it feels like the generic version, when given only in exchange and not simply out of joy, as the natural function of pleasure in being with someone.
And I don’t mean “being” as in two bodies drifting around barely conscious in the same space, but being as in two humans not trying to “complete” each other, just present, aware, and sharing without a grand agenda beyond the wonder (and absurdity) of human relationships.
Love, in that case, is at least saved from being a contractual obligation or item for trade.
But if I can’t trust a bear holding a heart to deliver a message of love, what can I trust? Life. I don’t mean survival, the day-to-day grind of getting up, going to work, making money, paying bills, and all the things we do to keep our bodies going through the motions—I mean the part that is raw. The animal nature of it. The heat and the wet, the hard and the hungry.
It is the heart beating in my chest, which looks nothing like the elegant, red foil hearts that hold chocolates.
Love is realized in the moments when we are given over to something, which forces the ego away from us, or which steals us from the constant current of inane, inner chatter, with the endless need we have to label and classify and complicate. It is the connection between me and the earth itself. It is not always neat and symmetrical in shape. It is not always sweet. It’s the lion tenderly licking her cub; it’s that same lion ripping open the belly of a gazelle.
We keep trying to put it into words, and we keep failing. Or maybe we’re waiting for Puccini and the swell of music to alert us to all these grand moments we imagine. It isn’t that love is silent—it’s sometimes loud and musical and contains the rumble of thunder, or trains, or the chatter of birds and sighs and moans, body-shaking sobs, and shouts of pleasure.
It’s just—we sometimes fail to appreciate the simple wonder of it, so busy waiting for it to come with the proper paperwork.
Talking about it feels clumsy. Which is perfectly human, as we are clumsy creatures fumbling about generally making a mess of things, but occasionally we shine, and that shine is also a manifestation of love in its raw form, when we’re just sitting there being ridiculous and naked (sometimes literally) and have dropped the notion that we might impress anyone at all.
When I think about saying the words, “I love you,” I feel like I might as well clap my hands or do a cartwheel. Connection is a fluid thing; it’s a transmission.
It is every time my feet touch the ground in service to movement, and every time the breeze ruffles my hair (or makes a total mess of it), and the sunlight lands on my bare arm for a moment, and my body does one thing or another, aching and thirsting and wanting and the satiation that comes only to change again to longing, which is to say it is me: alive to myself.
It is being. In which case, one might start to wonder, what does it have to do with anyone else?
I could say, “I am so happy if you feel this joy, this respect and passion I have for you.” And still, ultimately, who is it for, if not for me? What is it for, if not for the joy I get in loving?
What better gift can I give than being alive to myself with you?