I am saying “I love you” all the freaking time now. And I am meaning it, and I am loving it. This is not exactly something new, but it is something that has definitely grown since I came to Austin. And this is a journey of understanding what it means to love, possibly beginning from college (everything goes back to college…I would say that I grew up there and made my first true home there, but my mother would burst into tears upon reading this [and not unfairly–it maligns the hard work of my loving family, but it also captures the sense that I was ill-at-ease in every environment–except NYC–until I went to Rice]). But, as it turns out, everything up to Superstorm Sandy was just exposition.
Jocie and I watched The Day After Tomorrow the night that the storm hit the Northeast. Because we’re bitches. No, it was actually because we didn’t take the storm seriously (we lived in Houston, where there are real hurricanes). And neither, it seems, did much of the area devastated by Sandy…not until it was too late. It hurt my heart to see my beloved dream, that Land of My Great Future, buried. I felt bad for my flippant attitude. But then I saw something that made me feel ashamed.
It was a news story about a second grade class that had written letters as part of “NOLA to New York”, an effort best captured here: http://sandykatrina.tumblr.com/about/press. A teacher in New Orleans had assigned his students the task of writing letters to go to those affected by Sandy. The students had written notes of encouragement, messages to let victims know that they were not alone. And the message that came from NOLA was clear: “We survived what many said was the end of our city. We have known your pain. And we support you as you face this devastation”. But the message that came from this particular class went one step further. Most of the students had written some form of “I love you.”
“I love you.” It is such a profound thing, such an important thing, such an abused thing. It is used to express so many feelings, ranging from enthusiasm over bacon to the promise that seals a marriage. I have always taken issue with this, believing that not all things are worthy of the term. Even now, I wish that there were more ways to express how I feel about Lawless or mixed prints or other fans at a Lady Gaga concert. But my perspective has shifted somewhat.
Children love easily, and they love everybody. Their love is innocent, unaffected, and undifferentiated. My friend’s children love me because it’s Christmas. I loved every teacher I had growing up. The children in this story love the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
I love deeply but mistrustfully. I love jealously and sometimes on merit. I never withdraw my love, but sometimes I let it turn to anger or even bitterness. But seeing that image opened my heart a little bit. I immediately wondered why I withhold the term, “I love you”, trying to increase its value by using it sparingly. Why do I let my love be spoiled by the actions of other people? Is this right? Why can’t I love people openly?
Jesus teaches us two things that have really helped shape me here: that we are to love one another and that we are to mold our faith after children. We are God’s children, and our love should be distributed with a childlike generosity. God gives us so much love, and all that he asks is that we return it and that we push it to other devices. Humanity should be a network of love. Ugh, I sound like a hippie. No. I sound like a Christian! There are people in this world who love me because God loves me. Why on earth do I think that my love is worth more than theirs?
At Servant Church, here in Austin, this lesson was delivered to me firsthand, in a way that filled me up so fully. There were people around me who said “I love you” the day that I met them. And they truly meant it. And I could say it back and truly mean it. Because I felt poured into by the Lord and able to pour out from my own heart. And, faith aside, I felt a kinship with them that applies to all humanity. You are the same stuff as me, dear Reader. Wherever that stuff comes from, or whatever you think it is, I love you. I love you because you are here, because you have seen and understood my effort to connect. I love you because God loves you, and because I believe that there is something in you that is valuable. I love you because you are like me: you struggle, and you win, and you lose, and you delight, and you suffer, and you are born, and you are reborn many times over, and you die. You fear and love and hurt and laugh and play and cry and long. I love you.
Do I love you the same way that I love my family or my friends, or the way I will one day love my husband? Absolutely not. My family raised me, and I love them with a gratitude for things that can never be repaid. My friends have supported me and cherished me and made me happy, and I love them from a depth that cannot be expressed by words. And, when I one day (hopefully) make that promise in matrimony, I expect I’ll be in love, which is, as they say, a whole different ballgame. But I probably love you more than Jessica Chastain. Or Slurpees. Maybe even more than Harry Potter. But possibly not more than my iPhone.
The point is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be categorized or assigned value or assessed. Love is without definition or explanation or bounds. And it comes from a place that I don’t understand. But I accept it so often, and I’m ready to start giving it–not back, but out. I have more than enough to share.
So I resolve to mean it when I say it, and to say it to everyone: “I love you.”
One of the letters written by a 4th grader in New Orleans