I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about love. I mean, the holiday kind of requires it. There’s nowhere you can go that’s clear of hearts right now. There are hearts hanging from lampposts in a nearby town, with the names or initials of people who have sponsored them and short messages of affection. Red and pink candy all over the stores. Fluffy stuffed animals bearing puffy hearts with pithy comments like, “I love you beary much” on them. It’s all very festive. My teeth might be starting to hurt just a little bit from all the festive, actually.
Celebrating love isn’t a bad thing. Probably humanity could do with a bit more love. (I mean, if we’re going to race towards our own extinction we should love as much as we can while we have time, right? Oh, wait, that’s not the kind of talk one should indulge in on a day like today. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yeah, love.)
Love is an interesting sensation. I’ve experienced all kinds of different love in my life thus far. Some of it has been wonderful. Some less so. Some has been an involuntary response (love for family comes to mind). It’s all been an educational experience. I regret none of it.
Love is never a mistake. As long as you love yourself first. (That’s the trick most people seem to miss. And it’s at the core of all love. Love means practicing kindness, and who better to start practicing on than your own self?)
Probably of all the different kinds, I find the love I have for my children to be fiercest and most visceral. That’s the kind of love where you imagine yourself tearing the world apart if something nefarious were to happen. The kind that gives mama bears their reputation.
Of course, I know I can’t keep harm from coming to my children. Ye gods, they’re teenagers. Every ounce of energy I can muster at this point (and I don’t have much – because teenagers) is directed at getting those kids to survive to adulthood. I know full well there’s only so much control I can pretend to have. Still, the love is fierce. Even when they’re in the midst of their most maddening teenaged moments, I will never not love those humans.
Then there are the other kinds.
I love my family. All of them.
Sometimes it’s the kind of love where I’m watching someone I care for step on their own air hose. Sometimes it’s the kind where I’m celebrating their awesomeness. But it’s always love. These are my people. We have each other’s backs. I know that if I reach out for any of those people, they will be there. They know the same. That is a solid, tangible love.
I love humanity as a whole. Because we are complex unique creatures with very little sense of how precious and amazing this thing we call life is, and we continue to flail and struggle and create, even though we are infinitesimal blips on the cosmic timeline. (Optimistic creatures, humans. Always thinking we have more time. We’re so cute. How can I not love us?) That’s an all-encompassing love-for-my-species thing, and I think is probably part of what keeps me from losing patience with frustrating people. Like the ones who make poor choices in traffic, or cut in line, or insist on watching Billy Madison on repeat because they think it’s funny. (Did I mention I have teenagers?)
But as to the rest? I don’t know.
This is why I’ve been thinking about the concept of love lately. Because for me love, in particular romantic love, has frequently involved way too much pain, and I am navigating uncharted territory there in my current relationship. There’s a lack of emotional distress that confuses my damaged soul. I like it. But it’s certainly not what I’ve been conditioned to expect.
I’m not sure why I have chosen to love difficult people before, but I did. (Oh hell, I actually DO know why I’ve chosen difficult people before. And I think I covered at least a little bit of that previously. But I needed that sentence for the transition, so consider it poetic license.)
Pretty sure I’ve learned that particular lesson. I like to think I have. Lately I’m feeling good about where my heart is, so I’m just going to go with that.
(I’m always nervous about putting things like that into writing for fear it will doom me. It’s like I’ll say something cheerful out loud and suddenly the universe will go, “Wait a minute! She’s HAPPY! Better fuck that up right now before she relaxes.” Hey, I never claimed to be rational in my fears. And in my defense, the universe and I have what you might call a history in this department.)
But this is where the concept of love starts to get a little complicated for me. This idea of romantic love.
I mean, I understand some of it, I think. The bits where you want to spend a lot of time around someone, and smile when you think about them, and take all your pleasant memories with them and polish them and keep them close in your mind. The bits where you see them across a room, or hear them on the phone, and your heart lightens a bit just because they’re existing. The bits where you find yourself wanting to know all of their stories, even the difficult ones. The bits where you give them the last bite of the piece of chocolate cake you’re sharing.
You know, serious love.
I thought it was a choice. That you could choose to love someone or choose not to. Maybe it is.
(It feels like stepping off a cliff, for me. With much contemplation before the drop, but no stopping once I’ve gone over the edge.) But I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe we really can’t stop ourselves. Because I think love complicates things and makes life challenging in new and interesting ways, and sometimes people might choose not to let their lives be complicated. But just when you think someone is the soul of practicality, there they go, stepping off the cliff anyway.
Because you just never know.
Because falling feels like flying.
And that’s the fun part.
A couple of times I got involved in destructive love, and felt powerless, which was no fun at all. I don’t recommend that kind of love. Avoid it at all costs. Some people love in dangerous ways. And that’s not love. It’s a twisted idea of what love should be, which has much more to do with control than caring.
(I got better.)
I still have love for the people I don’t actively love. See the complexity inherent in the system? There’s the love for the human as a part of humanity. And then there’s the love for the individual. Which is not the same. One can exist without the other. (Thank goodness. Because there’s only so much my psyche can take on any given day.)
But on this particular day, fraught with holiday-ness, I think love is simple.
Strip it bare of all the candy and hearts and sentimental cards (though maybe leave me some of the chocolate) and you have one basic truth.
Love is kindness.