May 11, 2015
It’s interesting that you ask me about love today. Love has been very much on my mind lately. I’m still trying to figure it out myself—love. I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you what I do know.
I know that love grows exponentially—the more you love, the more you love, the more you love and on and on. There’s no such concept as people having only so much love to give. My parents taught me that lesson. They had nine children. Every time a child came into the world, they discovered they had even more of their love to give. Similarly, every time I had a new sister or brother, I discovered that my capacity for loving other human beings was infinite. My parents taught me that love is a bottomless well, and that each bucket we dip into the well will fill up, no matter how many times we send it back down again. My parents taught me that lesson, the birth of my children reminded me of that lesson, and every year, my students reinforce the lesson that love has no limits.
(My parents also taught me, when they got divorced when I was 13, that love and relationships are completely separate themes. I mention this, because rumor has it your parents are going through a divorce now, and this is understandably a tough time for you. So much more is involved in starting, maintaining, and nurturing a relationship, whether it be marital, friendship, or even work-related, than mere love, that we will have to save the subject of relationships for another letter.)
Love is the feeling that someone else matters. It’s caring about one’s health, happiness, and success in life. Love is a glow inside of you that makes you happy. Most of all, love is a gift. A gift we give others. When you really love someone else, you give that person the gift of a part of yourself without expecting anything in return. When you ask something in return for your love, it’s no longer a gift, but a weapon you use against that person, against others. Love should not be a power struggle.
Similarly, while one must earn trust, love should not have to be earned. A child, especially, should never have to feel like they should have to do something or achieve something to gain the love of their parents. When I was a child, I would tell my mother I hated her, and she would reply, “I love you.” Now that I’m a mother myself, my son will declare he hates me at times he doesn’t get what he wants. I reply, “I love you.” Because it’s true. I love my children, my sisters, my brothers, my nieces, my nephews, my parents, and my fiancé, even in their worst moments, and even in my own worst moments. Love is a feeling that comes to life and grows, it should be given freely, not with strings attached or stipulations.
Yes, love is a gift we give others, without expecting anything in return, but it’s also a gift we give ourselves. You know when you are mad at someone, or someone has hurt you? How it eats you up inside, like a parasitic worm devouring your heart? Love is the opposite. Love sets you on fire, makes your heart feel like a warm loaf of bread right out of the oven. Loving others, feels as good as hating others feels awful.
I know that there are as many kinds of love as there are people. The love we give to others is always a gift unique for that person. The love I have for my siblings is different for each sibling, for my children is different for each child, and different than the love I have for my fiancé. My children need a love that is limitless, that protects them, that keeps them safe. My siblings need a love that allows them to change, grow, and make mistakes. I love them for who they were, who they are, and who they will be. Their love is less demanding, less omnipresent, than the love between myself and my children. My love for my siblings is like putting savings in a bank that we can cash in on in an emergency. My fiancé needs a love that is patient, a love that can wait, a love that is strong enough, sure enough, to withstand distance and time. It’s a love that is unquestionably loyal. It’s a bird in a house with a door that never closes, coming and going as it pleases – an eagle that can sail away on the wind anytime it wants, but chooses instead to call my heart home. Some people think love is a trap or a cage, see it as limiting one’s freedom. I think loving someone freely is the best freedom there is.
Everyone loves differently. It’s not our love of others that brings us pain, but our expectations for others to love us and the idea that we can shape that gift someone else gives us to fit our own desires. I have a friend I talked to recently who I haven’t seen in ten years. I’m going to visit him this summer. The other night we spent an hour and a half on the phone. When I hung up, my heart was soaring. I realized I love him. I realized he loves me. In my loneliness, I tried to take that love he has for me and shape it into romantic love, to make him want me. But love isn’t like that. When someone gives you a gift, you don’t trade it in for another. Trying to make him love me a certain way is like taking a gold ring and exchanging it in for a lead one. You have to accept the love others offer you and not try to use that love to get something you want, whether that be gifts, attention, or more love. If someone gives you the gift of loving you as a friend, treasure that gift for what it is and not what you wish it was.
Finally, love means accepting another person for who they are, not for who they could be or who we want them to be, but who they are at this very moment. It means loving their imperfections, it means understanding their limitations, and forgiving their weaknesses. Love is not words, but actions; not promises, but deeds. Love can be kind and gentle, love can be crazy and passionate. Love can be reasonable and absolutely insane, but love is never abusive. Abuse is not love. Sex is not love. Love is love, and sometimes love means walking away and letting go. Because love also means accepting yourself for who you are, not for who you could be, or who you want to be, but who you are at this very moment. You have to love yourself first, before you can give that gift to others.
This is not everything there is to say about love, but M—, you asked, and I had to start somewhere.
Ms. Meg Pierce
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