Love has been on my mind a lot lately.
I’ve found myself questioning what exactly it is.
And how we recognize it. And how it changes us beyond recognition.
And I don’t know why God pressed love into the palms of our human hands, as flimsy and as breakable as we are.
And I know that if there is someone out there who can stitch words into some kind of a definition of love for those of us who seek it in the spaces between heartbeats, who linger in it the way we linger in warm sheets in the morning, who hold it gently between our fingertips like the miracle that it is, it isn’t me. So I don’t expect to find that here on my paper. You should not expect some grand conclusion to this, because as desperate as we all are for an explanation we can pin love down to, I don’t presume to have it. But I still find myself aching to stain this paper in an exploration of the ways love moves and breathes and grows into us and through us.
So, one of my questions is this: At what point do we decide that what we are falling gloriously into is love? What is the definitive moment when we pick syllables up off the floors of our hearts to spell out the proclamation “I am in love with you,” and how do we know when to take it from the silence and breathe it into sound?
Did we learn it somewhere? Did someone take our little infant hands in theirs and whisper, “And my darling, when you find the one who makes you heart kiss your ribcage and your emotions dance in and out of the shadows thrown by the flames held tight inside your chest, here is how and when and why you will know that it is love.”
Because I don’t remember that. So I can only think that maybe we are our own heart-teachers. Maybe we just have to love, hard and freely, until we learn it like the way we learned our Mama’s hands when we were young. Maybe we have to learn how to hold it like that; how to slip into it just like that.
We learn what it is. And what it does to us.
And I will confess that I am still trying to learn why we want it.
Because I have cradled love in the curve of my hands in my time here. And when it was mine, I watched with wide-eyed wonder as it turned me into a girl who laughed into the wee hours of the morning and who cherished letters, pressing them close to her chest as if she could absorb them; a girl who sat barefoot in the sunlight with colored dust covering her hands, a girl whose cheeks were rosy with delight.
And it was beautiful. But, in time, I realized that it was broken, and it was not the kind of love God meant for me, and so I said goodbye.
And I watched as the absence of that love ripped through me and away from me. And I still pressed letters to my chest, vainly as before, because I could not push them any closer than up against my futile tear-stained flesh.
My point in telling you this story of myself is that I have seen both sides of love. The having of it, and the losing of it. The beauty of being in it, the pain of being forced from it. I have felt the burning joy of love, and I have tasted the salty bitterness of the loss of love.
And what gets me stuck here is that you have too.
You and I have both basked in the sunlight and wandered through the shadows of love.
And if you haven’t, you have seen it in those you are wrapped up in the joy of friendship with. You have wiped tears off their cheeks and spun in circles with them in the joy of reliving their first kiss and lifted up their down-turned chins.
So we know the truth. About what love can do to us.
We long for it. We pray for it. We open our arms wide in the quest for it. We linger under the mistletoe in hopes of it. We throw our windows open and peek out, just in case somebody happened to decide tonight that we were worth the weight of a boombox on their shoulders.
This is what gets me the most about love.
This is why I am driven to the paper about love.
Because long ago, we abandoned our fairytale ideas about a prince who will come sweep us away. We stopped believing in a princess that would wait for us behind a dragon-guarded staircase.
And we have no definite answers about love. Because we cannot press its particles up against the smooth glass of a slide to examine it under our microscope of perceived truth.
We don’t understand it.
But we chase it anyway.
We believe in it anyway.
And ultimately, maybe when we are asked what the purpose of this living really is, we realize that there is only one truthful answer we can find in our beating, dreaming hearts.
Maybe we can only lift our shoulders in a gesture of surrender, and softly whisper, “I guess my answer to why I still swing my feet over the edge of the bed every morning would have to be that despite all I have seen, I still believe in love.”
-Jessi Sanders 2013