FROM THE BROTHER:
I’m trying to figure out which direction to take on the topic of Love. What the hell do I know about it? The song from the band Foreigner keeps coming on in my mind, ‘I want to know what love is… I want you to show me.’ Then a clip from the movie Forrest Gump when Tom Hanks, who is playing the slow witted Forrest says to his friend Jenny, “I may not be a smart man… but I know what love is.” Damn, even Gump gets it. So, what is love exactly? Is it one thing or many? I just looked up the definition and the dictionary states that it’s an intense feeling of deep affection. I’ll be honest here, I’ve been on the shallow end of this feeling.I have witnessed the strong warm emotion through others, though. I’m also now practicing how to receive love, knowing how important that is to be able to give it away.
As I sit at my dining table in my third story apartment on a stormy winter day in January trying to block out Foreigner and Gump, I observe a couple of acts from the heart right outside my window. A father uses the utmost patience as his son struggles to pedal his bright new blue bicycle equipped with training wheels along the sidewalk. He gives the kid a little push to get the bike going again as they turn the corner and move out of sight. As they make their second lap around the building and come into view, the father is now running to try and keep up with his son as his legs power through rotations. Shortly after, a woman is walking her dog who is alert and excited to be outside with all of the scents and movement. I watch the calm and respect shared as they work together to find a place for him to do his business.
I’m surrounded by love, all I have to do is look outside! Sometimes it’s hard to see or feel for myself though. Growing up, I couldn’t really tell you what love is. Especially when it comes to loving oneself. I spent a lot of time in isolation. At first it was from neglect as a child and later on as an adult simply not knowing how to interact with other humans. I have an image of me very young playing in the dirt outside of our little trailer that was parked out in the middle of nowhere. Basically myself and the dirt hanging out along with a random scorpion or blue belly lizard cruising along with shadows of vultures circling above and red tail hawks gliding by.
People would show or give love to me at times, but I didn’t know how to receive it. I now know that self-love is vital to a healthy way of living. My level still feels mediocre, but I’m working on it. What I’ve noticed is that the more I do, the easier it is to pass on. To love others unconditionally. I have people in my life that help lead the way.
“The truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.” – Bruce D. Perry
I have a dear friend that is over twice my age that I feel is an expression of what love is. Through his actions, words, and laughter, he seems to get it. He gives freely and loves others as well as himself. He accepts the world as it is at this moment. I remember visiting him in the hospital some years back as he was going through a round of chemotherapy. The nurses couldn’t keep him in his room. As usual, he was up walking around talking with others. In fact, we had to hunt him down because he wasn’t in his room when we arrived. We were able to track him down by his laughter. I think we were more depressed about the situation than him. He stayed positive through the whole ordeal continually thinking of others and making them feel comfortable. To this day, he is happy and healthy, staying active and traveling. It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to join him for bike rides. Simply to be in his presence keeps a smile on my face for days.
Along with a lot of people in my life, there are two other individuals who stand out that guide my heart in the right direction. One is my son and the other you’ll hear from after we edit and post our next blog. The former is an amazing little man with a huge heart, and some pretty sweet basketball moves. His compassion for others, including animals, is way beyond my emotional limits already at his young age of nine years old. How interesting it is to imagine the world through his young eyes…Holy crap, I think my heart box just sunk a little deeper into the depths of affection as I type these words. Writing about this kid brings mountains of joy to my little world.
The person on the other side of this blog is absolutely defeating the odds and is a picture of what surviving to thriving is all about. She IS Love. To give without expecting anything in return, to reach out and empathize, connect with raw emotions breaking free. She is a natural gift for this world that seems incapable of receiving her heart in such a large capacity. And I don’t think it has anything to do with her corrupted childhood experiences. It wouldn’t have mattered if she was fed from a silver spoon or raised in a garbage can. She simply has ‘it’ and the world better hold on, because she is shaking things up!
For myself, being on the catcher’s side of a lover’s pitch and to be accepting of acts of kindness, praise, or love is quite challenging. When someone told me that I was awesome or doing a good job, or that they love me, I thought they were full of shit. I thought they were just being nice or they wanted something, or they felt sorry for me. What I later realized is that I wouldn’t show any of those emotions unless I wanted something for myself. I was the selfish one, not others. I was living a life full of fear and resentment. People were actually being genuine toward me, but I was blind to it. I had a strong guard up to affection or intimacy. Especially with touch, which I am learning is such a big part of connecting with others and not just in a sexual way. It felt awkward when someone would put their arm around my neck as a friendly gesture or a hug, nor was I capable of doing the same. I desperately want to hold others in crisis and to comfort people while holding their hand or rubbing their back as they grieve, or out of joyfulness even. When the opportunity would present itself, my shoes felt as if they had suddenly been filled with concrete and I couldn’t move.
Unfortunately through ignorance, I also felt that you weren’t manly if you shared emotions or said the four letter ‘L’ word when the feeling was there. Now I realize the most courageous humans, who share and express their heart openly and use the magic of touch, are the true warriors.
My world is expanding and writing about it here has helped me a great deal. Although I find it unnerving at times when witnessing people turn on each other or judge with anger, to not be able to face whatever it is that is painful in their world, love tends to win out in the end. We have today and that’s it, this instant. I’d rather be guided with the heart than with a fear filled mind that wanders aimlessly nowhere. I’ve done enough of that to fill a few lifetimes and I am grateful to have switched paths.
Put a smile on someone’s face today and tell me that doesn’t feel good and that the corners of your own mouth don’t automatically head north.
I dare you.
FROM THE SISTER:
My own father did not love me. It sounds dramatic, and when I said these words to Tony for the first time, he replied compassionately, “come on, you can’t say that.” And I got kinda choked up as I held my ground. No, he really didn’t. That wasn’t love. And all of a sudden, some of the dark clouds around my heart gently lifted.
The most important thing we are taught as children is how to love and be loved, how to be in relationship to ourselves and others. The messages I received on a daily basis were that Love is dangerous. Love is unpredictable. Love is manipulative, confusing, hopeful, disappointing, unattainable, warm, fleeting, insecure. Love, ultimately, is cruel.
Once I realized that what I had been taught about love simply wasn’t true, I knew that I could unlearn the lessons of what love wasn’t and begin to create and cultivate true love in my life from the ground up. I was not, as I had come to believe for so long, a walking impurity. I was not unlovable or incapable of loving others. I was capable of loving and being loved more profoundly than I had ever imagined.
Since I didn’t really know what I was doing, I took a bit of the “fake it until you make it” route in learning to love. When I first started telling friends that I loved them, it was under my breath. Love ya. Lots of love. Sending love. I could write my feelings, but rarely say them out loud. My relationships stayed surface level. I just couldn’t break through my own walls to delve deeper. As my heart opened, little by little, I started finding safety in sharing love. I started realizing what I’d been missing. Now it’s a practice. And I’ve gotten better with time.
In Greece last spring, a volunteer that I met that day said “I love you!” in the “you just saved my day” kind of way for some favor I had done and I looked right back in his eyes without hesitation and said “I love you too!” and I meant it with my whole heart. I could feel the truth of it reverberate through my body and we just gave each other a big ole, unrestrained, all in hug. And I never saw him again, but we were two humans sharing true love for a moment. And sitting in a meeting with one of my foster youth and the question was “what do you want for her?” and I had no idea whether it was the professional thing to say, but my heart pounded so loud and hard when I just spoke the truth which was, “I love her so much and I just want her to to know how loved she is.”
In these moments and many like them, nobody rejected or abused or abandoned me for sharing my honest sentiments. In fact, the opposite happened. My openness created more openness from others. And all this spectacular energy starting pouring out of me, unstoppable. It was like a lovecano. All this pent up, fiery, passionate, warm and fuzzy l-o-v-e ready to burst out and spread over the world in a fantastic sparkly display. And every time it does, somehow the lova (see what I did there?) is magically replaced – but more than that – it’s like it’s quadrupled. Every time. And I can’t seem to get the love out there fast enough because I have so much more to give.
When people ask me how my love life is, I say my life is love. Because that’s what it really feels like now. When I’m sitting on the shore watching the last bit of sunshine glitter over the waves, or laughing so hard I cry with lifelong friends who kept me around even though I loved them so imperfectly, or those surges of love I feel as I’m advocating for someone I believe in, or having a brother I can call on in my darkest moments, or seeing – truly seeing – the beauty of nature and humanity that surrounds me and knowing that we are all already connected. That is love.
Don’t get me wrong. I still ride the self-doubt train. I’m still overcome with those old thoughts of unworthiness, ugliness, and shame. Some days those old hurtful words and stories are on repeat in my mind and it takes a lot to shut them off. Some days I still tell myself I’m not good enough for anyone. But now I know, in a deep way, that isn’t true. We’re all connected to an infinite source of love and we just have to learn how to tap back in when we’re feeling far away from it. I know I still have exploration, healing, and downright hard work to do, especially in the intimate love department. That will take ongoing intentional opennness and lots of courage, too. But I know I am fueled by that endless supply of true, deep, righteous love that I live and experience in new ways every day. That is my love life.
And that’s what I’ll celebrate the day Cupid comes knocking. And all the days he doesn’t, too.