I’ll always remember the first time Brian and I got into our first all-out “fight” as a married couple.
We were on our honeymoon. We were walking around the deck of the cruise ship, talking, taking in the night sky and the band and the murmur of people around us laughing and chatting. Brian had been peeling this kiwi he picked up off one of the endless buffets.
We had been walking for quite a while and Brian had been peeling the kiwi the entire time. I don’t remember the exact moment I became… whatever emotion I became. I know I was talking it up as I do, probably about dreams and random observations, and for whatever reason I wasn’t getting Brian’s full attention. I was a little frustrated (I mean we were on our honeymoon!) and I thought it would be super funny if I grabbed his kiwi and threw it into the ocean.
Not the best idea.
He. Was. So. Mad.
I had “tossed the kiwi” he had been working so hard to peel and he was ticked and let me know about it.
Well, you know what happened next. I became furious that he would get angry over a stupid kiwi. Then he got angry that I didn’t understand why he was angry, and pretty soon we were in an all-out argument over a kiwi!
I started walking off. At this point in life, instead of facing something head-on, my M.O. was to run away. So I did. I walked so fast, leaving him far behind me, up and down stairs to different decks, fuming.
I know this next part will sound like I’m being dramatic or making this up, but I seriously, actually thought, That’s it! I’m going home! I’m going to tell my dad about this!
As I was making my umpteenth lap around the boat the reality hit me: I’m on a boat, in the middle of the ocean. There is no place to go. I have to go back to the room I share with The Kiwi Man.
I settled down and found my way back to the room, experiencing my first glimpse of the “stick-with-it-ness” of love.
Man, love is so hard.
Geez. I had no clue.
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“…Safe?” said Mr Beaver. ”…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
I was talking with a friend the other day. We were talking about all kinds of things and somehow it led us to a conversation about love.
I told her that Love has been the most vulnerable, unsafe adventure for me. “What do you mean?” she asked.
I’ve been reflecting on this ever since.
Love seems to me to be the most challenging thing to really learn.
It’s like a muscle you have to work and work and work and work until it becomes muscle memory. And then some sort of something happens and you’re back to eating chips and lying on the couch.
I mean, sure, there’s the easy kind of love:
when you first fall in love with someone, when you hold your baby in your arms the first time, when you make a new friend, when you speak your wedding vows, when you struggle to squeeze that wiggly puppy you’ve been longing for.
We’re heading into Valentine’s Day, that day a lot of people sort of resent, even when there is someone you can give those assorted chocolates to and take out to a fancy restaurant.
And I get that. I understand the theory of Valentine’s Day being one big conspiracy with Hallmark. But the idea of celebrating real Love is something I think worth celebrating.
Because Love seems so much more complicated.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
—Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I had this friend in high school who told me an important secret.
It was something that hurt her deeply and she needed to share. When I heard the secret, I was so shocked and hurt and didn’t know how to handle it or how to help her—so I told a few close people to me.
I carried that around for seven years.
I had violated a promise I made to her. Such an important secret from such an important friend, and I had shared it with others because of my own selfish need for comfort and guidance—when it wasn’t mine to share and I had sworn to be someone she could trust. I couldn’t stand what I’d done. I knew I had broken a covenant between us.
So one day, when we were both in our early twenties and had planned to get together, I decided I was going to confess and apologize to her. I knew she would be so hurt it might affect our friendship. She might be angry. She might pretend she wasn’t angry and slowly over the next few months drift away, placing an unspoken boundary between us that we would never discuss but I would always feel and know why.
And know I deserved it.
We began to talk and I’m shaking inside, heart pumping. I’d been praying and praying and finally I just said it: “I have something to tell you,” my whole body shaking and my teeth literally chattering (which happens to me every time I’m talking about something big and important), “Remember that secret you told me our junior year of high school?”
She nodded and I really think she knew what I was going to say.
I could feel the tears, “I told. I did. I’m so sorry. I told a few people. And I’m so sorry. You trusted me and I broke my promise and I’m so sorry.”
I remember my head falling to my hands and she said, “It’s okay.”
It wasn’t a quick, artificial response but she also didn’t leave one of those pregnant pauses to hang in the air. She just took a breath, validating my vulnerability—and hers—and forgave me.
That moment, that authentic, genuine moment of forgiveness will always be carved in my heart. I knew she meant it. I knew she had forgiven. I knew we would speak of it no more.
I knew she loved me.
Sometimes Love is forgiveness.
It’s receiving it undeserved.
Or forgiving without ever given an apology.
Or forgiving yourself when someone doesn’t know what you’ve done or has forgiven but you keep yourself locked in a box because you can’t set yourself free.
Sometimes it’s daily reminding yourself you’ve let the wound go when it tries to wake you with the hurt. And this act, this daily act of releasing is a manifestation of love.
Sometimes Love is showing up.
It’s blankets around shoulders beside baseball fields, holding theatre programs in uncomfortable seats for a two-hour show, making that 10 a.m. coffee date you planned with your friend.
It’s saying “no” to the fun party you’re invited to because you’ve committed to babysitting your nephew.
It’s calling the friend to invite him over, even though you’re tired of always being the one who invites.
Sometimes Love is caregiving.
It’s wiping up vomit or blood or bowel movement; it’s giving baths, Kleenexing noses, swiping saliva off chins, spoon-feeding peas.
It’s lullabies. It’s tying shoes. It’s watching the same three snippets of “Hickory Dickory Dock” on YouTube over and over and over and over—in a foreign language.
Sometimes you’re doing all of these things for a toddler or a baby or niece or a nephew—but sometimes it’s a grandma who’s barely holding on from chemo treatments or a grown child who is unable to do these things for himself.
Sometimes Love is holding on.
It’s going to bed completely depleted from fighting emotions every hour of the day because the love you pour into someone is met with rejection and opposition, and then getting up the next day with hope that today will be different.
It’s being consistently shoved away by meltdowns and profanity and stone words and pulled hair.
Sometimes Love is letting go.
It’s walking away from a physically abusive relationship.
Or walking away from a verbally abusive relationship.
Or walking away from a toxic relationship wearing a costume disguised as love.
Sometimes Love is for yourself.
It’s digging up the courage to confront someone who has hurt you, instead of putting it into that box inside that rots and rusts, making you consistently bitter toward the person for the wrong and toward yourself for not saying that thing you were going to say that would “really show them.”
It’s creating boundaries in relationships so you can love the person better instead of having their faults and insecurities and passive-aggressive quips screech across the chalkboard of your nerves.
It’s allowing yourself to take chances and make big mistakes that find you sprawled belly down on the floor of life, so you can get up and try again.
Sometimes Love is for the “other.”
It’s holding back the hair of someone you love, who never takes your advice and once again finds herself in your bathroom floor, vomiting up her self-harming choices.
It’s stepping back and allowing a loved one to make a choice you know will end up in hurt because you also know part of life is failing hard and learning big.
It’s asking questions and listening and listening and listening and opening, opening, opening up your mind and heart to understand the perspective of someone on the other team.
Sometimes Love is counter-intuitive.
It’s giving a small reaction when everything inside you wants to shout.
It’s not saying the thing you want to say and saying the thing the other person needs to hear.
It’s saying the thing you need to say and not saying the thing the other person wants to hear.
It’s being brave and standing up.
It’s being brave and sitting down.
It’s guarding your heart when you want to open it.
It’s opening your heart when you want to guard it.
It’s admitting when you’re wrong.
It’s letting go of any control you thought you had.
It’s saying goodbye, by choice or by life.
Love inflicts and heals. It rips us open and puts us back together. It breaks us and grows us. Love shapes us and reshapes us and guides us through our becoming because Love is the force of all things.
Love is what makes us Real.
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
When I used to teach high school English, I remember standing in the hallway with another teacher between classes. I was talking about grading essays and how I had this one particular essay that was riding that line between an “A-” and a “B+.” I was explaining my challenging situation because even by using the rubric, I couldn’t decide where the essay fell. There were things that fell in the “A” column, but also some important things had fallen into the “B” side.
She was a veteran teacher whom I respected. And I remember so clearly what she said:
“Someone once advised me, ‘If you’re going to err, err on the side of Love.’”
I ended up giving the student the “A-“ but the conversation meant so much more.
The very act of living is a vulnerable act.
We’re all going to die. We’re all going to lose someone we love. We’re going to put our trust in the wrong people, get taken advantage of, have our hearts break and expectations shattered.
All of these things will happen because it’s part of living.
And if we’re all going to “err” anyway, I want to err on the side of Love—even if I end up shabby, with those loose joints and sparse hair.
It’s all a part of our becoming.
“There is nothing less safe than love. And there is no way to make it safe. And if you do make it safe—it’s no longer love.”