Saturday, September 27, 2014

On love: The choice

Part One of Two

(This is kind of a long post, so I'd recommend grabbing a cream soda or something. Also, I'm kind of baring my soul here. Again. So get back on Facebook or whatever if you're not into that kind of thing.)

I've been thinking a lot about love lately. Sometimes there are ideas that are just on your radar, and for the past year or so, love has been on mine.

Okay, I confess, it's been on my radar for like, most of my life. But as I grow older, my understanding of love keeps growing and changing, and I've just been thinking a lot about it.

Here's one thing I know for sure: It takes courage to love. I also know it's worth it to love. That goes for loving people, loving things, loving in general.

A little while ago, I blogged about gratitude, and how I think that gratitude is both a choice AND something that can happen to you. And I'm beginning to think the same thing about love. The romantic world of books and movies and love songs would have us believe that love is only something that happens to you, but I don't think that's completely true. It can't be. You have to be able to choose whom or what you love, to some extent. At the very least, you've got to be able to choose what to do with the love that happens to you.

Maybe that's the moment that takes courage. Between love happening to you and choosing what to do with it. Because sometimes the thing that takes the most courage is to say, "Yes. I choose this, I choose us, I want to take this leap." But sometimes the most courageous thing is to say, "No. This is not the right thing, and I know we will both be better and more full and more complete if we walk away." I don't think either choice is always right or always wrong for every person in every situation. I've watched friends and family make both choices, for better or for worse. And all I know is that both choices are terrifying.

When I was in high school, we went on this Kiwanis Key Club Convention thing, where they didn't EVER feed us and where we went to a workshop called "Don't Call It Love." It was a guy talking about teen sexuality and relationships. (Yay Oregon!) He defined LOVE as "choosing the highest good for another person." And for a long time, I really believed that to be the best definition. But...I dunno, I feel like my definition has grown to include more than that.

I took kind of an informal survey among a few friends while I was thinking about all this, and asked them what they thought the definition of love was. One friend quoted T.S. Eliot in her reply, saying, "We should not over examine love, not seek to place it fixed and sprawling on a pin. Love just is, and thank God for that." I'm grateful for that perspective, and I think it's wise. But at the same time, I want to learn how to love better, and I'm interested in the question of what love is so that I can do that. A lot of the answers that people gave me had to do with selflessness. One friend said that love leaves you better than it found you. Several other friends pointed out that there are different kinds of love--romantic love and sexual love and friendship love.

I thought a lot about the idea that love leaves you better than it found you. I think about the people I've loved, and the ways that I've loved them. And the truth is, to quote Nazareth, that sometimes, love hurts. Not just when it leaves you, but sometimes loving someone you know you can't have hurts. It hurts to feel love for someone and to know that you can't ever be together, or that you would actually not make a great couple, or that they will never love you back in the same way. It can make you mean and scared and jealous and maybe even kind of crazy. It can also make you brave and strong and patient. I've been all of those things at some point or another, for better or for worse. For the most part, I've been blessed enough to rebuild any bridges I burned by being mean or scared or jealous or crazy. (Thank goodness for the perspective of time, the patience of friends, and the beauty of forgiveness.) So maybe, eventually, even the kind of love that hurts can leave you better than it found you, if you choose to let it.

Because here's the other thing I think about love. And this is true of friendship love or romantic love. The choice of what to do with the love that comes into your life is a daily one. There have been times in my life when I prayed to stop loving someone, because it hurt, for whatever reason. And there have been times in my life when I've prayed for help in loving someone more, or even at all. And I think I did that because I thought that love was only something that happened to me, and that I had to change what was going on inside of me, what I was feeling. But it never worked. Because feelings happen. They come, they go, they stay. Choices are where we can be brave, or jealous, or patient, or crazy, or strong.

Sometimes it's hard to know what the right choice is, to know what the best thing to do with the love we feel is. Romantic love is especially complicated. But when it comes to love in general, at the tender and wise age of twenty-nine, I'm beginning to think (and understand) that we have nothing to lose in following kind impulses. We have nothing to lose in selfless love. We have nothing to lose in lifting others up. I sometimes get caught up in thinking that each of us only has a certain amount of love that we can give or experience, and that we have to "spend" it wisely. But it's not true. The more you choose to let love make you brave and strong and patient, to more you choose to lift up the hands that hang down or write a quick note of encouragement or give a compliment or just listen to someone, the more your ability to love grows.

And as that love grows, you have more to give. And in the times when you feel depleted and empty of love, people will show up to give you the love that you need to keep going. And then once your own ability to love has brushed itself off and stood up again, you can be that person for someone else.

And that's a pretty beautiful part of being human.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. A lot of stuff honestly makes more sense now