I’m a writer, it’s a holiday. Obligation states I acknowledge the day. Carrying on…
I have spent the last three years following a progression in terms of Valentine’s Day – a year of singleness followed by a year of year of dating followed by a year of being engaged. Despite the fact that I spent one year without romantic attachment and this year was spent with my husband-to-be, I haven’t really monitored distinct differences in the days or how I was affected by them. I know that this year I had plans, but the overall feeling of the day itself is no different.
For me, that really speaks to the nature of love, not some silly holiday.
I have always felt loved. I have not always felt like I deserved it, but that’s where grace comes in.
A slightly younger and more cynical me wrote this about Valentine’s Day four years ago:
“Love” – it doesn’t exist. Sure, we can claim it’s the “reason for the season” and give all our affection to the one we “love” the most. But what happens when Valentine’s Day is our only excuse? The rest of the year we ignore the needs and emotions of others, but as long as we buy those carnations on Valentine’s Day, our lack of love the rest of the year is pardoned with a standing ovation.
Don’t get me wrong, handing out flowers every day of the year won’t make every day a day for valentines, but we should keep that same mindset. Why only have one day to love people?”
Apparently, I was a bit of a linguist as well:
“Besides, we don’t know what love means anymore. People date, throwing “love” out in the open and two weeks later break up and feel like life isn’t worth living. Uttering a simple word will not change emotions or expressions, and our overuse only proves we are ignorant to what it truly means: “Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” and “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”.
Love doesn’t have to be a romantic, swooning overdrive of the soul. But we use it like we use any other word: without thought and without understanding. Too often we use it, thinking we know what it means and how it feels, but we are almost always wrong. Love is not an emotion: it’s a state of the heart. True love, not the fluff that we lace into so many conversations, is not shallow, stingy or simplistic. Love is nowhere near that tingling we get in our stomachs when our adored person of choice comes down the hall. Love is the soul-deep affection and compassion for others that cannot be replaced, cannot be formulated no matter how influenced your brain is by it. True love lives for others, and not itself. Love is forgiving. Love is selfless. Love has been destroyed by society.”
I don’t think I would stitch that last statement onto a pillow – my heavy-handedness stemmed from singleness, teen angst and frustration at people with heads as empty as flower pots. Despite my hyperbole, however, there is a lot of truth in that statement. Love has been stained by societal expectations and its new understanding influenced by the media. TV shows for anyone over the age of thirteen frequently offer the idea that love is synonymous with sex and that love is as easy to return, lose, or exchange as any sweater from the Gap. In terms of what we know from popular culture (and seeing as culture is a societal construct), Love can be defined in three ways:
1. Love is a living thing that, if not fed and watered and influenced by the proper measures of attention and care, will die and cannot be resurrected – no choices, only consequences. When it’s gone, we replace it with another living thing and the cycle continues until we finally bite the dust.
2. Love is a state of being, just like “fatigue” or “hunger”. There are periods of life when people are “in love”, but that time fades and we can fulfill its needs through various outlets including sex, gifts and shallow material offerings.
3. Love is a mirage. Marriages today are like jobs – fifty years ago, a man worked the same job all his life and then retired. Today, if a man is lucky, he stays at the same company for ten years before being laid off or becoming bored with his prospects. Love is really just an illusion but doesn’t actually exist. It’s a placeholder for whatever better thing will come along.
Who wants to be in a steady, consistent, monogamous relationship when there’s so much love to find in the world? Who wants to be trapped with only one option? In the words of Peter Pan, “Forever is an awfully long time.”
True love is not a trap or a cage.
Love does not inhibit and it does not deny. Love never fails.
Love is not a status or an incurably diseased organism or a worn-out idea. Love is a choice. Love IS a state of the heart. You choose to love someone. Love only dies because people willingly let it die – they stop tending it, they have no desire to nurture it, and after all the care they poured into it in the beginning, they try and seek the easy way out. Worse than just letting love die is letting it die because attentions were drawn elsewhere. There were “better things” and “better opportunities” that came up, and the previous object of affection was a mistake or a misstep.
I choose to love, even when there are no guaranteed rewards for my actions or promise of reciprocation. I love because I am called by God to love, because I am made to love, because I cannot deny it or escape it. Love does not die of its own free will as love is not a living thing by its own will – it is a symbiote, surviving in unity with a human host, given in perfect example by God who created it.
I pray that fifty years from now, people will ask me how we ever did it, how we ever managed to stay in love this long. I hope that even then, I will look over at Matt and squeeze his hand and be able to quote Isaac from The Fault in Our Stars:
Some days, it wasn’t easy.
“But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway”
No matter what happens, I will choose to keep the promise anyway.
That’s some of the very most we can do in this short life.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.
A typical last-semester of senior year: Friends sitting around a table in the cafeteria, laughing over an issue of the Drawing Board, talking about the session of senior seminar they just vacated, poking at the limp, flavorless vegetables on their plates and gnawing at leathery Sodexo pot roast. Pointing out the perspective students standing awkwardly at the cafeteria stairs, trying to look belonging but given away by the familiar purple folder clutched underneath their too-hot plate. Snow turns to rain out the large windows overlooking the quad, and the lunch rush leaves for their afternoon classes. The friends, blessed with relaxed schedules, recline and continue to share stories and memories, going around the table for another few minutes.
“Well, next fall SPOT, we’ll….”
“Just another Christmas Break, you know?”
“It’s been forever since we did coffee. Soon?”
“Sure, but it’s not like we’ll never see each other again….”
The table grows quiet as everyone, regardless of the separate conversations they were carrying on, lets the weight of the words settle over the group in a heavy layer of realization.
This is the last. There won’t be any more after.
When senior year of high school flew by, I wasn’t surprised. I had grown up with the people who sat at the desks next to me, many of whom I loved and many of whom I would not miss. I was ready to leave my birthplace, my origins, and prepared to blaze new trails and see new things and continue to learn and grow and open my eyes and take my first real steps into the world. It was a feeling of branching out, not parting ways. There wasn’t a pain in leaving as I knew at some point that we’d all be back. We all had common origins. We would have to return. And if we didn’t, it was for good reason.
The beauty and frustration of Houghton College is that it is a place that filled me with unrealistic expectations and a set idealism. I will always have hot meals available and a local coffee shop where the barista knows me and my order before I even step up to the counter. I will always have my friends within a ten-mile radius, and they will be available to talk and spend time at any hour day or night. I will get to be taught by experts in every field of my interests and spend time at length in their tutelage and friendship. There are enough jobs for everyone to earn some money, even at minimum wage. There is no need for police and there’s a preconceived notion that doors need not be locked and no one will ever steal from your bag. We are not spoiled by perfect weather, but there are warm beds to sleep in winter and when spring eventually wakes, she is the very essence of joy. There is no sound of the freeway, and skyscrapers and office buildings are replaced by pine boughs stretching towards an open sky. My commute to class is through the woods, crossing a weaving, burbling creek and smelling the moist dirt beneath the trees and feeling whispers of hushed wind through spreading branches.
We may feel a million miles from elsewhere, but this is home. No one really needs Wal-Mart when you have thirteen-hundred acres of woods, rivers and fields.
Only four brief months, and I’ll be like Truman, crashing my boat into the edge of my man-made sphere and climbing the skyward stairs towards the exit. When I finally get brave enough to sail to new horizons, harsh reality will tear through my sails and deconstruct the dream I created. It’s just plaster and paint. That’s not the sky.
I’ve spent four unbelievable years feeling like Houghton and Ohio were the only worlds that existed. I’ve known better all along, but it didn’t hit me until the other day that this is my community. This is the first place I’ve made a home all on my own. I bustle through to the post office; grab my mail and then a cup of coffee, running off to my next meeting and waving hi to the familiars on the sidewalk. I met my first boyfriend and found my last “forever” love. I won and lost and got published and was rejected and learned to build a thicker skin. I slept and I woke and I lived.
My belongings fill my apartment, my art on the walls, my baking in the oven and my favorite foods in the fridge. My blankets on my bed and clothes in my drawers. My lights that glow on the deck and my card telling everyone Cleveland, I love you peeking out from the door into the night.
My footprints are locked in the ice on the stairs.
My car leaves a dry spot on the driveway.
I tell them to come in, and I close the door behind them as they leave.
My key fits into the door.
My hand turns off the lights.
So short a time, and another’s belongings will fill this home. The smell of someone else’s cooking and the hanging of someone else’s art. Someone else’s mail will fill my box and someone else’s body will inhabit my usual seat in Java. They will find rest in my bed and a seat at my table. They will look out my windows and watch my birds and feel my floors beneath their feet. They will watch movies on the squeaky futon and have friends over and make a place and fill the empty space I will be forced to leave behind.
As much as I never thought I’d admit it, it will inevitably be a space that is cut from my heart.
In less than a year, I’ll find a new space and start a new life with a husband, my best friend, and we’ll make a new place ours, together. There’s already so much of him in this house.
While Ohio is a first and foremost,
this has become a home.
In a few months, we’ll throw our caps and be spread like scattershot into the many corners of the world – yes, truly the world. Houghton becomes a place of origin, like a womb from a second birth, the birth of adulthood. We’ll all have this place in common, but it will be home no longer once we have left. There’s a good chance we will not see each other again – not all of us. And as much as it hurts to think about the distance, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We can’t live in isolation forever,
but we can live well here while we still have the chance.
You beautiful creature.
Houghton, I love you
After thinking about my reprieve from the past couple of weeks, I’ll save reflections for next week.
This week, I need to take a retrospective pause.
I don’t know what lies ahead for me.
So much is left up in the air and in God’s control. I don’t know when our house will sell, I don’t know where I’ll work after college and I don’t know when I’ll get married. I’m not sure where I’ll be in five years, or who I’ll be with or how I’ll be earning my day-to-day bread.
I don’t know where my friends or loved ones will be. I haven’t a clue if I’ll ever see some people again or meet others for the first time. I’m caught in such a void of uncertainty that some days, I’m not even quite sure what I was meant to do. I know the things I love and I know the people I love and I know where I’d like to be, but I don’t know any of these things in permanence.
All I’m looking for is a little security. Some sign that the future isn’t determined by Bob Dylan lyrics. I’m just asking for some sort of waystone that I can rest at, feeling the soft summer sun and knowing that some definite answers ahead of me. I don’t want all the answers, I don’t even want to see the future in all its Encarta Encyclopedia detail. I just want a glimmer that soon, things could be set. Things could be as they will be until I die. Most people wish this but they never see it. I doubt I will either. The problem lies in that my future is held in the hands of my protector, my suitor, and our Creator. My future lies in the economy, the government, my college and my global neighbors. So much of my future lies in the hands of others, and I can only try and pry their fingers apart to see the sparkle of light within.
I have keys to my future. I can determine which jobs to look for and hobbies to take up. I can determine the foods that I eat and will continue to lose weight through Weight Watchers. I will go where my family goes until someday, hopefully sooner than my poor, longing mind can imagine, I have a family of my own. I can decide which movies to watch and when to go to bed – and I can also determine when to get up and walk and sit and speak.
I don’t need to be long-winded to know what I feel. And I know this isn’t what you expected. Maybe it’s because of my lack of sleep or my lack of food or the fact that I’ve been working at the same table in the Solon Panera for over four hours without moving. Whatever the cause may be, my heart just isn’t in my writing this week. It’s not fair to you to be trapped with my insecurities, but occasionally the blogger must make the judgement call about what should be shared and what wants to be shared.
I’m taking the initiative to share myself with you. I want to share my uncertainties, my desires, my hopes with you.
I want to trust you.
That’s what this all comes down to – trust. I trust my parents when they say they will love me and provide for me, regardless of where we may have to uproot to. I trust Matt when he tells me he wants to marry me and it waiting for the right time to ask me to be his forever. I trust my friends when they say they’ll be there, I trust my college to prepare me for the world beyond myself. Above all else, I trust God that He holds me, my future, my soul in His hands at all times, for eternity. I trust He knows what is best, and will convey that knowing to all those involved. In His times and in His hands, when all else fails, this I will still have for certain.
I know that trusting people can lead to pain and heartbreak. I know trust can be hard, painful and shaky. I know it can be gained and lost. Trust is like patience – both must be learned and had and will have consequences. Both hold great reward.
I find that when I confront my thoughts of trust, I am weak. I am impatient. I am selfish. It’s about me and the fact that I deserve to know. I deserve to have all the facts that you do, to be on the same. Doesn’t that defeat the very idea of trust? That we put our resources, our effort, or lives into the responsibility of others? We still must take responsibility, but we must trust if we ever want to find rest.
Trust includes forgiveness. Trust includes love. Trust means being prepared to make a leap without looking over the edge. Trust does not mean foolish or foolhardy agreement and surrender. But it does mean a sense of surrender – knowing and accepting that you can’t do this alone.
It means falling back into the arms of love and knowing they will catch you.
It means tripping into a blind darkness of uncertainty and knowing a light will be there to guide.
Lord, you have given me this opportunity for patience. Lord, help me to truly trust you and those you have put in my life.
I long so frantically for time to pass a little faster.
The deepest yearnings of my heart paint utopian images in my head of how I pray everything will be.
I’m walking multiple paths with multiple people, but only one sits in the middle with one other traveler walking by my side.
I’m longing and hoping and praying, and over all of that, I trust.
Let me savor the time I have now rather than long for that which has not yet come.
But please, let it come soon.
I’ve never been very good at waiting.