I love you.
We’ve all heard these words before. We’ve said them before. We’ve given them out like they were candies wrapped in little blue boxes with silver strings, we’ve imagined them into our desires so we could feel a little less lonely, we’ve ascribed them to the people we are supposed to care about.
We define our worth by how many times we get to hear these words, we hem them into the lining of our lifeline, we seek reassurance in the form of these three words because the continual validation that we are important is far more valuable to us than the love itself.
These are the words we live for.
We are taught to chase an ideal love before we are taught how to love. We spend our lives looking for something that we don’t even understand. We grow up knowing that we want love before we know what it is.
Yet somehow, despite the significance we attribute to the ideal love, every day we love ever so recklessly, taking it for granted.
I used to say I love you to my family and to my friends ever so easily, the words tumbling from of my lips carelessly, absentmindedly. I loved them the way I breathed; I loved them without ever thinking about it.
I never did understand the weight of what I was saying.
I think it’s because my heart was always closed, trapped like a hostage behind a ribcage jail that held it back like a clawed hand. My heartbeat clattered on, shaking blood through my veins and only ever beating within the boundaries of what I allowed myself to feel.
You see, I was scared of how much it might hurt if I was vulnerable, if I let myself love properly. So instead I decided to hide inside my mind, using my intelligence like a shield, using my writing as a mask.
Maybe if I had known what love was back then, I would have done things differently.
This summer, I spent a month in Kenya, tracing my lineage back to my parents’ East Africa and learning to redefine everything I thought I knew. In Limuru, a poor town just outside of Nairobi, every day I would walk through the rusted gate into the Body of Christ Children’s Centre and work with these extraordinary kids who changed my life.
It was here, in classrooms crowded with the quietly crying hearts of forty children that I discovered what my heart could do.
I remember feeling it for the first time when I was reading a book with a beautiful little girl named Selina. I remember what it was like when she took my hand silently, instantly drawn to me because maybe I could give her something she hadn’t been given growing up. I remember her climbing into my lap, her fingers curling around my hair, her eyes wide and wondering.
I remember what it was like when one of our girls picked up a book and began reading out loud to her friends for the first time. I remember Selina sneaking out of class to find me and ask when I was coming back, her smile bigger than anything I could carry in my arms when I told her I would be back the next day to read with her.
I remember what it was like when the guarded eyes of the older children, who had learned to isolate themselves, grew bright with trust and laughter. I remember how these children, when they were all together, were happier than anyone I had ever met. I remember the indescribable joy in the air as I watched them playing and singing and dancing, their smiles sun-bright and impossibly blissful.
I remember my soul telling me that it was at peace.
I remember learning what it meant to be wealthy. I remember understanding just how necessary it is that we close our eyes and open our hearts.
I remember learning how to love. I don’t think I ever truly believed in unconditional love until then, when I was unconditionally loving each and every child there.
I remember holding Selina in my arms, not knowing that it would be the last time I would ever see her. I remember back coming the next day to an almost empty school when the riots in the streets had become dangerous enough for families to leave until the elections were over.
I remember not being able to stop the hurting in my heart when I realized my goodbyes had been stolen from me.
I remember the shock; I knew I was going to have to leave them eventually but I never expected them to leave me first.
I remember the rainfall tears pouring down from our cheeks on the last day. The few remaining kids who didn’t have a place to go home to when things got unsafe were clinging to our waists and clutching our hands as we walked out through the rusted gate for the last time.
I remember feeling my heart break. I had never been in so much pain before from loving so much.
I remember what these beautiful children were calling out to us as we drove away, their hands reaching through the gate, our hands pressed against the glass, really believing that we could touch each other one last time if we just tried hard enough. I remember hearing their cries:
I love you!
And for the first time, I said I love you back and meant it with every fiber of my being. There was no question, no fear, no lack of understanding. I was loving wholeheartedly in a way I didn’t know was even possible.
It was the most powerful, beautiful, and devastating thing I have ever experienced in my life.
I guess I’ll never know if they could hear all of this in my voice through the glass as we drove away.
For these children, loving anyone and being loved is a privilege.
They can’t afford the luxury of the irresponsible, vague love we take for granted. They love with everything they have every chance they get. We love carelessly every day without understanding the wonder of what we have; instead, we’re always chasing after an ideal of love, and measuring the number of times these words are tossed to us instead of appreciating what they mean.
I used to do just this and call it love because it was all I knew. But I love you means so much more to me now than it ever could before. My heart has never been so free to feel; never in my life have I gone through each day in so much pain but being so happy at the same time. Never have I been able to see things more clearly.
And it’s all because, in Kenya, I learned how to love.
I love you.
These three words have changed my life. And every night before I sleep, I tell the children at Body of Christ how much I love them.
Some nights, I swear I can hear them calling back to me –
I love you too.
6 thoughts on “This Loving”
This piece was so cathartic for me to read. Thank you. I feel exactly the same way about handing out “I love you’s” to people to did not deserve them, absentmindedly, like a routine. The words have been engraved in us since we were babies, and we use them far too carelessly. I also love how you touched on the fact that we often don’t want to fall in love – we close ourselves off to the prospect of it because of our fears. Because of the utter lack of control we have when our feelings are dependent on another’s. I think my favorite part of the whole piece was the ending, because I also hear them whispering back to me before I sleep. And I don’t know if it is them or my heart playing tricks on me, but I am hopeful. I am hopeful.
In terms of improvement, I enjoyed the repetition of the phrase “i remember”, but I think it went on for a little long. I would also add something about not wanting to forget – that so much of the love is rooted in memories that you (and I) can’t relive. Thank you for this.
Thanks so much for your comment! I know exactly what you’re talking about – we fear love but we’re also desperate to have it. Interesting, isn’t it, that the one thing we crave more than anything else is also the one thing that could be our undoing?
I love the idea of going back and adding it “I never want to forget.” That’s a really cool concept and I think it works nicely with the already established “I remember.” Thanks so much for that and for all of your feedback, I really appreciate it!
Wow. The way that your mind works and the way that you are able to capture time capsules of words to slowly dribble upon the reader is phenomenal. This beautifully written piece was just as moving as your presentation; it is so carefully carved and pieced together with such delicate words and phrases, “candies wrapped in little blue boxes with silver strings”, ” the continual validation that we are important is far more valuable to us than the love itself”, or ” using my intelligence like a shield, using my writing as a mask”. Every word that I read was a tiny cliff hanger allowing me to hinge on until the end. In addition, although the post was separated into four sections, unique in their own ways, there was still a underlying theme that really bounded them together, the words “I love you”. Also, what I found amazing was the repetition of the phrases “I remember” closely followed by vivid memories. This almost seemed to bring them to life – so much that it’s almost like there is a space between memories and the present, almost re-defining what should be of now and of the past – a place in between. I believe that this all was so fluent and moving in it self is because of the amount of raw passion and honesty that I could feel seeping into my mind.
Although your post is near the definition of my “perfect”, I believe that to further enhance this post would be to provide a little bit more of a back story, of perhaps the little girl Selina or the riots that were taking place during the elections. I think that it would add more depth and knowledge for the readers. 🙂
I have to say, ever since last year I’ve always looked up to you and the amount of wisdom that you always seem to hold, reflecting both in your writing and the ideas you have in the Socratic circles. To be able to read and comment on your writing truly humbles me. Thank you.
Wow, thank you for your comment! Reading this was the highlight of my day. 🙂
I really appreciate your feedback – it’s so easy for me to get caught up in my writing and in the feeling it gives me… meanwhile I’m forgetting my audience… oops. I will definitely be going back to add some more background detail. Thank you for that.
I’m so glad you were able to connect with this piece. It was difficult to write but I did so in the hopes that I could communicate what I took away from this experience with our class. Your response helped to validate for me that I was able to do this, so I’m really glad you took the time to let me know that “This Loving” resonated with you.
Thanks again for your comment!
I’ve already sent you an essay regarding the emotional impact that this piece has had on me. It has also deepened how much I miss my own family of children from this summer. Of all the amazingly written sentences that make up this post, the one what resonated most deeply with me, and the one that probably prompted tears from me, a boy who is finding it ever more easy to show emotion about things: “I remember what it was like when the guarded eyes of the older children, who had learned to isolate themselves, grew bright with trust and laughter.”
The children that I have had the honor of working with have, for the most part, always been full of trust and joy from the day I met them. But this is not always the case, as you both and I have seen It’s the most rewarding feeling in the world to break through the shell of a guarded and closed off little boy or girl. To watch their eyes grow “bright with trust and laughter”, as they realize that they have found a person in this world that they are able to unconditionally be themselves around.
Moving on to your post, there is something amazingly impactful about your ability to use repetition of certain phrases, yet be able to tell an entire story composed of the same half of a sentence. Contrary to Alysha, I absolutely adored your use repeated of the phrases “We’ve always”, “I remember”, and “I love you”. Every single one of them just fed a desire to know more about the impact that this journey has had on you. Just reading about your relationship with Selina made me feel as though I was there, watching your story unfold. You have a powerful ability to get into the hearts of your readers with your perfectly articulated and well spoken mastery of the English language. I aspire to achieve the level of writing that you are at.
I know that I am the first person to tell you that your writing has slipped too far into imagination, into flowery language that you love to lose yourself in, into phrases that few can hope to understand. I have often mentioned that you need to have a tie to reality, lest I label your work ‘pretentious’ or ‘unrealistic’.
I felt none of that reading this post. It has been has proven to me that you are able to write confidently about concepts both realistic and imaginary, and do so in such a masterful way that anybody reading you can understand and feel what your emotional train wreck of a journey has been.
I could go on telling you all the things that I adored about this post. Instead, I am forced to find something within your writing that I wish to see improved. And the fact is – I can’t. There is nothing that I would change in the writing of this piece. My only suggestion to you is to relate the pictures that you show us to the writing that I find that I can’t get enough of.
Apart from that, I would just like to say that finding yourself in a society as emotionally guarded as this, after being able to so openly love those around you is arguably one of the most difficult challenges that you will ever have to face. I can provide nothing but support (And poorly thought-out jokes) in hopes that you can make your world make sense again.
Now, I don’t normally say use the word love for a conclusion, but you have forced my hand, no other word can express my feelings after reading this post.
Thanks so much for your comment! (Sorry for the late reply, things have been really hectic!!) Everything you said here really means a lot to me, especially since you’ve been on me since Grade 10 to work on the clarity of my writing. I’m also really glad that you were able to connect with this piece; I know you also had an incredible experience this summer working for the City. Thanks again for your amazing, sincere comment, it really was so heartwarming to read.