I. was. mortified.
Sitting at the kitchen peninsula...on the canvas textured olive green + cream floral printed dining chair with a thick plastic ruffle and a seat the weight of lead...I dropped my head into my arms and almost cried. I was so sure that my soon to be ex-friend was sitting in her house laughing uncontrollably at my slip and would certainly fire up the phone tree to spread the word about how weird I was. (It was back in the 80's and the speed of texting was not yet there to hang me in a blink. I hoped only that the fire would come to a dead halt when all the callers would come up against busy signals. Remember those?)
The next morning at school, nothing was different. She said hi. I said hi. We gathered with our other friends and I waited for it to come up. It didn't. Life went on as usual. Maybe she hadn't heard me. Maybe she had...and didn't care.
I had a boyfriend in high school - a kind, and compassionate kid - that I had deep affection for (as deep as a 16 year old can have) and I'm not sure that I ever told him that I loved him but I know I tested his affections and was certainly more work than I was worth. I was young and had more than my share of confusing life experiences digesting so maybe I didn't really know how to connect with love to someone outside my family. I loved him as well as I knew how and his kindness lingered even so.
Fast forward almost 20 years and here I am with two teenage daughters who say "i love you" to everyone. Every single one of their friends. It's been the strangest thing to witness and when I first became aware of it, I squirmed in my skin. I may have even given them a little motherly lecture (in all my perfect wisdom) about how it's really important not to throw that phrase around lightly and about how it takes the potentcy out of it and to save it for someone special.
It may all be true in some way, in some seasons, for some souls, but I wasn't coming fully from a place of truth. Fear was walking around in there too and so it was truth from a wounded heart.
But for the grace of God they raised one eyebrow and shifted to lean on one hip in that unique "are you kidding me?" way, as per usual, told me I didn't know what I was talking about, as per usual, and continued doing what they wanted to do in spite of my specific instruction. As per usual.
With this life of art + teaching I have had the priveledge of connecting with people who have become so very dear to me for various reasons. Some of their smiles are dancing across my mind even now and tears of gratitude well up. Every single one of these spectacular humans has gifted me in such profound and personal...and individual ways. Some know it. Some don't. I feel, in some regards, that I owe them my life. My spiritual life, my creative life, whatever life I have that has anything to give the world. It is because of these people that I take little bold steps here and there, that I speak what's real in my heart when I'm teaching a class, that I am able to hold space for someone struggling without it knocking me out of the boat, that I mother with more compassion and allow for more breadth of the journey of my beloved man. I have come in touch with my own strength because of these people and my body doesn't know how to hold all the gratitude and affection I have for them.
Sometimes it spills out as tears.
And it occured to me not long ago that this is one way love lives in me.
So I agreed to give it a voice...or at least not squelch the voice if it wants to speak. It feels better to say "i love you" rather than some other pleasant compliment when what I'm really feeling is that all-encompassing, body-cavity-filling love. I am not qualified to pontificate on the technicalities of what love "really" is. All I know is that I feel it and I feel it hard...and I'm happy that now I am easing in to saying in those times when that is the most honest thing that can be said.
My daughters...my brilliant, beautiful, deeply compassionate, accepting daughters THANKFULLY do not have any qualms about naming love when they feel what they know to be love. It will evolve for them, it will certainly continue to be offered as a golden token of connection and I'm amazed at how well they zero right in on the heart of someone before they decide that someone may not be deserving of their effervescent love.
I'm still growing into that clear vision and if you are my friend, and you tell me you love me and I don't tell you back, it's only because I'm still learning that what I offer freely and without hesitation to my famliy of origin, I can also give freely and without hesitation to my family of the heart without fear of driving you off. Like I said, I love hard and if you are in the width of that love, there is no escaping. I keep my body just big enough to throw it over you when the sky rains fire and as war is on the horizon and I will bury you in my love so that I can turn and fight the battle for both our sakes.
And if I feel love from you so deeply in who you are and what you do and how you open your arms and soul and smile to me and those words never dance in the air between us, know that I see it and am better by it and give all I have to you too and my all is made more by knowing you.
Saying I love you isn't just keeping up with a trend for me. It's where the rubber meets the road in my committment to live with integrity, to be impeccable with my word. It is my way of living in gratitude and my best chance at knowing I'm safe as I continue to crack open to all this life has to teach me.