Recently I was asked to write an essay based from the idea behind the notorious, “This I Believe,” NPR (National Public Radio) program. Originally hosted by the journalist Edward J. Murrow, this initiative began in the 1950s, when thousands of Americans used to flock to their radio in the same delighted anticipation of hearing beliefs that either unified or made beliefs seem more unique. The support for this program was so strong, that a non-profit organization, This I Believe, Inc. was formed in 2004 to be, “A public dialogue about belief – one essay at a time.” If you love to read for inspiration, it is really a site to visit (thisibelieve.org). For my purposes, I was actually asked about what I believe, in love.
Even as a young girl, I don’t think I ever had a young girl’s heart. I think it might be safe to say I was born an old soul, and carried inherently, in my being, a deep desire to love and be loved; it just took me a bit longer than childhood to discover what that looked like. I can say, with assurance, however, that for as long as I have understood that love would be a consuming part of my life, I have aimed to define it, ironically, in the way a little girl would. So often this image painted before me was rapt with imagining princes, grand gestures and “happily-ever-afters,” all of which I still believe in, but the painting’s a bit abstract now.
Having been in love, (more than once) I believe a great deal about it. But mostly, I have come to believe that it is not only a feeling, but a life-force that shapes us into the heroes, heroines or tragedies of our own stories. I used to be somewhat naively narcissistic about love, wishing desperately for Charles Dickens’ line in Great Expectations to define my love story when he said, “You are in every line I have ever read.” Every line. In my fantasy I delighted to think, “That will be me, I will be her!” someday … when I fall in love in the forever kind-of-way. But I was wrong. I was selfish, and love, real-love, never is.
True love isn’t about falling in, or out. It doesn’t revolve around how much I’m thought about or wanted or doted on. Love doesn’t infatuate – it stays. It isn’t always romantic, or candle-lit. There aren’t often white horses or wind-swept beach walks or days spent where every waking moment is the two of you. The truth is that love isn’t a fantasy … the reality of love is much, much more.
Sometimes, as un-romantic as it sounds, love is a full gas tank. It’s a bed made – an extra twenty minutes of sleep or a, “you can shower first.” Sometimes it’s watching a movie you have no desire to see, or going somewhere you never would have gone before simply because you know you’re better there … wherever there is … with them.
So I have come to realize that no, I am not in, “every line,” every thought, or every act. Love isn’t pretend like that. It’s about what you give … who you become in the absence of yourself; the gift is in the loss. When it comes to love, two halves don’t make a whole. Being all in doesn’t mean you’ll give 50% it means you’ll give 100. All of you given away, for the best version of yourself you’ll ever receive back. True love isn’t in being the object of someone else’s desire, it is about realizing that you could never have become the kind of individual you have, without them. Love is alive. It will move and change and grow in directions you cannot predict but if it is real then one thing it won’t do, is end.
So I now look to a different quote from Great Expectations, in terms of how I hope to be loved – still completely, but not blindly. Because the reality is I’m not perfect, we’re not perfect, but love is. It never falls, it never fails, and (thankfully) it isn’t rational … it just stays.
“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be,” (Dickens).
I pray you too, know love.