I was in love with an adorable thin boy in first grade, and I was in love for far too long with a pre-teen crush, and I've loved my sister ever since her purple eyes opened and she gave me a reason to live.
I've loved my mother, and my step-father, and I've loved my father in impossible, painful ways. I've loved my stepmother in her brilliant vulnerabilities, and I am coming to love my second stepmother and her son in their authenticity. I've loved my grandmother and all the ways I fear to tell her my weaknesses. I've loved the way she taught me to hear music and see light through blue glass.
I loved my grandfather and the way he made me afraid to be anything other than the best version of myself.
I've loved my country and the idea of equality. The idea of freedom.
The most quoted phrase from my favorite novels is, "Love as thou wilt." Those few words have taken me from ages fifteen to twenty-eight, and they've taken me from high school crushes to adult relationships fraught with social norms and religious expectations. Jacqueline Carey, in writing a blend of fantasy and romance and historical whimsy, shaped a girl whose only purpose is to love. Love, unconditionally. Painfully, wholly, unreservedly, divinely.
I don't know how to be, how to do anything else. I just love.
Our world is massively complex. We've got, in the United States, a battle between liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, middle class and upper class, minimum wage and incredible wealth. We've got the narrative of economic opportunity and hard work and, to put it frankly, capitalist rubbish. We've got poor people and rich people and the people who might be rich and the people who will always be poor. We've got unequal access to education and we have the palliative of religion which makes our inequality easier to swallow. We have meanness, selfishness, guilt, racism, violence, apathy.
So little of what we have is love.
When did we lose it?
I woke up early this past Saturday to serve breakfast. My mother and I were setting up yogurt and bagels for a group of teenagers doing a sleepover for the Unitarian Univeralist youth group. We loosened the caps on the orange juice and opened boxes of doughnuts. It was mundane. It was quite early. It was raining. My mother and I sat at a distance from the kids and we talked about faith.
It's very difficult to believe in anything when the world is this ugly and this divided. It's hard to have faith when the world seems so faithless.
My mother taught me that God was love. I learned many, many lessons from her - we celebrated Advent, we sang in the bath, we discussed sermons. But she always drilled into me that God was love. Even saying, Amen, was an affirmation of love and compassion and acceptance. If I learned anything about the divine it was that divinity only existed if we approached it with love.
It's difficult. Sometimes it seems obscene, to love in the face of pain, of agony, of human suffering. How can we say, Amen, when we know the world is full of strife and hatred? How can we do it?
Again, I turn back to Jacqueline Carey and the words, "Love as thou wilt." Those words imply choice, agency, freedom. And they also imply that love is immutable - not in who or how we choose to love, but that love is. Love is who we are. All we can do is be human, and be loving. The words don't just say, Love. Because we do. Her words say, Love as we choose. Love as we are. Love, freely.
Somehow, we've forgotten that.
Love isn't just a marriage, or a religion, or a political party. Love is a way of living. Most of the people I know now aren't bound by the rules of monogamy or gender - and that can be difficult, of course, but it's built on the idea that love is boundless. It is not possessive, or selfish; it is not about ownership or about being right. Love is not a commodity to be traded or valued. It is a gift.
Imagine if our country worked like that. Just think - we share in this together. We are loving. We are kind.
Imagine if our faiths were so giving. If all our gods were what they purported to be.
I've loved every sort of man and every sort of woman. I've loved history lessons and literature. I've swooned over good writing and over unscripted anger. I've got that clenching in my chest which is passion and compassion and platonic affection. I've loved as I have chosen to love, and I have been swept away by surprising glimpses of faith and patriotism.
I'm not an example. I'm not perfect. I can be selfish. I can we wrong.
But all I have ever done, all I ever want to do, is to love. Fully, foolishly, alarmingly.
To give of oneself can be incredibly painful. I think about my conversations with my mother and the fear that faith cannot stand up to the suffering in the world. Where is God when so many people are hurt? Where is faith when we feel alone or when we feel we cannot help others? Where is our patriotism when all we can do is count the dollars in our wallets and realize we just don't have enough? Where, really, is love, when we consider affection to be an item to be traded and priced like an antique on the auction block?
It hurts. It hurts us to our very core. It is an old pain like an ache in our joints. It is our faith and it is our curse.
Love as thou wilt.
I don't know how to do anything but love, and God knows, it hurts sometimes like a dagger to my heart. I've loved too many people and too many times, and I've loved the idea of God, and I've loved the ideals of my country. As much as that has hurt, apathy would hurt more. The concept of turning away love - looking down on my neighbor, or being angry about my tax bill, or degrading a faith other than my own - is far, far more painful than accepting the suffering of caring too much. I could be cold and removed; I could protect myself from compassion; I could pretend my callousness was not a black mark on my soul.
But I love - I love everything, and I love too completely. And I choose that, again and again.
It doesn't matter if we are talking about sex or God or country; about possession or righteousness or patriotism; about generosity or respect or the general welfare. At the end of the day we are talking about love.
Love is a gift. Love is a choice. And love is what we will it to be.
And as much as it hurts, I can't imagine anything better.