Learning a language in this way is so fascinating. It’s like each word is an intricately-folded piece of paper. I look at it and I think I know what it is and it seems to work when I use it. Then I start to unfold it and all these other meanings come out, all of these new uses. This often happens over weeks or months. Eventually I get to the point where the word means something totally different to me than when I first learned it. I sometimes look back on these blog posts at words I translated and feel embarrassed because now I know that is not what that word or phrase means.
I’ll be having a conversation with someone and suddenly the paper unfolds itself yet again. More understanding comes, but even then I know it’s not done. Because one day even when I think I finally just have a flat piece of paper with the explanation written clearly on it I realize it’s still folded in half;
May you fall in love a million times with a million things.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. I realized recently that my concept of what love is has changed so much over the years of my life. It has become more expansive, more inclusive, broader and all-encompassing. I find myself loving people all the time, even people I hardly know. To me that doesn’t make love less special it makes it so much more beautiful because it’s all around us.
I spent a lot of my life thinking that I would only be able to love one person, that I would only love my partner and that was it, and that if I loved them I wouldn’t love anyone else. But love is so much more expansive than that to me now.
Sometimes I meet someone and talk to them and I know within minutes that I could love this person. Love doesn’t have to mean let’s be together forever. It doesn’t have to mean, let’s get married and have babies. It doesn’t have to mean you and only you. It only means that right now in this moment I feel love for you and that is a sentiment that does not know time or place.
Recently I told a friend that I didn’t think soul mates existed. Someone pointed out to me that that could be taken in kind of a mean or pessimistic way, but to me that is the most beautiful thing in the world. That means that we are fully capable of loving so many people to the extent that we may only reserve for that soul mate if that’s all we’re looking for. By opening myself up to the possibility to loving everyone I am only enriching my life, not degrading the meaning of love.
Love means and encompasses so many things and feelings.
I have loved greatly and immensely, in a way that feels so epic and life-changing that I couldn’t imagine anything else at the time. A love that feels like fireworks, like a grand, chaotic display of raw emotion. I have also loved quietly and discreetly. Shared looks from across the room that convey so much trust and admiration and understanding. Love that hardly needs to be acknowledged and is only visible to the most acute observer. A light touch on the shoulder, a quick embrace, an uninhibited smile. I have loved in a way that feels so natural and inexplicable that it just simply is. It needs not be spoken because it is ever-present and unchanging. A sure thing, never questioned, all-encompassing. I have loved deeply and I have loved lightly. I have loved for a day and I have loved for years.
Every single one of them is different, and yet there is a common thread that connects them. The way I love my brother and the way I love a partner and the way I love a crush are vastly different, and yet each one is no more or less legitimate than the other. They are all love and they don’t need to fit into some pre-defined concept of love while I am feeling them.
There is one love that we all share beyond all of the different loves we experience. No one can fully explain love. Maybe for themselves, but not as a concept outside of themselves. Yet everyone knows what it is when they feel it and that means something so significant. When something speaks to your heart you just know it.
To me love is about curiosity. I want to know you. I want to know what you think and how you feel. I want to know about your life and what makes you you. And I want you to know me, too. I want you to be curious about me, I want to tell you all about myself and all the little pieces that comprise the whole.
Love is about instinct and intuition. When I feel myself almost physically propelled towards someone I know that I love them. That person could be my partner, it could be a family member, it could be a good friend. That to me is my body and mind speaking to me in a way that I could never fully articulate with words. That is my heart telling me, “I want you to be close to this person.”
Acceptance and openness are love to me. Being able to accept someone as they truly are, not as they wish they were or how they wish people would see them or how we want them to be. You don’t need to be anywhere but where you are or anything but what you are for me to love you.
Understanding is love. When I feel like I understand someone and they understand me, that there is a common struggle between us, I love them. Understanding is such a difficult concept to describe in and of itself but I have to admit that I have a hard time feeling close to people who I feel don’t understand me, whatever that means. Sometimes that understanding is developed over time and other times I feel someone understands me right from the beginning.
Some relationships have all of these things and some have a combination of them or just one of them. I used to think that I needed all and every one of those things to be in love and that it had to mean all the things we are taught that love means, but it is so much more expansive than that to me now.
The older I get and the more I think about it the more expansive love becomes for me. That is such an amazing thing to me. It means that I can love more people more fully if I am open to the possibility, if I let them in and don’t build a wall around my heart.
There is and were legitimate reasons for that wall. That wall is strong and it kept me safe for a long time. Letting people in means letting them hurt you, and that hurt is inevitable. Even if you love someone you will hurt them. When humans make real contact there is always pain. It’s how we hold each other in that pain that makes the difference. How we support each other and how kind we are to one another.
So what the hell does this have to do with Thailand and the Peace Corps? Maybe nothing. Maybe I just really wanted to talk about this more. Maybe I just wanted to get the words down so I didn’t forget them, so I could mark this time in my life and the constant shifting that seems to happen here.
I also think that being open to love is an essential part of being happy here. It’s essential everywhere, but especially here in a place where it is so easy to feel alone, to feel isolated, to feel like no one is there to support me. I have to remind myself that there is this undercurrent of love everywhere in so many places and actions where I don’t think to look for it. Every time I see it I try to let it fill me up a little bit and I check to see if those walls are up. I ask myself if they need to be there right now, or if I can bring them down and just let that cool water flow through me in that moment. They won’t stay down, I know. But in that moment I don’t have to expend the effort to keep them up and I can try to let someone in, even if it means I am more vulnerable as a result. Here in this unknown place people are showing me love all the time that undoubtedly escapes my notice.
I need to keep finding those moments here. I need to keep reminding myself that it is here somewhere and let those moments, however rare, sustain me.