The older I get, the more I realize that “love” means different things to different people.
The biggest reminder of this for me recently has been Esther. Esther is a young refugee girl who is part of a program that I volunteer with. One evening after our tutoring programs it was quite cold outside, so some of the volunteers were about to walk the children home to their apartments a few blocks from the community center. After concluding that my assistance wasn’t needed for this task, I began walking back to the classroom to start cleaning up the tutoring materials when a young girl ran to me with her arms outstretched, looked at me with her big brown eyes, and said “up up!”
I smiled, picked her up, she climbed onto my back and I started running around the community center with my arms out pretending that she was flying on an airplane. After a few minutes, it was time for all of the children to go home, so I leaned down in order for her to be able to climb down off of her perch on my shoulders. She refused to get off. The closer to the ground I tried to put her, the tighter she held onto me. When I asked if she wanted to get down, she responded by readjusting her position, climbing even higher on my back and increasing her grip around my chest.
Loving others and serving others is about the little moments. In that particular moment, I realized that it was my responsibility to give a little love and show a little attention to a young girl who had had a tumultuous short life. I believe that she clutched me so tightly because she had seen so many other people that she cared about slip through her fingers. She didn’t want to climb down off of my shoulders, so who would I have been to ignore that opportunity to make her happy?
I didn’t go back to the classroom to get my jacket. I didn’t ask her to get down and walk alongside me. I kept her up on my shoulders and decided to let her spend the walk home seeing life from a new height and a new perspective. I didn’t care that was dark. I didn’t care that it was cold. I didn’t care that I had other things to do in the classroom. In that moment, anything else was able to wait. In that moment, the only thing I felt was that it was my responsibility to be completely present.
Along with five or six other volunteers, we walked the children across the baseball field, through the small woods, and to the apartment complex. Along the way, she kept talking to me, telling me anything and everything that was going through her little head. Every time I pretended as if I were going to put her down, she said “no, I love it.”
In church I’ve heard many times and in many different settings that we are all to try to be more like children—to be curious, to be pure, to be innocent, and to go through life with childlike ambition. Esther could have said many things. She could have said, “No, don’t put me down, I’m having fun.” But instead she said, “no, I love it.” Children aren’t afraid of discussing love. Children aren’t afraid to say that they love each other. And when they say it, they mean it.
Personally, I believe that the concept of love has become incredibly misconstrued. For me, love is simple—it means I care about you despite your flaws because I have more than I can count as well. It means I accept you. It means I want to grow alongside of you.
I don’t think love is synonymous with a marriage proposal or a life-altering, ground-shattering statement. I say it because I think that spreading love is an incredibly necessary and under-appreciated thing.
I have never understood why it is culturally unacceptable to say, “I love you.” A countless number of movies and sitcom episodes reference situations where someone says that phrase too soon in a relationship and the receiving party spends an incredible amount of time trying to calm down from the emotional heart attack that ensues. In my opinion, far too many people are far too afraid to discuss love. But I want a life that is full of it, so I am not ashamed to discuss what it means to me.
I’m living, I’m loving, I’m experiencing, I’m creating, I’m failing, and I’m learning… there is no place for fear in any of those things. There is no place for holding back emotions in any of those things. I am not afraid in telling those around me that I care about them, because quite frankly, there is not enough love in this world. It is not embarrassing to let others know that they are valued. If I tell you I care about you, just know I mean it. If you don’t care about me, I don’t find offense or embarrassment or shame in that.
By living a purposeful life, staying true to my morals, and staying aligned with my beliefs, I know that eventually I will attract the right people to surround me and support me as I will do the same for them. I want to walk in life alongside people that actively pursue deep relationships. If that puts me in the minority, then so be it. I want to be around people who strive for meaning and purpose and fulfillment in complete commitment and loyalty to the growth of those they call their own.
If you want to talk to me, please do. If you want to take me to church with you, let’s go. If you want to discuss anything that’s meaningful to you, I’m an open book. I don’t want to hear about parties or how wasted your best friend was last night. I want to hear about who you care about, why you live the way you do, and what I can be doing to spread care, support, and love to you.
I think we can all say, “I love you” a little more often. If, at the end of my life, others reflect that my biggest shortcoming was I loved too much, or I cared too often, then I think that was a life worth living.