Monday, December 23, 2013

Close-together love

It's been difficult for me to write here lately. I've been thinking about a lot, and while I often enjoy this space as a space for thinking aloud (which is how I throw down) some of what's on my mind is still in that dark, mossy, hidden-under-a-rock stage. It's true, I suppose that I'm holding something back from you, but it's not in malice or distrust. I'm just trying to think about a thing, and before I can think out loud about it, I have to do it quiet and in the dark.

Did I say here recently that I've been thinking about love? It's on my mind, it feels as if the word's been following me, although I'm not complaining. But I've been moving slowly, trying to figure out what the next chapter of life holds for me, and here are some of the images that come my way.

Ah, Cornell West. I might not always appreciate your particular brand of political style, but I do love your words. "What love looks like in public" seems to have a sweet kind of resonance now that Illinois has joined 15 other states in validating a particular civil right (now, can we resume fighting for incarcerated black men who need to be treated as humans and not a pest problem? I just have to ask...). What love looks like in public: how our systems honor our myriad beliefs, how our institutions care for our citizens. What if we had justice that did look like love? Or, what does a small act of justice look like? What does it mean for you to be, show, do love-as-justice right now, today, to one other human being?

There's this one, too.

I made this one my lock screen because it feels so important. It's Che Guevara, someone I know nothing about--I see his face silkscreened onto onsies, and I want to buy them for every woman I know who's having a baby; what stops me is the low likelihood that the moms I know would actually dress their kids in clothes with Che's face on it. It would either be too ironic, or there's an enduring ignorance of Che and his enduring legacy. Still, it sounds nice to consider love as an act of revolution. I think the real revolution would be if that love manifested itself in diplomacy, advocacy, education and compassion, and not occupation, violence, bullets and explosives. It's not impossible.

I wrote this post recently as a kind of call to love-as-engagement: to love means to buy in, to a community, to a relationship, to an experience. Participate. Now I am thinking of love as a choice.

When I was younger, I think I remember my mother saying to me that you could choose who you fell in love with. (I wonder if she said this in order to communicate with me that she wanted me to choose a "certain" kind (gender? race? religious affiliation?) of person to fall in love with.) At the time I remember thinking that seemed inconceivable to me. Love is... powerful. It felt like magnetism, not just like lust. Love seemed like... like a plant finally, finally blossoming in the sun it's always needed to grow joyfully skyward. Love makes people behave stupidly. How could anyone control that? How could you look at your lover and say, "hm, no, I've decided not to love you after all." I mean, come on. If it were that easy, would we even have break up songs?

I feel quite different from the rest of my community lately. I don't mean special, just different. After Thanksgiving, I realize how different I am from the people who raised me. Many of them are kind, warm and generous with me, and they try to know me and to understand what matters to me, but we are different. After last weekend, I realize how different I am from the family I married into. The difference between us seems pretty insurmountable. At times I wish we were less different; or more accurately, I wish my families were more like me. I wish I didn't have to field so many questions about my interracial marriage or my dining choices or my spiritual practice. I wish we had more in common politically. It gets old, and it reinforces my belief that I'm the family's black sheep. It would make the holidays an easier experience.

I feel like there's rhetoric in black pop culture that says you didn't choose your family but you gotta love 'em 'cause they're your family. Usually it's someone from at least one and often two generations back, declaring this in a booming low voice in order to resolve some years-long conflict. Do you "gotta love 'em"? What does that mean? Does that mean that you put up with behavior that hurts you, or that you don't say anything about it when a relationship pains you? Does it mean you roll your eyes when your grandfather says homophobic things after dinner but you stay quiet, that you don't call your aunt on her racist remark? Does it mean that you avoid talking about what matters to you because no one will agree and it's better to keep the peace than to speak the truth?

I don't know. I wish I did. The more I think about love, the more I wonder if it's not an experience that has to exist between people.

I've often thought that love was an act of will. Like, you can't make someone love you, but you can will yourself to love somebody. I've heard a friend of mine describe love like bedtime: you do all the things you do that read love to you, and you sort of trick yourself into feeling love and trust that when you get there, the love will have arrived. She also described forgiveness this way, but I don't think it worked for her.I don't think this is how love works, that you fake it on the outside and hope you'll feel it on the inside.

I think maybe love means you have to keep choosing over and over to put yourself with people that make you feel vulnerable and exposed. May you'll be exposed to joy and compassion and beautiful closeness; maybe you'll be exposed to unkindness and belittling and biting judgment. But through it all, you see the people you want to love with the eyes of god. You look at them as struggling, scared little people who want, just like you, to love and be loved. You do your best to love them, even though they hurt you--because they will, even when they don't mean to, or don't want to, this is certain--and when they hurt you, you try to love them through that hurt.

And if they really can't be nice to you, if being with them means you get hurt over and over and over again, then you love them from far, far away. Until you can learn to love each other close together.

I wish for us all people with whom we can share close-together love.

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