The Dreaded “I Love You”

Why is this phrase taken so seriously? It’s not scary for me to love pizza, but it’s scary to tell your friend that you love them (particularly if they’re the opposite sex, or same sex if they’re male). I’m not someone to say “I love you” often as I personally believe that not handing it out aimlessly gives it more meaning. But after a good day spent with a friend, or a meaningful conversation on the phone with a family member, why is it oddly uncomfortable for some people?

Perhaps a part of the discomfort is owed to our flawed language. As many of you probably already know,  english seems to use the word love for everything while other languages have words for love that pertain to different things. For example, there are several greek words for love, which include love of the self, lust, a deep friendship, etc.

In english there is a staggering, and even offensive generalization for the word love that other languages would be appalled to discover as there are so many different kinds of love, and pertaining to different kinds of relationships.

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Deformities aside, language itself operates through our own personal associations. When we are learning the meaning of the word, we often have our own unique experiences shaping the definition of that word. It is as if each word has one standard definition that is very loose and malleable, with several subdivisions within it depending on the circumstance, and depending on a person’s history with that word. For example: “I have a barrel of oranges” means different things to different people. For the blue collar worker, it is “Oh no, thats another barrel of oranges that I have to process.” For Stacey, a nutritionist, that is a lot of vitamin C. For Bob the business man, that is $0.20 per orange, 300 oranges per barrel, 300($0.20)= 1/12  month’s rent. For Cindy who is allergic to citrus, it is a trip to the hospital. To Jerry the fashion designer, it is a barrel of oranges. It goes on. There is an emotional sheath coating each word that we’re not always aware of.

I love words, and I love language. I write because I do not have the artistic skill to create certain things otherwise. I cannot paint or draw the images that haunt me, so I craft a story that I can insert them into. I can’t always photograph a feeling or thought that I’ve had. So I use words, which gives me an infinite pallet immediately at my disposal. Despite this, words fail me all too often. Words sacrifice accuracy in expression for instantaneous communication. This is how words can separate us even further.

I do not have the psychic capacity to know what “I love you” means to all of you, but I can identify what it means for me personally. To me, the phrase “I love you” is often a reflex of having someone in my presence who did or said something so hilarious that it returned me to the moment and made me feel joy. It means I value your position and involvement in my life, whatever that may be. Lastly, In a very unique way, to say “I love you” is as if my heart is saying thank you.

Don’t be afraid to express your appreciation to your friends and family for the holidays this year. It may take time to find the right words and the right setting, but don’t blame that on yourself. Blame it on the limitations we’ve cultivated in our modern language.

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Thank you Marci Stern for becoming a patron for Metanoia! Please check out her beautiful artwork and publications (can be found on her contact page).

If you like my work and would like to support my endeavors, please visit my Patreon page.

Featured photo from lleana Skakun

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Kindness From a Stranger

It’s the season for random acts of kindness, and this month I have a small, but beautiful experience to share with you that happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

Last month I practically lived at Starbucks in order to complete my writing goals. Sometimes with friends, and sometimes alone, I always try to sit by the window. The view, no matter how abysmal, always gives my gaze and mind freedom to explore something larger than the room I’m sitting in.

One November evening, I was sitting alongside the window by myself when the sun was setting, the clouds a brilliant orange, a unique beauty to be had for where I live. As much as I complain about my geography, there have been quite a few show stopping sunsets to behold. I’m naturally someone who gets energy from the sun, so when it goes down, I’m immediately tired. Likewise, when it comes up, I find it hard to sleep, as if caffeine could be transferable through light and the moment it beams into the room, I’m suddenly lighter, energized, and happy. So I tried to get work done, but in this few passing moments where the setting sun was changing in such divine ways, I made sure to look up every few minutes to integrate with this beauty. One never knows when the sun will come out again here at this time of year. I looked straight at it, imagining the light passing through my skin and becoming a part of me, a keeper of the light.

It turned out that someone noticed my attempt to become one with the sunset. Shortly after the sun went down, I packed up and headed out the door. Someone politely stopped me from behind when I got outside.

“Excuse me, this is very awkward for me, but I just wanted to give you this.” said a middle aged man with a foreign accent that I couldn’t identify. He handed me a folded up napkin. Confused and curious, I said some surprised and enthusiastic exclamation of “okay” and went to my car to read it. Here is what it said:

   My favorite thing about this is that this person did not leave their number. They wanted no involvement, nothing to gain from the interaction. They simply had the pure intention of recognizing the beauty in another person and wanting to make sure they knew that. As someone with little faith in humanity, this touched my heart on such a deep level, and for the first time in a long time, I had some hope for the kind of people that are out there. I felt like there must be people who see each other for more than just objects, and more than what they want them to be for their own interests. There are truly those who are able to recognize a genuine moment, or characteristic in a person, and leave it at that appreciation.

   But the thing is, this experience did not end there. Shortly after that, I found myself back at the same Starbucks where the tables had turned, and I felt compelled to do something kind for someone else. It was night this time, and a boy and his mother sat at the table across from me. I’m usually very caught up in my work, but something about this boy’s stature and expression screamed at me. With no life in his face, he looked out the window as his mom spoke at him, occasionally getting caught up in whatever he had on his lap top. I felt like no part of him wanted to be there, and I wondered how this could be, until someone else joined them and I realized what was happening. They were there to meet with someone who could help him apply to colleges. Instantly I understood this boy’s dread, and went back to my work with the case solved. Some time afterward, I heard the guest get a bit louder and frantic in his speech, so I looked up. The poor boy was crying, and in his eyes I saw myself. It was a person who had completely lost hope. He did not believe that his efforts were good enough, whether they were or not, who knows, but in this day and age when immense pressure is put on youth to get high scores and do every extracurricular activity known to youth, it can be unbearable. I had the same feeling, the same reality, both in high school and into college. I started to hear more of what this guest was saying.

“You have a score of _____… What this college wants is ____…I’ve known people with ______ get into _______… I think you have a great chance with _____… You do sports, you do everything. That’s going to make you more sellable… Do you do varsity? Mention _____ and it will be a great essay… What’s a good attribute to describe yourself? Like, would you say that you’re the life of the party? People always say they’re going to get good grades but what are you going to offer to the university?”

I was ready to vomit just listening to this. Since when did people become numbers and a sales pitch? Immediately, I ripped out a piece of paper from my sketch book and started writing.

   In my note to him, I was quite frank. I made it very honest, and made it clear that it was from a perspective that had been through it all. I gave it a sense that although this feels like the end of the world, it is all a lot of hype and unnecessary stress (I believe I specifically chose the word ‘bullshit’ as my adjective. It has been my favorite adjective as of late). I told him that future me would want my past self to know that my dreams are valid and worthwhile, but that they’re going to change. They are not fixed. That’s a part of life. So if everything is constantly changing anyway, there’s no use in having so much turmoil over what will or will not be. I told him that he was not a number, or a sellable commodity, that he had something to offer no matter what the school boards wanted. I told him that life was short, and to be truly fulfilled is to find what your authentic self has to offer, and provide that. I told him that in the end it was all going to work out, which is needed to be heard after putting so much hard work and stress into something of this magnitude. Although it was incredibly awkward, like it was for that guy who saw my face looking into the sun, the kindness that I was given gave me the courage to stop him on the way out the door and give him my note.

You never know what people are going through. You never know what is happening in a person’s life, or inner world. This is why kindness, and most of all speaking up when no one else will, is so important. I don’t have to go into rates of suicide or how stressful modern day life can be. Anyone reading this will know and can relate in their own way. So please, if you see someone struggling, do something small for that person. If you notice something beautiful in a stranger, compliment them, or simply tell them what you see. It’s the time of the year when everyone needs it, and when the spirit of the holidays makes it viable.

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Kerry Jane

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