Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash
“The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.” -- Zadie Smith
I had a love that changed me. It stifled me and buried me deep into the ground where the light could not touch. His love convinced me that I was making a big deal out of nothing. His love proved that if I go looking for the truth it will sting more than the lies. His love held me captive.
I escaped his love. I blossomed. I learned to love differently. I learned to love ambition and drive before I ever loved the way they looked at me when they thought I wasn’t paying attention. I learned to love compassion for other people before I ever loved the way they rest their hand on my thigh while driving. I learned to love the willingness to stand up against injustice before I ever loved the way their arms swallow me up in an embrace.
I had a love that changed me. It taught me that freedom is found within myself. It made me protective. It was the closest I’ve ever come to evading a mythical unconditional love. It felt like something one only reads about.
One of my all-time favorite books is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I’ve read it at least 100 times (probably more). Every year, I read the story to my students to teach about kindness and generosity. I’ve had them ponder what it means to be selfish and selfless while I grapple with the legend of unconditional love. In a more simplistic reading, we would also revisit it in April for Earth Day. It’s a very diverse book full of lessons about God and humanity, parent-child relationships, and romantic love. Each time I read it, I feel I’m learning or being reminded of a new lesson. When you teach young children, a lot of life lessons come through in metaphors and moments you think are just for five-year-olds.
Years ago while reading The Giving Tree, I was reminded that you don’t always have to give something to be what a person needs. Comforting someone is not always an easy task. What do I say? What do I do? Do I leave them alone? Do I come over? Do we go out for pizza? Drinks? Why isn’t this distraught person being more specific about how I can help? Sometimes, the best thing and the only thing we can do for a loved one who’s hurting is to just be there. Silent. Present. A constant. That’s what Tree does for Boy. She’s there every time he returns needing something, and in the end, she’s all he needs to rest. She’s just there for him. That’s freedom.
I have love that is abundant. It nourishes me and makes me believe that I can accomplish anything. It rushes over me. It affirms. It is inquisitive and thriving. It’s illuminated and infectious. I have a love that is changing me.