“There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it.”
Avett Brothers – Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promises
Life’s fine print. All the rules that govern our daily doings, whether social, emotional or practical.
Always say thank you.
Don’t be clingy.
Use your turn signals.
Stop being the asshole with 22 items in the express lane at the grocery.
I think the fine print is exhausting. I don’t subscribe to it.
This past week, I returned to Texas after a year and a half to visit family and catch a quick visit with a friend or two. After not having seen my parents for a bit, I was blindsided.
My parents are going to die.
Both in their early 60s (and divorced since I was in 6th grade), they’re both moving slower and my father looks 70. Mom’s hit menopause (or “minnow paws” as a middle school biology teacher jokingly said), her body’s changed shape, she still smokes and the lines in her face remind me that my growing pains are responsible for half of them. Knees that don’t work right, medications, wrinkles, weight gained and filed away in new places, but the same laughter, same smiles, same quirks.
But facing my parents’ mortality wasn’t what I was expecting as I landed at Hobby Airport last Wednesday.
And it’s another reason I think life’s fine print is bullshit.
When you tear down everything you’ve built around you through however many years you’ve been on this earth, there are two thing that remain:
The things we accumulate have nothing to do with love, but love for our work is what makes it possible to do the accumulating. The things we love have nothing to do with what we have, yet our ongoing ability to build better Yous is what makes it possible for us to love.
After you’ve stripped all of the rules and fine print away – the shoulds, the coulds and woulds – what you’re seeing is what remains. What persists. The reason people are remembered, whether they’ve left the room or left life.
You and love.
There are times I feel that I tell the man in my life I love him/miss him too much. But to hell with it. When something bubbles up within you, there’s nothing wrong with letting it out. Sharing it. Love is life’s scrap cookies: you bake them from ingredients, few of which you bought on your own and most of which were given to you. What’s left is a sweet medley of gooey goodness that’s always better if shared. So if he tires of hearing that I love him, he can go find someone who loves him less, tells him less, shows him less. Because that’s ME. The Me that realizes what I can’t do is walk a tightrope and fear the fall. The Me that’s embraced that not being afraid of the fall means I have the exceptional opportunity to land on my feet or fall flat on my ass. Both are special and neither would I trade for the world.
But my Me becomes better through love. Love’s painful and the ever-present teacher that tells us when we should apologize, try harder, let go and move on. It’s the hand that touches our waist when we least expect it and guides us when we’re at a loss for where to go. A specter of salvation. If you separate the You and the Love, you’re left without a vessel to fill on both sides. Love comes from you and we’re made of love.
A hypnotic symbiosis. And a realization brought about because I realize that my parents are going to die someday.
I live without regret. Without shame. I’m getting better at humility and failure. Some days are better than others. What I’m most proud of after 37 years is my ability to love.
I love me.
I know what it feels like to love someone else.
I know what it feels like to be loved.
To find it, to sleep beside it, hold its hand. Lose it. Rediscover it. To have it pick you up from school after everyone else has already gone home. It puts everything on hold because you’re in town. It arrives before you get home and does you a favor. To see it, appreciate it and wonder how you ever got so lucky to be on the receiving end of such love.
So the next time you think you’re speaking or acting in a way someone else would consider “in excess,” just laugh. Give your love. Everything we have over the years passes us by in one way or another. It stops by, stays for a moment or a lifetime (someone’s) and when it moves on, we’re left with the memories. It’s the You and your Love – and how you choose to express them when you have the chance – that’s memorable.
You can keep the new TV or the iPad. I’ll take a child’s hysterical laughter, a thank you from a stranger and the unexpected kiss. Don’t even wrap them and skip the card. As somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we’re told to stop telling people what we feel.
Have you ever been in an elevator with a child who says, “I love you, Daddy!” eleven times during a 30-second trip between floors?
When we’re born our parents whisper, “I love you” over our heads at night.
As we grow into our words, we develop the ability to say “I love you” in return.
Then we’re fully aware we can speak and start initiating the “I love yous.”
But as we grow older, it becomes uncool to say those three words in front of friends. We don’t even want our parents to say them in front of the general public.
Then we begin to crave saying them to another audience: our crushes.
We feel adolescence’s surly, static-filled charge and we mistake it for love. We’ll say it to a boy or girl we’ve gone steady with for three weeks.
Then comes adulthood – leaving the nest, and walking into a world where we have endless potential to fall. We’ve learned the perfunctory and ritualistic “I love you,” giving that to our parents, siblings and relatives as we’re now “old enough” to have had our hearts unevenly broken by the other I love yous.
We date, we find The One (or in my case, The FIRST One…and Second One…if I’m lucky, the Last One) and now we’ve laid our cards on the table with three words. It’s tragically uncool to be in love. Guys start going to Bed, Bath & Beyond and girls…well, we begin to become our mothers though we do our damndest not to.
It’s here that we can fade. I love you becomes something we say instead of something we do and feel. We begin to wonder where the love went and why it seems to have walked away. But if we take a moment, we’ll see that we are the ones who played our cards wrong and left the front gate open as we thought telling and showing the one we love that we actually love them was tragically uncool and annoying.
If we play our cards right, we find the joy in sitting on top of our loved one on a random Sunday morning, smothering them with kisses and ticklings as we say, “Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou” between each attack of the lips and fingertips.
Eleven times in 30 seconds is good. And it’s fun. And if you find it annoying, you need to lighten the fuck up. Because when will you again have the chance to assault or be assaulted by three words that mean so much at the hands of a YOU that makes you feel smarter/more handsome/prettier/better/more special/thinner/taller/tidier/like a better cook?
Maybe never. I’ll run the risk of being annoying any day over the regret of not doing or saying something. Screw the fine print. Colorado says I can’t drive without glasses, but the one thing I don’t need to put on my glasses to see is love.
“When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.”