I have a lively online life -- I communicate with friends and strangers living in this country and all over the world. I write about inspiration, I write about cooking and I write about love. Some folks wonder why I take the time to write about love in all of its bits and pieces. It took me a long time to realize that love is an act, that love is a choice, that love doesn’t just sit there and look pretty -- whether you’re talking about romantic love, love within your family, your community or just within yourself. You have to pay attention to love or it grows dormant or inert or worse, it slips away. A few years ago, I made a commitment to watch love carefully and document what I see and what I feel.
When I reflect on my life, I see periods of dormancy and periods of wakefulness—winter times and spring times. Successfully moving from dormancy to wakefulness; successfully moving from winter to spring, has always required me to hear a call to love, and then to respond to that call, choosing to love again.
I grew up with lots of love in my home. My parents came from brutal, violent families and they both had made a decision to give my brother and me a different kind of home. There were times when we had money and times when we didn’t, but we always laughed and believed in each other. It wasn’t perfect but it was good.
Indeed, the four of us have a bond that’s hard for even our closest relatives to understand: We take action without words, we work seamlessly together in times of critical stress. My brother and I can start a fierce argument and resolve it in under a minute because we were taught to absolve the ego and choose love first and foremost. It has not always been this way, but we have worked at it.
My parents stressed the importance not just of knowledge, but to seek understanding with open eyes. Long before it became a prescription family activity, we’d all sit together on Sunday afternoons and talk to each other, analyzing things from what it takes to run a business to how deeply a single word can affect someone.
I never knew a life without love, so without knowing that I did, I took it for granted. I had no idea that I had such a great capacity to love and to allow love into my life. I didn’t realize that love was about action and that love takes work and I certainly never realized that love was about choice.
About fifteen years ago I met someone that I thought loved me. I didn’t pay attention to the particulars, nor did I actually look into my heart to see if I was in love -- I figured that I had found someone that loved me and that was good. It was logical and that seemed to be enough. Every experience I’d had with my family led me to believe that this would be the same nourishing source of energy.
I grabbed the opportunity and went with it. I moved to Florida with my new significant other whose version of love, unfortunately, was to take the bright, shining jewel that I was and hide me away and control me to the point where I had no contact with friends and barely any contact with my family. I allowed this to happen without even realizing it.
I tried to love my partner, but I had inadvertently found someone too damaged to know how to accept love at that time. I learned that there are people in the world who will not allow you to love them, no matter how hard you try. I learned that love doesn’t stay alive on its own; you have to work at it.
I remember thinking, about five and six and seven years into the relationship, that my heart felt like it was withering away, as if after having been dormant for so long that it was simply dying. After a while, I poured every ounce of love into my little ones, my animals. I chose to love them with everything I had. I adopted more and more and more cats because I had so much love to give. I let my heart go except for my little ones. They were all I had because I hadn’t learned yet that I could choose more.
It took me ten years, but the moment to wake up finally came. I realized that this relationship of neglect had its purpose: I was being called to love myself. I needed to choose to love myself. I needed to take action in order to grow my heart and my life again. I looked at where I was and what had happened and saw that even if there had been love, it wasn’t there any longer. I saw that without action, there couldn’t be love.
The decision to leave brought with it incredible loss, because my partner retaliated, taking my little ones away. It was the only way to hurt me, and it worked. But I lived, one day at a time, some days still, like that, and my heart did grow back. And because I chose to love myself, my heart wasn’t dormant anymore - my life wasn’t out of service - and the love that I chose advanced me out of winter and into spring. The seeds within me began to stir and then to bloom. And they are still blooming today.
I decided that when I enter into a romantic, loving relationship again, it will be a choice. It will be an action. Thoreau said that he meant to live deliberately, and so do I. That’s the work of love. I don’t take love for granted anymore, nor do I accept a passive role in its delivery.