When I started my feelinfifty blog, I did so because I wanted to put to test in my own life the lessons I used in my consulting and see what I learned. I could never have imagined how this past year would go, but I am thankful for all that has happened (well, not everything). Yet everything came down to one experience and one person– a ten year old girl.
I left my job in Colorado because of irreconcilable differences with my boss at the time. I headed to Florida because my best friend needed help with her daughter and I had some consulting opportunities there. It provided a good home base for me as I lived at night at another friend’s house for most of the time and during the day took care of this little girl in her home. I got up every morning and took her to school, most of the time riding bikes together. Then I would ride my bike and pick her up. We’d do her homework and then play or just hang out. Sometimes I made her dinner and packed her lunch for the next day.
And we talked. A lot. About soccer, school, her cross country team, her friends, her teachers. She sang me songs, danced when she felt like dancing. She made me laugh. We played with Clyde, her hilarious dog. And sometimes we cried.
In her book, Love, Toni Morrison, writes about infatuation and love, the difference between the two. She hints at the dangers of infatuation and the intelligence real love requires. But one phrase captures it all. “Softly, without props.” She, of course, is talking about the love shared between lovers, between two people committed to each other. But this year I came to understand that “softly, without props” is how I want to love everyone and everything. And I learned that from this little girl. So what does love mean?
Love means being there for no other reason than being there, being available and accessible. Love does not mean someone I can count on, someone I only go to my problems with. Love means no schedules or plans. It means time. It means being a natural part of someone’s life, of it’s rhythm and its breath.
Love means listening, not only when they talk, but when they sing and dance and play. When they cry and hurt and hide in the next room. It means tracking the tides of their lives as they ebb and flow, knowing when a storm is on the horizon and living together in its wake.
Love means touch, a touch that not only feels, but touches back to heal and guide and remind then you are there. Touch that avoids emotional buttons, but finds that space where irresistible laughter instantaneously replaces irrepressible tears. It means hugs. It means playing Wii and letting her win.
Love means the understanding that loving is often expressed in like, that if we don’t like someone, it is hard for them to feel loved at all. Love without like is a love too often interpreted as duty, love that feels more like obligation, tough love, rarely given softly without props and seems more like a test, rather than safety.
Love means intimacy, the sharing of what matters most to us, an open book written and illustrated in a common language, pages turned if not written together. It means the vulnerability of self discovery in front of each other, with each other.
Love means trust, the faith that we will be okay, that we can survive anything as we create lives we like, as we fail, and learn and grow. Morrison’s distinction between infatuation and love is much like the difference between confidence and trust. Infatuation is confidence, a false bravado that withers when baggage inside us opens wounds and emotional bloodletting, seeking outcomes and goals, exposing wants and holes. Love is trust, trust of our past, of dreams realized and promises broken, buttons and baggage turned into the imperfections that allow someone to see us whole.
Love means doing good and being well, instead of doing well and being good, for yourself and whomever and whatever you love. Love is building the life we like in a healthy way, that allows us to be there, to trust and be trusted, to touch and be touched and to feel and be felt.
Love means not being distracted or seduced by the world created around us, a world selling us love and approval and judgment, of ownership, social status, and being “in touch” mistaken for the real thing.
This ten year old girl taught me, reminded me of a time when I had no past, no baggage, and in doing so reminded me of the gifts I so often talk and write about. Touch, Feel, Play, Like, Trust, Know, Create….and it is through those skills we do so many other things, things we might have surrendered to the judgment of others and the fear of not being good enough…things like dancing and singing and sharing and wondering aloud…. dreaming of who we can be, not worrying about who we should be.
She reminded me of that space between a smile and a kiss, of softly without props, the power of a hug, and best of all the permission Nature gave us that man too often takes away. That there is room for like….and she did all that when one day in the grade school words we all understand, she explained that between like and love is “like like,” that special place, most often used when we want to make clear to someone we only “like” them, not “like-like” them. “Like-like,” that place on life’s map where we feel something we don’t quite understand, when we were too young for it to be infatuation or get too hijacked by hormones, but where we enjoyed being…that may or may not blossom into love in someone older.
Here’s hoping my life at 50 is full of “like-like,” with the patience to not rush it into love or make promises born out of want. “Like-like” where knowledge is slowly gained to transform any uncomfortable energy into the power of love for the people around me, the things I spend life doing, and for myself.