My nearly 4-year-old daughter says “I love you” with ease. Just as easily as she says “I don’t love you”. Even easier than she says “I like you”, which is, wisely enough, rare and preceded by some thought. She doesn’t only say it to her family. When she sees people she likes — grown ups, her friends, other kids — she greets them with a hug, even if she has seen them just a few hours ago. That’s my little one’s way of showing her pleasure at seeing someone she likes. My son, watching her, does the same. It fills my continuously-watching soul with equal amounts of joy and sharp, heavy pain to see this. Why pain? Because more often than not, what they get in return is an alarmed stare. I can understand that reaction from kids her age because they probably aren’t used to non-family hugging them. What I don’t understand is the alarmed look that adults get on their faces when my kids do that. Subtly picking up on these reactions, then, are my kids who have, little by little, learnt the ordinary ways of the world they inhabit. They hug less and less upon seeing people they like. It makes me a bit sad, sad enough to want to learn pottery while maudlin songs play in the blue background.
If I thought that was bad, then what was to come last week was worse. When the kids go out to play, I hang around watching their interactions. The playground is indeed the best place to get a glimpse of who your kids are going to be when they grow up. It is also a place to reexamine your filters, clean out the cupboard of your prejudices and open up your world to the lacy fan of possibility. On one such evening, as I watched them, I saw a bunch of kids ranging from 4.5 years to nearly 13 snicker, look goofily uncomfortable and exchange looks with each other when my little girl said “I love you, don’t go” to one of the kids. I could tell she had said this before and the kids weren’t taking to it easily. I let it pass although I wanted to jump right in and tell her it’s okay to continue saying what she was saying.
Two days ago, she came back home and said that one of the boys told her she shouldn’t be saying “I love you” to her friends. Apparently, it’s not the done thing. I am so glad she brought it up because I told her she can say that to whoever she wants as long as she feels it. I am not sure she’ll take my word over a 12 year old’s. We’ll just have to wait and watch.
But that’s where it lies — this fear of love, this pigeon-holing of it. So early we suspect this thing we called love of being something we can’t handle, something that only grownups in a certain situation can. I don’t know what we do in our households that makes these kids fear love, be wary of it so much so that when it is expressed by someone who is far younger, but importantly, of the other gender, we are uncomfortable in its presence.
For me, if I can’t express love, I feel like how I imagine a whirlpool would feel, if it were stuck in a glass jar. Rippling, sinewy regular circles of emotion with a rooted core but nowhere to go. Can you imagine the futility of it? To swirl with such passion only to have it die down till the next person took you up and swirled you around. Not being able to express myself is a suffocation like that, a repression of my very basic need to reach out of my self and obliterate any or all the walls we built in an attempt to guard ourselves from what we like to call hurt, but is actually an act of locking love out in the cold.
We like to leave love out in the cold, we do. Because if we didn’t do that, we’d be at the mercy of its potential to make things easy, and we as people, as human beings like things just a tad complex; it is what keeps us going, a love for complexity. With love everything is easy — you erase yourself to replace your consciousness and your very self with love. Forgiveness comes easy — forgiveness of yourself, as well as forgiveness of another. You brush off yesterday’s mud, bandage last weeks wounds, rub a bit of balm in your last night’s headache and the when then sun rises, you complain about the heat just a little bit but you continue basking in light that love brings to your life. Call me stupid, but for me love isn’t much more than being able to get on with life and continue cherishing the person you love. Is it forgiveness? It is also forgiveness. Is it tolerance? It is also tolerance. Is it passion, loyalty and the ability to entirely put aside that which makes no difference if it makes another happy? It is all that. But it is also standing strong and saying, no matter what you do, I will be here for you. And as far as I am concerned, specifically, it is also saying this is not for now, for a couple of days, or for a whole year. It is not for when you are at your best behavior, it is not when you toe my line. It is for as long as I am capable of memory and compassion; it is for those times when you are your worst, too. My daughter perhaps put it best when she said without hesitation, “Love means happiness.” It is a conundrum that one, but it’s true. If a relationship, a person, or a thing becomes a source of lasting and intense happiness, what else could it be?