Every afternoon I corral him into a corner, his slanted, bow-legged run coming to a quick halt when the only way forward is straight towards his little mat. He knows his time is up, but the sideways smirk tells me he’s glad he tried anyway. I sweep him up and firmly place him down, wrapping him up mummy-style so there’s no hope of flailing feet or wandering fingers. Three months ago this routine brought on tears & screams & scenes – today all I get is that sideways smirk to remind that sleeping was my idea, after all, and he’s not sorry.
As soon as all of his little self is encompassed in the warm folds of his naptime roll, however, my little man transforms. The smirk softens into a contented little grin, and as I pat him gently on his chest to lull him into submission and sleep, he nuzzles his face into my arm, looks me straight in the eye and says, “I miss you.”
“But I’m right here!” I used to say.
Today I smiled & said, “I love you too.”
Everyday it’s the same, and every day until today I’ve wanted to correct him; to stop patting him long enough to teach him a thing or two about verb usage and/or the human heart. But today I got to thinking,
….maybe, after all, my friend’s little word substitution is more profound than he understands just yet.
When I was seventeen, I had my first little scrap of a love affair. It was actually this long, drawn-out, dramatic thing, but I call it a scrap now because if you’ve ever been in unrequited love with your boyfriend… you know my story. But oh! The dreams and the thoughts and the concepts he left me! The poems, the stories, the songs that have formed me into myself! It was not all for naught.
It is never all for naught.
One word he taught me, in our rendevous gazebo on the lawn of Old Main between classes, was the Portuguese “saudade”. It means love and longing; it means missing with your whole self. He told me, breathless and wide-eyed as usual, that sometimes native speakers used it to mean “missing something they’d never known”. A nostalgia, of sorts, for the future; for the unreachable or the as-yet-unreached. I watched his eyes and I knew, even as the words flowed out of his mouth, that I knew exactly what he meant.
I missed the all of him I had not yet discovered. I longed for all the things I had yet to find out. He was simultaneously within reach & just beyond it – and my whole passion-ridden, seventeen-year-old soul ached for what I could not yet have. And, as it turns out, I never would have.
And when my little man stares up at me with those enormous chocolatey eye-spheres and tells me he misses me – me, sitting right next to him, band-aiding his every scratch and wiping his every tear and mummy-wrapping him every day, I get to thinking that maybe loving and missing are not so different after all.
When it comes to love, the appetite for more is insatiable. I cannot get enough of the beloved, and I don’t intend to ever stop looking. While I realize that nothing short of infinite can satiate this hunger, I think a common church platitude is to tell people that “nobody but God will ever satisfy you.”
In a way, they’re right. The creator of our souls is the source of the personhood that we revel in when we find it in our friends & our loves. He gives us our infinitude. I see such different embodiments of his creativity and his personality when I find it in his creatures. But I do not neglect His creatures.
I have been ridiculed and misunderstood and shot down and laughed off for trying so hard with people. In fact, I have about a week-long period every six months or so where I decide that I HATE EVERYBODY and NOBODY’S WORTH IT and ALL MY FRIENDS SUCK and my heart just breathes for a bit. That’s not a failure on my part – it’s just a water break. Then, of course, after I’ve breathed and licked my wounds and offered them to Jesus, I get right back up there. That’s all I know of love.
Because, in light of the ridiculous, radical saving grace of the cross, running and throwing in the towel are no longer options.
So, here today, in the presence of all these e-witnesses, I promise to miss you.
I promise to care.
If you are hurting or have been knocked down or are fighting against the monsters of privilege and injustice, I promise to hurt too. This is the only way that I myself can fight with you, but I will be dedicated to the task.
Your wounds will be my wounds.
Your hurts will be my hurts.
Where you go I will go, because I am Ruth, and all I know how to do is to tirelessly follow the ones that I love.
I know I am offering up my heart for a task it is not equal to, but I have the First Heart on my side and that’s a foundation worth standing on.
Friends, strangers, neighbors, sisters,
Old loves & new loves,
frustrated seekers and watchful doubters,
freedom fighters and feminists,
Republicans and reprobates,
lawyers and liberals,
the lost & found & still looking, hear this:
I love you, and I miss you.
Or, “Why Intentionality Is Nobody’s Magic Word.”
“I wanted to see
if you’d go to dinner with me.
As a date.
Sorry for the bluntness. I just wanna be intentional with you.”
I sighed a little, because I knew he thought he was being my knight in shining armor.
I knew he thought he was being a man.
I knew he thought he was doing the “right thing”.
But from where I was sitting in that dimly-lit coffee shop, it signaled the end of something. The end of two people – two strangers – just learning how to BE together. Instead we were, in one fell sentence, learning how to be TOGETHER, regardless of who we actually were.
In an article entitled “We’re Just Talking”, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood attacked the idea of talking to the opposite sex, because supposedly, talking obstructs the ultimate goal of all male and female relationships, which of course is MARRIAGE. Using a bunch of extremely problematic words like “quasi-manhood” (WTF?! Is there one monolithic way to be a man that all men must, at all costs, mold themselves into?) Here’s how they get there:
This new phase of pre-dating called “talking” is like adolescence for relationships: an unnecessary stage in the relationship allowing young men to avoid taking responsibility and acting like men. It prevents the man from having to be clear about his intentions to pursue or end the relationship. If he wants to stop “talking,” he simply walks away, leaving behind a confused, and potentially wounded, young lady.
Oh no! The worst thing that could ever happen is a confused and wounded young lady! Let me clue you in, Councilperson Gunter- relationships – in case you are somehow irrevocably alone and unacquainted with how they work – relationships are a constant state of confusion and woundedness that you must continue to fight through at all costs, regardless of the effect it has one’s always-present, always-interfering FEELINGS.
That goes for friendships. That goes for family. That goes for romance. That is love.
Can we, for once, just stop trying to preserve everybody’s feelings? Dear lord! Feelings are there to be hurt. That’s the whole point of them. They are the current representation of our favorite possible reality. Feelings are “what could happen”. What has been. Rarely are they a reliable indicator of what should or what WILL be. Regardless of how much we protect them, they will get hurt, because change inevitably bruises them.
But, as one of my favorite slam poets would say, “Hearts don’t break ya’ll. They bruise and get better.
We were never tragedies. We were emergencies.”
And while I sat in this dimly-lit coffee shop reading the influx of text messages that communicated this man’s die-hard intentionality, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d missed out a little. Of course I was going to accept his dinner invitation. Of course I was going to allow him to move our relationship from friendship to romance. But at the same time, I felt that I had missed out on learning how to appreciate him as himself, apart from what he could do for me or his potential as a future spouse.
And I did. I had. Because I didn’t know him well enough to know if I wanted to be his wife, we stayed in a five-month holding pattern during which I broke up with him three times – pre-dating, mind you – because I couldn’t match his enormous, overwhelming intentions. When we finally did date, we lasted two weeks. Every time I walked out of a dimly lit coffee shop after breaking up with him yet again, I left kicking myself for not being good enough. For not being sure enough. For not overriding my intuition and letting him act on these most excellent intentions.
Reflecting on this situation, the question for me is, ‘What should our intentions be towards another strange, unique, image-bearing human being?’
And all I can come up with is love.
Our intention should always be love.
Love looks different for different people, because different people need different things.
The idea that “intentions” should always include marriage strikes me as overwhelmingly selfish. I don’t think anyone means it to be, because we’ve been groomed to believe that it’s the right and honorable way to treat the person we’re attracted to. We don’t want THEM. THEMSELVES. We want our emptiness to be filled. We want that relationship label that will lull us into a false sense of security & intimacy with someone we haven’t yet gone to the trouble of loving. We want whatever we assume will help us most, and overlook completely whether or not that thing – marriage, the supposed cure-all for all of our emotional problems – is actually what’s best for the other person.
I propose a new kind of intention. I propose selflessness and sacrifice and getting your feelings hurt on the regular. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve crossed paths with and for one holy, stand-still moment I had this one chance to see exactly THEM before all my enormous, blinding, overriding intentions got in the way.
I remember sitting with an old friend of mine in his living room, a year after I’d been using my interest in his art, fraught with ulterior motives, to get close to him. It was hard work, this charade I was playing in order to get him to see me as his closest friend, confidante, & of course, future love interest. As he sat in the armchair across from me, eyes filling with tears, I suddenly heard him say, for the first time, that he was so disillusioned with and disconnected from his writing that he was considering stopping altogether. Shocked I realized that this, in fact, was the moment I’d been brought into his life for – a crucial turning point in his life and art, and I had so nearly missed it.
I saw him – broken, lazy, disheartened, withering – and I was taken aback. He was not the image of him I’d so carefully forged and sculpted and daydreamed about! He was so much more human, so much more soul than I’d given him credit for. And silently I thanked God for lifting the veil before I missed out on the chance to love him like he needed to be loved.
What if we stop flirting and start listening? Stop daydreaming? Stop forging. Intentionality is no magic word, & people are so much more than the golden-calf images we like to turn them into. See them as you would want to be seen, & let love grow as it will or as it must.