A friend told me once that I love more deeply than anyone they know, and I was taken aback. At first I felt complimented and a little bewildered. And then, after a while, I knew what they meant. I think they were referring to the way that love affects me, not that way that the love comes out. They saw me struck by love, floored, immobile, and saw me struggle to gain my footing again.
My nephew wakes from a nap and rests his head on my shoulder. All I can do is keep sitting on the chair feeling his warmth on my chest, his hand grabbing the collar of my shirt. I let my nose rest on his little bald head and smell him. Sometimes he leans back and looks up at me, and then gives a little grin that looks like his dad’s and plops back down against my chest. He’s only one year old, just a little warm body. I am holding my nephew and his mother and father. My sister’s baby.
Love comes to me in an ache, like grief. Sometimes it’s enough to for me to just sit and observe it, content to keep it inside my chest. And if it comes out, it’s spoken, or written, because words are what mean the most to me. All the while I’m painfully aware of how weak that kind of outward love is, especially when given so rarely.
In all my writing, everything seems to be coupled with sadness. Life, love, moving, friendships—all sad. But it keeps me coming back, for whatever reason, to faith. When I’m struggling to gain my footing, when I’m disappointed in how I love, somehow I see God. Which is probably why I clash with the tremendously joyous, laid-back evangelical church.
My niece brings me book after book for me to read. She hands me a pile of them and then struggles to crawl up the couch. Her hair is long; she elegantly pushes it back, knocking a few breadcrumbs out of it in the process. And then she sidles up next to me and we read together. She impatiently flips through the pages so that before I can finish one sentence, I have to start a new one. She has the eyes of her mom, the impatience of my brother. She’s so much smarter and grown-up than she was since I last saw her at Christmas. And she will be next Christmas, too. Time doesn’t stop.
I think in each of us there’s a deep well with love like water at the bottom, but if only the crawl down wasn’t so dark and our hands could carry more. We know at the bottom there is death and life, all swirling together, and to come back up we’ll be giving that love—so little of it—to life soon dead.
Enough love can never be given or received. If it evolved, then love has evolved beyond us. We dip our toes in and know there’s an ocean. Tell me you are not wont for more love. Tell me you don’t feel inside yourself that well, and wonder how much is at the bottom. It’s grief that shows us how much of love is unseen and yet to be found. We are stuck on the shore, and lapped by the waves.
My youngest niece cries every time she looks at me. It’s become a game: she nuzzles her face into her mom, calms herself, and then peeks back over her shoulder again to see if I’m there, and it begins all over again. Her eyes are wet with blue. There’s something knowing in a child’s eyes. This goes on for nearly an hour. I want to hold her, I want to feel her nuzzle her face into my shoulder. I lean my face in close to hers and kiss her cheek, crusty with tears. “See,” I say, “I’m okay. I’m okay.” She starts breathing heavy, ready to cry again. I know no amount of love burgeoning in my chest for this babe will make her love me.
So I sit on the other end of the room and watch, and hope.