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Instructions on Love

October 12, 2020 Leave a comment

A month or so ago, on Twitter, I wrote a thread about a few lines from Neil Gaiman that get me through the darker moments—that remind me to be brave when I need, that remind me of how much what’s in your heart matters. Often times, I look to bits of Neil’s writing (I call him Neil, because we’re totally BFFs…or that’s just, you know, his name) for reminding, for solace, for hope. More than any other writer, my heart immediately goes, “Neil will know,” and I open a book or an anthology and find the answer. Like magick.

Good writing is just that: magick. It’s all spellwork, really. But that’s a point for another day. The past few days, when everything has felt exceptionally chaotic, I’ve been pondering my upcoming birthday. When I was a kid, my mom always made a huge deal about birthdays, ruining me for all reasonable expectations. Then along came Sixteen Candles (a problematic movie, but one I have a soft spot for) and introduced me to Jake Ryan and the unreasonable desire to have a cute boy arrive with cake. And well, no one is Jake Ryan.

But the thing is: I don’t need anyone to be Jake Ryan. And I’ve been thinking on this, what I’d really like for my birthday is for you to do something for me. Normally, I’d ask you to go on an adventure or take a crazy risk. But not this year, at least not in the way you might think.

If you love someone, tell them. Tell them exactly why, even if you’re scared. Tell them they make your life better or make you laugh more than anyone else. Put it out there in clear words, even if you stumble or are scared—it doesn’t matter if it’s romantic love or not. The truth is, my darlings, love is always worth risking everything for, upending the world for, being brave for.

And sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, because the world is hard and hurt is never in short supply. We’re all carrying around scars from things we don’t often talk about, from people whose names we no longer say aloud. And while I have never regretted loving anyone, I have sometimes regretted not being more honest about it. Because even if things are insane and up in the air, who doesn’t need more love, especially right now? Real love, genuine and not conditional, meets you where you are. It doesn’t not require neatness or perfection. It doesn’t expect you to be anything, but who you are.

So, if you do one thing for me, speak up. Embrace what you love and who, no matter the odds or insanity. You can spend a whole lifetime being safe and neat, but that’s driving with the parking brake on. Being safe and contained won’t answer your text at 2am or at 2 in the afternoon, when you’re freaking out or excited. Being safe won’t make you laugh when you don’t even think you can. And I know, I know, this life is full of such and such madness, but surrounding yourself with those who make this mad world better is everything.

I may be an overzealous CareBear, but you cannot convince me that love doesn’t matter—and I don’t say that because I don’t know what it’s like to be hurt right down to the marrow. Or because I don’t know what it’s like to grieve the living and the dead. Or because I live in a fantasy world full of storybook endings. No, I say that because on bad days, it’s love and hope and kindness that get me through. It’s friends checking in. It’s loved ones listening when the day is hard. It’s showing up in a million ways, no matter how small a gesture.

And remember, at the end of the day, when everything is a mess and you’re feeling on edge—someone loves you, whether they’ve said it out loud or not. Hell, maybe it’s me. But if it’s me, chances are I will find ways to show that love long before I ever say it. Because that’s what love is, at the end of the day: gestures and actions we try—somewhat awkwardly—to mash into words. To heap into a shape that conveys how utterly brilliant you are, how valued, and how precious. Not because you are perfect, but because you are you.

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