A love letter to the choice to love
Love can be reborn each day.
But we are the ones who have to give birth to it.
Have you ever given birth?
It is an act that consists of a strange mix of active participation and total surrender.
Giving birth is excruciating. It rips you open. And it always results in blood.
But it is also the most natural thing in the world.
None of us would be here without it.
These words came to me while I was visiting my parents house a few weeks back. It was the house I grew up in, the house I lived as a curious child and an turbulent teenager, and the house where I spent the first months together with my own newborn child. But I will get back to motherhood at a later time - I am not yet done with my teenage memories and will continue on that path for a little while still.
When I was seventeen years old I made the choice to love another person, in a way I had not done before - in a way that was answered. In a shared love. I say choice, but there is something about that wording that doesn’t ring true to me. More than a choice, I think it is a call. Or a calling. Being called to love. Hearing the Call and answering it. Perhaps that is the essence of the choice to love: choosing to answer the call.
What does it mean to make a choice like that? What led to me choosing to answer the call, instead of turning away from it? And how does one live a life where you keep making that choice?
Even though I made that choice, it didn’t mean that I was actually able to carry it through fully, at least not at seventeen. I was only starting to learn to love. Well, to be honest, I still am. And will be, probably for the rest of my life.
I guess you could call love the ultimate practice of learning by doing.
When I was in my early twenties, my mother gave me a book by Peter Lauster titled Rakkauden myytit(though originally written in german, I read the book in finnish. In english the title would be translated to “The Myths of Love”.) I was equally fascinated and confused by a concept presented in the book: that you can’t chain love. Love is one of those mysteries that is built on a kind of paradox: It is most fully manifested through your activity, of loving, but it is an activity to be carried out in a gentle manner. If you are seeking to control love, you lose it. You cannot force love, since the act of forcing is not in accordance with the very nature of love and will only cause to scare it away.
Only by letting it flow freely can it flow in your life. But this flow still requires your active participation. It needs you to answer the call through activity. The notion of love as an act is nothing new, but it is a message worth repeating so I will do my share here. In his book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm writes:
“One attitude, indispensable for the practice of the art of loving, which thus far has been mentioned only implicitly should be discussed explicitly since it is the basic for the practice of love: activity. I have said before that by activity is not meant “doing something,” but an inner activity, the productive use of ones powers.”
As Fromm writes, the practice of loving is more of an inner activity, a productive use of ones energy. The action of loving does not have to take the form of any grand gestures (though it can). I see it more as action based on sense of awareness, so that you can direct the energy of love outwards and make it available to the world. In the end, what matters is the approach, and the choice to engage. This approach to love is wonderfully succinctly described by Bell Hooks in her book All About Love:
“The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet we would all love better if we used it as a verb.”
My first shared experience of love was not what I expected that it would be. At first, I did not accept it. I turned my back and tried to ignore its existence. I spent half a year actually ignoring the person that I loved, since I could not face the emotions that they brought up in me. I remember that at the time I felt trapped in a hopeless situation where I was at the risk of losing not only my friends or my reputation but my whole identity and sense of self, which, at 17, was not on the most stable ground to begin with. Such was the state of my conditioning, that it was a struggle to open up to loving this person, just because they were of the same gender as me.
I had thought of myself as an open-minded person, but being hit by the matter so directly and personally forced my unconscious fears and judgments out into the light. Looking back on those times, I notice a bitter taste at the back of my throat. I am still ashamed for how coldly I treated the person I most loved, and I am still awed by their capacity to love: They still accepted me, and received me open-armed, when I was finally able to answer the call.
I have only recently noticed that there are sides of me playing out the dynamics of that first blueprint of a relationship in my later relationships as well. I am still carrying a sense of guilt, a feeling that I need to prove my worth to be deserving of love. Deep within me, I feel undeserving of receiving love, since I treated the first person that I loved so coldly at the start. It is as though my mind easily gets stuck in that mode of guilt, focusing on the dark parts and ignoring all the love we shared after that initial struggle, and all the love in all other forms that are a part of my life today. That sense of guilt still affects me and my relationships to this day. I notice instances of self-sabotage where I can delve deeply into destructive beliefs: that I am unable to love, that in the end I’m just going just destroy what I love and should leave everyone alone since I am only going to hurt them, the way that I hurt my first love.
But isolating myself and “leaving everyone alone” would be a terrible loss, both to myself and the world, as I know there is a lot of love to give, through my lifetime, through my existence, through my awareness and active participation in this life. I am grateful to my first love for giving me the incredible gift of forgiveness and showing me that there can exist love and forgiveness even after going through a painful beginning. And I am grateful to the seventeen-year-old version of me, for opening up to the experience, for doing my best in the midst of all that emotional turmoil. Love was being born in me, and however beautiful, it was also a painful process. And more than judging myself for my shortcomings I want to celebrate that I did answer that call. I did open up in the end, and I did have an experience of a first love, where I did practice loving to the best of my ability. I do not think that I could have acted in another way at seventeen, being in a situation where I felt myself being torn open and my identity shredded into an entirely new shape. Into a person that could love another, simply because I loved them, and thus overthrowing the conditioning within me that stated we were somehow wrong together, because of the bodies we were born into.
There was nothing wrong, and there never is, when it is love.
In order for me to answer the call to love, I had to surrender. I remember listening to Love Will Tear Us Aparton repeat, as though I had to prepare for the possibility of the ending before the relationship even started. There was something about that song that soothed me and that opened me up, to accepting the pain that came acoompanied with the love. I listened to those words, over and over, and in the end I realized that I had already been torn apart. Regardless of whether I shared my emotions or not. I was torn open, and there was nowhere to hide anymore. And the pressure of my suppressed emotions kept building up, until the point that it was unbearable. I had a sudden flash of insight where I saw my life forking into different paths, depending on the choice I took in this moment. Answering the call to love meant that I opened myself up to the possibility to be transformed, and this was a choice filled with life. It held the potential for being hurt, but also the potential for experiencing something magnificent. The other choice, to turn away from the call, was filled with a sense of fear and hopelessness. I had the feeling, that this choice, despite somehow in my mind being framed as the safe one, was in actuality a path to a deeper and harsher type of pain than the possibility that my love would go unanswered or that my heart would get broken. The choice to not open up held a sense of deadness to it. So in the end, it wasn't really a choice at all. I simply had to answer the call.
Dear seventeen-year-old me, I can see you in my mind, with your hair colored blue that had turned to a shade of grey by the end of the summer. With your bloody knees that got ripped open at the Tuska Metal Festival, with pieces of stone stuck in the wound that mom had to clean away with a toothbrush. It hurt so much, and she was so annoyed that I had let my knees be in that bloody condition during the duration of the whole festival (I thought it looked cool - very metal). As I look at us now, I can see how that was also such a simple and beautiful act of love. Thanks to her, my knees healed and did not get infected. Thank you, mom.
And I can see myself, floating through the city night to catch a concert with the person I loved, after having finally faced her, and admitted that the reason for my coldness was the love that was filling my whole being in a way that I had never imagined possible. A love which took me so much by surprise that I did not know any other way to act than to retreat. In order to keep it in I had to ignore her but keeping it in made me tense and dry and heavy and cold. Immense relief washed over me as I admitted those words, and surrendered to love and to life, accepting whatever was to follow. I remember being prepared for her to hate me, so imagine my suprpise when instead what I received was her answering the call to love me back. I remember feeling as though we were floating, running through the city in the late summer darkness, with my body fuelled by joy, by hope, by love.
Dear seventeen-year-old, me, I know that this was a difficult transition to accept and open up to, and I am so grateful to you for doing it for me, so that today, I can be here, living a life that is based on a foundation of love, where I am still actively taking part, keeping on trying to love to the best of my ability. Sometimes succeeding, sometimes being swept by the waves of everyday stresses and anxieties... but always getting back to trying, to loving and learning.
By writing these words, I am attempting to answer the call to love myself, despite my shortcomings. I am visualizing my arms around my earlier versions of me, embracing myself, filled with love and gratitude for how they paved the way for me to be here today. I don’t know if this will absolve me of my sense of guilt. That is probably a longer process. But what I can do, is to accept myself, guilt and all, and to love myself so that I can let that fountain of love flow freely, without bottling it up inside of me.
The first call that we need to answer is the call to love ourselves.
Peter Lauster (1980) Rakkauden Myytit. Kirjayhtymä.
Erich Fromm (1956) The Art of Loving. HarperCollins Publishing.
Bell Hooks (1999) All About Love: New Visions. William Morrow.
Joy Division (1980) Love Will Tear Us Apart [Song]. Factory Records.
*The first image, Trying to Catch the Light, is a digital collage created in collaboration with my seventeen-year-old-self, consisting of photographs taken by me when I was 17, syntesized into a collage by this 31-year-old version of me.
**The second image, Seeking the Shadow Seeking the Light, is a digital collage created in collaboration with my seventeen-year-old-self, consisting of photographs taken by me when I was 17, syntesized into a collage by this 31-year-old version of me.
***The third image, Growing through the Cracks, is a digital collage created in collaboration with my seventeen-year-old-self, consisting of photographs taken by me when I was 17, syntesized into a collage by this 31-year-old version of me.