And sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in.”
In life, it is impossible to avoid getting hurt. There is no use to try and protect yourself from damage, from goodbyes and hellos, from the lies, from the truth. It doesn’t matter if you stay or go; there is always going to be pain around the corner. That is life though. Everyone talks as if the hurt only comes when the relationship is over, but that isn’t true. Even in the happiest partnership, people there will be hurt. We carry around these vastly unrealistic expectations that for a relationship to be in working order, we must never cry or feel pain, that the arrow must always follow a straight path. Why do we train our hearts to strive for perfection where it can never exist? Dealing with betrayal, we have this silent urge to become content in our own loneliness, but that is painful as well. No amount of happy solitude can replace the feeling of rolling into warm, loving arms when you stir in the middle of the night, trying to get comfortable, sinking deep into the mattress, rolling into someone who loves you…someone who can also hurt you. Only in our most vulnerable moments can we feel love, and it comes with the terrifying, contrasting, unavoidable truth that in that same moment, we can be destroyed. One can’t exist without the other; Love can only be as glorious as it is destructive, be as beautiful as it is ugly, be as aspirational as it is resentful. Great love is necessarily accompanied by the risk of the greatest pain and suffering one can endure. It is possible that love does not exist without fear; indeed, it is impossible to love without first conquering fear. We all take that leap of faith before we can allow someone into our heart, where they can see the depths of our imagination and the darkest parts of our soul. We open our life to someone like the books of an old history textbook, filled with mistakes and regrets and lessons. When we fall in love, we tell our story to someone else.
So, I have to say that people who love with reckless abandon are at the same time fearless, courageous, bold, adventurous, hopeful, optimistic, romantic, and passionate. In order to love, you have to surrender your body, your mind, your history, and you heart to the inevitable rotation of the Earth. You have to surrender to the way the moon pulls in the tide, to never-ending fact of life that none of us can avoid: the sun will always rise.
To love is to give up control to something greater. When we fall in love we trust something we can never see, only feel. Yet, we beg the person we love to show us love. When a woman wants flowers, it because she wants you to “show” her that you love her; she wants to see it, to touch it, to smell it. Every woman wants proof that this enormous force she has surrendered herself to actually exists. Yet, the most beautiful bouquet of fresh cut flowers can never show a woman that a man loves her, because love will never show itself. It will either grow and die inside and between two people, and even a dozen bouquets of a dozen roses can’t prove that love exists. Every person who is brave enough to fall completely in love with someone else at some point wants confirmation that they took a risk worth taking. When we go skydiving, we can only trust, hope, wish (maybe even pray), that our parachute will bring us safely to the ground.
Love is a battlefield. Despite the stray bullets, the camaraderie, and the risk of a great war, and no matter what the outcome might be, there is honor in battle. There is honor in courage. There is honor in sacrifice, in protection, and in pain. Necessarily then, to love deeply (where there is great happiness at the risk of great sadness), is to live life honorably.
Then, when it is over, it becomes a part of our history. The War of 2012-2014. The Great Loss of May 2013, The Conflict of Halloween 2013, The Divorce of Years Ago, The Era of Late Nights and Bar Fights, The Graduation Missile Crisis, The Peace of Two Weeks (Every Six Weeks). The Alliance, The Contract, The Petition. The Revolution. The Reign of Terror and Distrust. “Speak Softly, but Carry a Big Stick.” The Trail of Tears. The Strategy, The Victory, The Surrender, The Resolution, The Reparations, The Treaty, The Heroes, The Fallen. Cold Wars, Hot Wars. Deficits and Public Opinion.
Borders change, and walls are knocked down. New ones are built. During all of this history that we are writing as we walk through life we trust that it will mean something in the end.
It will. Only when we love can we feel the great force of nature; only through love can we truly experience everything the world has to offer. Only through the pain of regret can we move forward with compassion and understanding. Without loss, we can not know that value of what we still have.
I look at all of my broken hearts, at all of the land mines in my past, at all of the retreats and surrenders of my failures, and at all of the thrills of victory and ambush when I loved fearlessly. Everything I have learned in my life, was because first, I was in love. I’m a romantic in its most pure definition.
Romance can not be diminished in favor of reason. To be romantic is to accept chaos, yet reason only serves to either suppress the chaos, or justify it. In either case, without the chaos of love there would be no need for reason. Yet, the human tendency is to believe that we can separate love and chaos. When we allow ourselves to idealize the love of our life, to sanctify the relationship as pure bliss, we are forced to view chaos as something that can be regulated out of our life. Love and chaos aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, they exist as elements because of one another, and act together to move our emotional life forward. If we regulate and suppress chaos, pain, and betrayal with reason, we will also necessarily extinguish the the honor and integrity that accompanies love. It isn’t a coincidence that love is preceded by falling.
Resist the urge to eliminate chaos. Resist the urge to turn love into something divine. Don’t synthesize love and chaos as one element; because then we associate love only with pain, and then we become solitary. No, the combination of love and chaos exists as a dialectic. With love and chaos, we have a life (a substantive history) that we can reflect upon, learn from, and then we can create something new. If our lives are filled with epochs, we must scale those epochs like mountains, engaging our history and our future with our bare hands. I want to die with calluses only because I engaged in all of the moments of my life as fragments that moved in action and reaction to each other. I want to be strong. As much as I hate heart break (shatter), it reminds me that I loved.
Heartbreak reminds me that I was brave, that I allowed myself to be human, and that I was humble and vulnerable. Heartbreak can be a Medal of Honor of a long war, a black belt in passion, a candle lit for something lost. It is proof that I am more than skin and bones and nerves; I am a soul. I have a soul worthy of cultivation and consideration. All at once, the sheer presence of my soul is both disarming and empowering. Yet, it is the collection of the contrasting and contradictory elements that move me to scale the next mountain. They must; the only way to dignify a great love is to use the chaos to write the next epoch, and let there be something mighty that comes from this heartbreak.
Today, I wandered from the course of my walk to class over to the Pylons on Virginia Tech’s campus. “I See Fire” by Ed Sheerhan was blasting on my iPod, and the sky was blue enough that the sun toasted my shoulders and my back as the chilly breeze hit my face. I sat down at the end, with my feet dangling over the War Memorial Chapel. I wondered if anyone had wandered into there to think quietly about the shootings seven years ago, as I was almost inclined to do. I chose the sun though, and the panoramic view of the Drillfield, and Burruss, and the students gathered around the memorial of the 32 lives that were lost on April 16, seven years ago.
Right before this, I had accidentally come upon a display of various letters, collages, and projects that people, organizations, and school had sent from all around the world. The first that I saw was from an Afghan women’s association. Somewhere in the official letter of condolence was a shared commitment against violence in the global community, and most notably, they claimed to stand with Virginia Tech in solidarity.
An elementary school made one hundred beautiful cranes with bright colored paper, and a note explaining that a story they had read taught them that if you make 100 cranes, you get to make a wish. They offered Virginia Tech the cranes, and also the wish. Another letter from a university in Ireland, which shared its commitment, and familiarity with violence, and explained that universities all across the world are beacons of knowledge and creativity. In the letter, it said that the students there, in Ireland, shard our pain and suffering as Hokies. Another from the Prime Minister of Tasmania, offered his help in any way, shape or form, explaining there was a similar incident at a school in his country, and that also, he shared the pain of our loss.
Michelle Obama told us to be proud, to serve our nation as Hokies. Nikki Giovanni perhaps created a Virginia Tech nationalism in and of itself, claiming, WE are Virginia Tech! She shared universal experiences of senseless violence of natural disaster, political violence, and poverty around the world.
I sat on the Pylons and that word kept ringing in my mind: Solidarity.
In political science, we talk about community a lot. Never though, do we use the word solidarity. Community and solidarity are different words. A community is a thing, usually a place, or a group of people. You can’t have A solidarity though; there IS solidarity. A community is a group that is tied through geography, shared interests, language, culture, religion, a government maybe. Solidarity happens; it is a unity of people within a community, a shared sense of responsibility to the community interest. When I think of solidarity, I think of a sort universalism that connects individuals; something that moves them to action, or at least, moves them to commitment.
I think of the the picture (that as Hokies we have all seen) of the candle light vigil that took place after the shootings, and I see all of those lights, all of those Hokies, and it almost brings tears to my eyes. I feel like I know them, I feel like I am standing there with them, in solidarity.
On April 16 we all stand in solidarity against senseless violence, against evil, we stand in solidarity for the innocent, for the 32 to people who we mourn the loss of, even though we never met them. They are family, they are Hokies. The 32 people we lost seven years ago today, they would have done the same for me, or for you.
Invention, Serving, and standing in solidarity are things that Hokies do every day. We also go to TOTS, we sit with our feet dangling over War Memorial Chapel and breathe in the Southwestern Virginia air and watch other Hokies crossing the Drillfield, back and forth. We sit in the early hours of the morning, studying in the dim light and quiet atmosphere of Torg Bridge. We bustle through Dining halls to get to that freaking AMAZING food. We jump up and down A LOT at football games, and scream and chant and tailgate. We Relay For Life, we get involved in the community at Big Event. So many girls at Virginia Tech have babysat William for free. A baseball player gave William his lucky glove. The Hokie bird sat patiently in the heat for five minutes as William tried to teach him how to unwrap a lollipop (due to being confused about why the Hokie Bird wasn’t eating the lollipop William had given him). Professors have brought in children’s books that their children were done with so I could read them to William. Another professor hugged me in her office as I cried about how hard it was to be a single parent. Young men who live in my apartment complex have moved my furniture, helped me with groceries, and caught william by his hood as he has tried to escape on his bike behind my back! Today I am just feeling to incredibly lucky to be a Hokie. I am so lucky to go to Virginia Tech, and raise William in this community. I could hardly ever return to this place what it has given to me. It is more than being a part of a community, but having a commitment to this community, a stake in its well being, and a responsibility to its value. If that isn’t solidarity in some form, I don’t know what is.