In January last year, because I needed to believe in the power we all have to touch and lift and heal each other, I declared 2011 my year of loving fearlessly. In July, half way through my love project, I made a list of things I’d learned so far. Now, sitting here on the other end of my big, crazy, year-long experiment, I’m daunted by the thought of trying to summarize it for you. How can I possibly tell you all I’ve learned, how I’ve changed? How can I do it justice?
I don’t want to write a list.
I know, right? Me, the queen of lists, the one who believes there is something inherently worthy in a life enumerated. But I don’t want to make the love project neat for you. It wasn’t neat. It was wild and amazing. It was surprising and scary and everything I never imagined. It was exhausting and energizing. I want to sit with it, assemble it artfully like a collage, or soulfully like a prayer. I want to get up and run with it, fling myself into the new year with 2011 trailing behind me, still attached, like some gigantic, magnificent, weather-worn kite.
I don’t want to make a list.
I want to tell you about how my conversations went in 2011, how, online and off, they had an unsettling tendency to veer off course, turning, in an instant, intimate. Disarmingly honest. I want to tell you how those conversations undid me, how I tried to be cool like this is how my life always is, while inside I panicked because I didn’t know how to be that vulnerable, how to let someone else be that vulnerable with me.
I want to tell you about one conversation in particular, because it isn’t a list, and it isn’t daunting. It’s small and thorny and beautiful, and maybe it’s what the whole year was really about.
I was talking to a new friend, someone I met in 2011, a woman I very much admire. She’s smart, accomplished, hugely capable and yet not quite trusting of her own considerable abilities. We were talking about the impetus to create, where it comes from,what it’s fueled by – restlessness, curiosity, a desire to communicate, to connect.
Passion came up, of course, and then love, and before long we were talking about relationships and marriage – at first philosophically, but eventually we wandered into our own stories. We had both recently emerged from the most difficult times of our marriages, the kind of difficult times that lots of marriages don’t survive.
Because we hadn’t known each other long, we skirted up against the specifics without laying them out, both of us feeling the kinship, the common ground of our emotions, trusting that there was something valuable in our sharing. We talked about fear and guilt and faith, mistakes big enough to alter the landscape, the scary disorientation of standing in a familiar relationship and recognizing nothing.
When I think of our conversation now, I realize we were talking about love, ungainly and raw, stripped of its poetry and romance; this was real love in real life, where it doesn’t always fit nicely in a tweet or on a t-shirt or in a blog post. And it was while I was in that conversation, that amazing conversation in which the newness of our friendship made us leave the details on the curb so that we could venture unencumbered into the twisty terrain of our hearts, that I realized how alike we were… how alike we all are. It’s only the details that are different, the specific life circumstances. Underneath them is the joy, the sorrow, the grief, the longing. Looking there, beneath the surface of things, we recognize each other instantly, our shared humanity, our wounded, hopeful hearts.
In 2011, I was startled by that truth again and again, stunned by how similar we are, across genders, age groups, geographies, backgrounds. We all struggle to navigate the tricky waters of family, the changing roles of parents and children, the inevitable failings of our lovers and friends. We think of ourselves as autonomous but we aren’t really; we touch (and crash into) each other all the time, our kindness and our cruelty ripple across humanity in ways we can’t possibly know.
Last year, I tried hard to be fearless in love, and it changed me. I’m not the same person I was when I started the love project. Near the end of 2011, someone asked me if I thought I would be sad to see it end and I told her, “I think maybe I’m just getting started.”
My answer surprised me. It was a revelation. An uncharted step north.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.