The best love

According to the Love Project’s big, fat master plan, September was The Month of Seeing. All month I focused on making the most of my day-to-day interactions with strangers. In stores, in restaurants, at Starbucks and the library, I made eye contact. I smiled. I engaged people in conversation, asking questions, listening to their answers, sharing little bits of myself. More than once, I walked away laughing. Far from cool and apathetic, I found people were friendly, warm and funny.

I loved September, but the moment that touched me most didn’t happen with a stranger. It happened with my closest friend and soul sister, JB, who I’ve known and loved for more than two decades.

She’d sent me the link to a post by Martha Beck  because it resonated with her and she thought I’d like it too. I did. It was about yearning, and how yearning can be a good thing or it can be a debilitating thing, and there are ways of handling it so that you can take advantage of the positive aspects and avoid the negative ones. You should read it at some point because it’s smart and insightful, but this post isn’t about that post. This post is about what happened next.

I’d written about three paragraphs in response to JB, all about what Martha’s piece meant to me, how I might be able to use it, where I thought I might already be doing it. Between paragraphs 3 and 4, I paused to consider the word “yearning”; it’s not one I use a lot. And then, on an impulse, I deleted my whole reply and instead wrote one simple sentence that was more deeply true and heartfelt than anything else I’d written. I said, “I would love to hear about what you yearn for.”

She replied, “That just made me cry.”

And that, more than any of the other sweet interactions I had in September made it clear to me. We all want to be seen. All of us. And most of the time, we feel like we aren’t, really. We tell people things, our truths, our fears, and they immediately slip into fix-it mode or defense mode or (as I did) let-me-tell-you-all-about-me mode. It happens so often that when someone says, from the heart, “tell me more,” it’s enough to break us open a little.

It’s beautiful and disorienting and more powerful than we can know when we say the words. And I think it’s there, in the cracks that breaking open causes, in the light that falls through them and the way it makes us, at once, terribly vulnerable and newly brave… I think maybe that’s where the best love of all happens.


  1. Rebecca Floeter on October 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Perhaps full circle to Invisible?

    • j on October 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      Absolutely, yes. I love that interpretation.

  2. Rebecca Floeter on October 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I only say that as Invisible had such a profound effect on me, and Jeramy and Cathy…and one part of that brilliant piece you wrote has the woman trying to force the letters on someone else’s mail to form their name…that metaphor expands to all us wishing some acknowlegment out there would refigure to call out our names!

    • j on October 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      “all us wishing some acknowlegment out there would refigure to call out our names!”

      Love that. Yes, I agree.

  3. Becky on October 2, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I have this friend, we get together once a week. She listens… I talk, she talks… I listen. We laugh. We cry. We are present for each other.
    There are times when I say something and she rephrases it or she adds to it and I practically jump up with the absolute profound exhale of someone understanding and wanting to understand me… me.
    My greatest joy would be to know I gave someone that feeling, you know? To give someone that feeling of complete presence and understanding, to have someone know that I not only see them but that I yearn to see them, yearn to be in their presence, yearn to just touch my finger on the amazing shadow that someone filled with such light casts.

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 7:36 am

      It sounds like you have a very special friendship. My guess is that you already do make her feel that, just as she does for you.

    • Becky on October 3, 2011 at 8:59 am

      Yes, it’s really safe, natural, you know? I think that, for me, going through a stretch of evolution regarding myself, the trickle down effect is how I handle friendships. I feel such profound emotion sometimes because of something that was said to me or sent to me or written to me… I want to make sure I give that back. I want to make sure that the people who fill my world know that they’re special to me. I don’t know… maybe it sounds a bit over-bearing or over the topish — I’m still navigating that river.

  4. cfassett on October 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    “…I think maybe that’s where the best love of all happens.” Yes, I believe you are right. Exquisite post, j. Thank you.

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 7:36 am

      Thank you, Cindy.

  5. Annika Martins on October 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    “it’s there, in the cracks that breaking open causes, in the light that falls through them and the way it makes us, at once, terribly vulnerable and newly brave…” Gifted. You truly are.

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 7:36 am

      You should see my smile. Thank you so much, Annika.

  6. Joanne Marie Firth on October 2, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I say “Wow!” a lot. This time I can not help myself. “Wow!” You nailed it! We, and I mean I, want someone to listen to us, (me). To hear out thoughts and dreams out loud. To bounce them off of someone, instead of being silent. I notice, sadly, that many conversations I try to start seem to end before I’m ready. Always skimming the surface, never really digging in. I want to shout, “tell me more”, but the conversation has ended.

    This piece is so heartwarming. A tale of a profound connection between two best friends. Cherish that j. Hold it close. You have someone very special there. Lucky you. xoxo

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 7:53 am

      I am very lucky, no doubt about that. JB and I have been through a lot, leaning on each other.

      I think you’re making an interesting point about the times when we do want to hear more, but the person we’d be there for can’t quite open up like that. There are a few enormous lessons I’ve learned from this project and one of them is about our willingness to be vulnerable. To tell someone what we yearn for is to make ourselves vulnerable. It takes a level of trust that maybe isn’t very common (especially in this day and age when so many of our friends are people we’ve never actually met in person).

      There’s a complicated relationship between vulnerability, self-love and trust. I think it’s like a dance. The more you love and believe in yourself, the more willing you are to be vulnerable in scary situations, when you believe there’s a chance you’ll get hurt or be misunderstood. If you’re insecure, or deeply wounded, you’ll be less likely to go there without a very, very solid foundation. (In the case of me and JB, we’ve known each other for a long, long time; our foundation has been slowly, lovingly built. I believe it’s stronger than either of us really knows.)

      I suspect that every time you reach out to someone, every time you say, from your heart and with nothing but love, “tell me more,” you do open up that place in people where love can happen. Even if, at the time you say it, they may not feel quite ready to step into it. xox

  7. Rita on October 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Everybody wants to feel special…that’s what you just said. Love. xo

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 7:54 am

      This could have been a much shorter post, huh? 😉

  8. KjM on October 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I love this image you have, J, of “breaking open”. It’s come up more than once in the entries I’ve read here – and twice in this one.

    Huh, I can count. Who knew?

    The image, for me, involves an instant of pain, but that is swallowed by the flood of light that escapes. And makes me smile each time.

    And for you – whence comes this image”

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

      “The image, for me, involves an instant of pain, but that is swallowed by the flood of light that escapes.”

      Yes, that’s just the feeling I wanted to get at in my final paragraph. That moment of pain and possibility. I think it happens often… and what we do then, surrender to the light (which is not all sweetness – sometimes it’s terrifying and has the potential to break us apart, not open), or step away from it, depends on a whole host of things that can’t quite be covered in a blog post.

      But to offer the chance to someone, to be truly curious and generous with our attention… that’s a gift.

      Thank you for adding to my thoughts, as you always so beautifully do.

  9. Tall Pajama Man on October 2, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    the only response I can think of is, “thanks for seeing us, J”. It’s enough to make my day (or in this case, my month)


    • j on October 3, 2011 at 8:01 am

      Awww. To the extent that I am able to here, in our amazing comment threads, you’re welcome. Thanks right back.

  10. Michael on October 3, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Ms. Beck’s post was interesting. This is magic. What do you yearn for, j? I mean, besides all of us learning with you how to love fearlessly…

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 8:03 am

      Ms. Beck does math without numbers, which is my favorite kind of math!

      I hope that someday you and I will have that conversation, my friend. (Preferably, not while clinging to the side of a mountain, okay?)

    • Michael on October 5, 2011 at 2:22 am

      Not on the side of a mountain? But imminent death brings out so much honesty… Okay, fine. After or before then.

  11. Estrella Azul on October 3, 2011 at 4:11 am

    That place is exactly where the best love of all happens. (I’d love to read more of your thoughts on that post and what you’re yearning for.)

    For me September was more than a month of seeing. I stayed up last night because my thoughts didn’t seem to let me fall asleep sooner than 4am, until I’d written them out and shared them in a blog post.
    And what I learned is that as much as I do my best to see everyone and beyond the masks and walls and all the things which usually get people to judge too quickly – I’m happy this month of seeing went both way and I, myself, was seen.

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 8:06 am

      On a general level, with all those strangers with whom I felt brief, but real, connections, there is that sense… of mutual seeing. It’s very, very cool. I’m so happy your month was full of that connection.

  12. Lance on October 3, 2011 at 7:42 am

    My wife and I disagree about the internets. I tell her that any day of the week, I can find something that moves me more than anything she and I run across in our daily “real life” lives.

    This weekend, she won the argument.

    Our teenage daughter left for homecoming. My wife was being strong. I was a mess. She looked so grown up and pretty and older, I just couldn;t stop crying. We went to go look at Halloween costumes. while she combed over slutty whatever and hooker whatever I saw this little girl who looked JUST like our teenager 10 years ago. she ran into me, fell down, and started to cry. i jumped into daddy mode and looekd after her.the little girl looked at me and said “you’re a nice man” and ran to her mom.

    needless to say, I didn’t stop crying for a while.

    Beautiful post

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      I guess the real answer is that it depends on the week. I definitely know the feeling of “how can my baby be so… tall (and all that that entails) now?”

      About to jump over and look at your pictures, Dad. 😉

  13. kaleighsomers on October 3, 2011 at 11:06 am

    J, I literally witnessed this firsthand not even an hour ago. I was walking out of my fiction class, and we’ve been workshopping each others’ manuscripts for two weeks now. Often, as I’m leaving, I’ll hear two people from my class talking together as they walk out, discussing the work with the author him/herself. For some reason, it always strikes me as going above and beyond just that 50-minute class discussion. Like they’re really working to understand the other person’s reason for adding in a scene or cutting something or using a certain tense when writing. It makes me happy and gives me hope. Me, I tend to rush out and head for the dining hall for lunch because that’s often where mind is. But they don’t. They want to understand each other and they go beyond. I think that’s what seeing is.

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      That’s a sweet way to look at it. I also like that they’re extending the class time, learning from each other, building more of a writing community. Writing can be such a lonely task without other writers in your life.

      Also, I feel a tiny sense of yearning. My workshop classes in college were more brutal than that. I usually left right away so I could go nurse my wounds! 😉

  14. jb on October 3, 2011 at 11:22 am

    What can I say? It’s all true. And I am so grateful and blessed that you’re my soul sister, j.

    • j on October 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      Me too, you. <3

  15. Pam on October 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm


    I have a soft spot for songs that have a yearning or longing vibe. Maybe that’s why I don’t think of yearning as negative. It’s like reaching with your heart.

  16. j on October 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Well, Martha Beck does make that point. Yearning can be good – it can lead to your most heartfelt desires, point you north. But in the sense that yearning involves, to some degree, a sense that you cannot have the thing you want (or love), it can also be debilitating. You can get stuck there, in the fruitless, painful wanting.

    And thank you for the “beautiful.” xo

  17. Amid Privilege (@AmidPrivilege) on October 4, 2011 at 8:37 am


    I think always, when this thought of visibility comes up, of the little boy whose cries I hear from the neighboring yard. “Mom, look at me! Mom, look! Mom, look!” So instinctual – if no one sees us no one can save us.

    • j on October 4, 2011 at 4:47 pm

      So true! And I think sometimes, when we feel seen (and understood), we are more able to save ourselves.

  18. Milliver's Travels on October 4, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Beautiful. This is one where I’d rather just feel it than try to explain what this made me feel. :~)

    • j on October 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      Okay! (But thank you so much for the “beautiful.”)

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