I treated love as a trivial thing before I met you, John.
I always believed people could will themselves into thinking they loved one another. And that loving someone, just like anything subjected to the trials of time, eventually turned into habitual duty.
Before we met, I had a pattern:
I would spend a few months going out with friends, meeting new people, and eventually, I would find someone I figured I could will myself to love. After careful assessment of the person and an attempt to weigh the pros and cons of being with them, I would declare to myself that, yes…I can love this person.
And I’d tell them I loved them. And when they told me they loved me, I’d say it right back to them.
And when we would break up, I would call up a friend and cry into the phone and say, “…but I loved him.”
And then a few months later, I would start going out with friends, meeting new people…and the cycle would repeat.
That’s the pattern I lived out for most of my life.
That was love to me for most of my life: a lukewarm melodrama I could manifest after acting out a recycled pattern of choices that seemed to always work. And I never understood how, if this was love, anyone could will themselves into loving someone enough that something like marriage or long term partnership would ever actually work.
But then, John… I met you.
And for the first time, love wasn’t a decision that I needed to will myself to make.
Loving you wasn’t a choice…it was more a reality that I was asked to accept. A reality that something outside of myself was urging and willing me towards: I was simply going to love you deeply whether I wanted to or not.
But I wanted to love you. And I did, John. I absolutely loved you.
I loved you so much, in fact, that I was angry that I had ever used the word before with anyone else.
I could see it for the first time: how the alchemy between two people could have such a charge to it, that an actual lifetime together wasn’t merely an option as much as a foregone conclusion. Something you’d be crazy not to want to try.
For the first time, my fear of the future was muted.
You would always tease me about that fear and the misguided vanity that it flowered from. You always thought it was silly that I feared how time would change the shape of my body, my face, and ultimately, would change the way you saw me. I was always so scared of that.
And I don’t think I ever told you this when you were alive, but right before you died, I realized that I was wrong. Not about time changing the way I looked, but about thinking that time could actually change the way you saw me.
John, I know now, that in your eyes…I was never going to age.
I loved you. More than my own desire to be happy.
And something about what you did to my heart, whatever you were able to pour into it, felt like the whispers of something eternal.
John, after spending so much of my time on this Earth searching for life and clinging to anyone or anything I met along the way that might have an idea where to find it: I met you. I was willed to do so.
And there was nowhere else to go after that. So I stayed where I was, and we got two years together. And then God took you back.
We got two years, John.
It’s almost a laughably short amount of time to most people down here on Earth, but I don’t think most people know what two years with you can do to a person’s heart.
And what did that time do to it?
Did it break it? Absolutely.
Teach it? Yes.
But most importantly: That time showed my heart that it was something worth cherishing. That it was something good.
And then when you died, I was left with it.
That heart you’d spent the last years of your life speaking goodness into tried as hard as it could to keep beating.
And right around that time you’d been dead for two years, I found myself wondering how, on this Earth, I was supposed to give this heart you left me with to anyone else.
But I tried.
I tried my old patterns: to will myself into finding someone to love with this heart that you shaped.
I went on dates, John. I even allowed myself to get swept up in new romances a few times. And I’d find myself doing the same things I’d done with you, and having inside jokes, and waking up genuinely excited to have someone to talk to.
But the love inside still had nowhere real to go.
And I kept thinking to myself, “he would want me to love again…” And people would tell me that in order to honor you, “I should find someone to love again,” until finally it occurred to me that maybe I should just ask you where you wanted what you left in my heart to go.
And (through the grace of God) I heard you say:
Babe, of course I want you to find love again.
In fact, I want you to find it everywhere. And in everyone. (Even in the people you don’t like) And even more so in the people who have hurt you. And if you find a person or a place where there is very little goodness…pour my goodness there.
And love? Find it. Find it everywhere that I’m not.
So I’ve been doing that, John. I’ve been wringing my heart out like a sponge on other people’s hurt, especially hurt I’ve caused. And in the lives of our friends. And in the lives of my students.
And, at times, I worry there will be nothing left in it.
But in those memories I have with you, and in the words you spoke to me, and in the hands of the God you led me to, I find all the places that I can go to fill it back up with what is good.
And with this heart you left in me, I go out into this world you left me in, and I find love again, and again, and again.
And I’ll keep doing so.
(Until our hearts beat together once more, John, I will keep following that will that got me to you)