Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Love and Giving, and Giving Love. See also: some strings attached.

*I stumbled upon this piece on giving that I started last year after Christmas... and it is still applicable so I decided to post it.*

I love Christmas. It is my favorite time of year. Seriously. When I say I love it, I mean: I love peppermint, I love eggnog, I love the ballet "The Nutcracker," I love every sort of Christmas music there is (a soft spot for Amy Grant's "I'll Be Home for Christmas" c. 1993, and the Christmas tape we bought from an Exxon station in 1988), I love Christmas movies,  I love Christmas lights, I love the smell of balsam fir, and of nutmeg. I love the red cups at Starbucks. I love the seasonal coffee creamer flavors. I love the Claymation Christmas movies from the 1960s. I could go on and on (... "you already have, Hilary.") Now I'll spare you my observations about consumerism, Black Friday, my opinions on the phrase "Happy Holidays," and why I dislike the current Christmas Tree Lane... blah blah blah. No, let's talk about the one thing that I don't love about Christmas: gift giving.

Some people dig it. They're all about the gifts. Maybe it's just me;  I could go the rest of my life without receiving another gift, and Christmas would still be Christmas. I wouldn't feel hurt or neglected or anything.  But not everyone feels this way, I've come to find. A friend of mine placed such importance on gifts that when I didn't give her a birthday present, she seriously questioned the legitimacy of our friendship. She wondered if she'd done something wrong, if I simply didn't care about her. Gift giving is easy for her... it's something that she loves to do, and does without hesitation. She loves to put the time into thinking of what people would like, and she's pretty good at it. It's totally her love language. It's not that I don't like giving gifts...  I'm just so indifferent to them personally that I forget they can be a big deal to others. And I'm not so good with coming up with cute, thoughtful, sentimental gifts. I usually just go overboard. This is the 'all or nothing' approach that I use in a lot of situations, and it interferes with my sanity. Also, gift giving is not my love language. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about when I say 'love language,' click here.)

I had a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose of giving. I first realized this a couple of years ago, when I did a favor for a friend. It was a pretty big favor. I thought it was obvious that it was a big favor. Don't get me wrong, I was entirely happy to do it, and I did it without hesitation or expectation of anything besides "thank you."A really heartfelt thank you, of course. I just assumed there would be no other option than for this friend to receive it gratefully and with exaggerated expression of indebtedness (which I would insist was unnecessary, of course) because that's what I would do in their place.

This is how I saw it going in my mind:

Me: I'll do ___ for you!

Friend: Really? No way... that's too much! I couldn't let you.

Me: (with sincerity) No, it's really okay, I'd be glad to do it.

Friend: Are you sure?! 

Me: Absolutely! No problem!

Friend: Thank you soooo much, I really appreciate it!! Oh my gosh thank you thank you thank you thank you....

Me: Oh, stop.

This is how it actually played out:

Me: I'll do ____ for you!

Friend: Cool.

So when my extravagant kindness was received quickly and without any sentiment resembling gratitude, I was really, really annoyed. I mean, come on. I love giving. I just love it. You know, give, give, give, that's my mantra. Just as long as you are grateful for it. If you're not grateful for it, what's the point? What's this Secret Santa business. If I give, and you take, and you don't acknowledge what I did for you, or that it was difficult... well that's a joke.

How terrible is that? To give only with the promise of gratitude? It is a pretty "reasonable" response, I guess, but an expectation steeped in the selfishness of the flesh. What kind of gift is given with strings attached? The kind of gift that no one wants.

I'm wondering what this means in the context of love. Love is the ultimate gift, right? The giving of yourself, selflessly... selfless giving? Shouldn't it be self-ful giving? Giving fully of your own self? Now I'm splitting hairs but you catch my drift. How do you give love without expectation? I guess this is a discussion about the difference between expectation and hope, between entitlement and expectancy. (It's interesting that expectation and expectancy are different. And I have addressed this distinction in a previous blog [Sidenote: the moment you can reference yourself is a small victory.] Read it here.)

I guess since I have only recently begun to actually believe in romantic love as a real thing, and not a exploitative, whorish greeting card premise, I am revisiting the notion of selflessness with new intentionality. Here's what I've decided: love hurts. Love is hard. It is so hard. It's so scary but it's also so freeing; ideally there are no take backs. However, in reality there are plenty of failures and an abundance of take backs. But that's not because of love, that's because of selfishness and misrepresentation of other feelings masquerading as love. But I really believe Mother Teresa was onto something when she said “I have found the paradox: that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.” I have to believe she knew what she was saying. I want to give that kind of love. But I only want to give it to people who deserve it. And to people who wont take advantage of it.

How do you give love without strings attached? You have to believe that the object of your love and desire is loveable, independent of you and your gift of yourself, of your love. You cannot think of them as gaining worth through your love of them... "I love you, therefore you are good. No one else will love you the way I love you, so be grateful." You have to believe that it/he/she is worthy of your love, regardless of the reciprocity (or lack of it). Because anything else isn't really love, it's conditional. And love, true love, isn't conditional. There isn't a hidden clause. And it isn't about power, or about me. So we might start to indulge in a lot of feelings that we are convinced are love... but the second we become preoccupied with self, is the same moment we cease to truly love.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On Speaking Italian

I moved back to Fresno three years ago this month. To say it was against my will would sound dramatic, but it's totally true. I really thought I was supposed to move here, and that's why I did. Not because I didn't love Southern California. And I believed that the purpose for my move would become clear eventually. It hasn't yet. I have formed lasting friendships that I'll take with me wherever I go; not insignificant ones, deep friendships knitted into the interior of my heart. But I didn't find what I was looking for. I was looking for purpose. Something... or someone... anything that seemed too good to be true, so that I would know it was God. But I didn't find anything that seemed too good to be true. I found trail heads that seemed auspicious, but they ended in dust and sweat and tears. Started off a sprint with hope and exertion, only to encounter abrupt disappointment and dead ends (if I was lucky) or eventual, wandering regret that crept in and rusted my joints and hinges with salt water.

Recently I wrote this: "So... I'm rusty. I'm restless and unfulfilled and so frustrated with God that I can't really spiritualize this position I'm in... not in a way that would satisfy the Super Spiritual reader. I'm not going to try to make myself look good right now, okay? There's nothing wonderful about my heart's posture. I don't have an answer, and I'm tired of trying to find one. I'm exhausted of trying to make sense of it or find the lesson or the deeper truth. This is my mental state, one that has developed and built itself up upon itself, like a coral reef of incessant disappointment, eroded hope, and crystallized doubt."

I finally decided that I'd stop waiting for God to drop something in my lap and I'd get out there, do something myself, hope that He'd meet me there. I went to England; hoping that something would present itself like a postcard addressed to me.

Hey Hilary,

Here is the opportunity you didn't even have the scope to dream of; it's better than what you'd imagined, and it seems too good to be true because only I can create an opportunity like this. Just go with it.

Love, God.

I'm still waiting on that postcard... but I did get a job offer from a slightly less than forthcoming film producer, an offer that had all the auspices of my dream job, but which fell apart like a sandcastle when put under the pressure of scrutiny. That was a tough lesson in faith. In the meantime, I got a TESOL certification, a thousand amazing pictures, and some awesome sunglasses. Also, I think I fell in love. I think. I can't be sure, I'm pretty emotionally stunted when it comes to romance, so it could be a miscommunication. But for the first time in my life, my instinct for relationship self preservation is gone. That's got to mean something. I wont give you the details of it, or him, or anything like that. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm somewhat cagey when it comes to my personal life (and by personal life I mean dating life).

The fact that I'm willing to give Mystery Man (MM) an honorable mention is significant. I think that, when it comes to romance, I'm like Susan from Miracle on 34th Street. The little girl who was told, by nature and by nurture, not to believe in Santa Claus. A little girl who couldn't understand her own inclination to embrace the very man she absolutely didn't believe existed. She somehow maintained a secret, strange hope that perhaps he was real, and then he was right in front of her. She didn't believe it at first, but then it took more energy to disbelieve than to surrender to what she knew in her gut. All I can say is that in this man whom I met, and grew to love, all my prior questions were laid to rest. I am not afraid. I am not certain of anything about our future, but I am not insecure. That's the inexplicable paradox right there. We may end up together. We may become nothing more than a gorgeous snapshot of a time in our lives when we managed to escape the soul entombing anticlimax of the mundane, and found each other in the open air. Either way, I'm grateful.

Did you know there are people who sustain brain injuries which render them incapable of speaking, and yet they can still sing? The part of their brain that directs speech doesn't direct singing. So maybe that's why I'm incapable of articulating my emotions, but I can sure sing about them. Ask the patrons of Rising Sun Pub in Kilkenny, Ireland... at the relentless demands of the musicians and the encouragement of a couple pints, I sang love songs for a room full of strangers, dedicated to MM himself. I can't- won't- put all my feelings into words. And I won't tell you the love songs that are stuck in my head because that's a horror of self-divulgence that I won't give into just yet. All I know is that love songs make sense to me now.  Before, I understood what they were getting at, but it didn't really translate in any meaningful way. It's like I was listening to an Italian opera without understanding Italian. I don't have to know the words to know that it is beautiful and heart wrenching, and it might give me chills anyhow. But I didn't know it in it's entirety. Now, I speak Italian. And everything I hear finds a place to land.