The Real Deal
The movies would have us believe that love is passionate and faultlessly timed and superbly scripted. They would have us presume that it develops quickly (ideally, in about ninety minutes, or enough time for us to finish our popcorn and soda), comes in a nice, well-dressed and perfectly shaped package, and usually involves some theatrical climax, preferably in the rain, where the heroine breathlessly waits for her hunky man to sweep her off her feet and deliver her that ardent finale kiss. End the show, drop the curtains.
Now I can’t speak for you, but that is hardly how love works in my everyday life. For one, it’s not nearly so melodramatic, and I usually look far from flawless, especially on those rainy days. We’ve been conditioned by our society these days to develop a folie à deux in regards to love; we think that if love does not fit the stringent expectations placed on it by the entertainment industry, then surely it’s not love. What a fallacy. Love has so many facets, so many manifestations, that to limit it to how love is played out on the screen does it a great disservice.
We’ll all reach a moment in our lives when we stumble across something that seems to us to look a lot like this thing called love, and we become both nonplussed and delighted by the simplicity and unmitigated beauty of it. For some, all it takes is one confrontation with the exhibition of the emotion to clarify what it looks like. For others, we might miss it the first time, only to reminisce on a certain event or memory later and have it stumble right back into our lap with a loud plunk, and cause us to think, “How the heck did I miss that the first time?”
As much as I’d like to say that I was wise and clever enough to realize right away when I was confronted with the “real deal,” I won’t do such a thing. But I will make the claim of being sensible enough to know that there are certain points in my life where, upon reflection, I see with astonishing clarity that I have been shown great love. And it is these moments that have shaped my definition of love, and how I want to see it manifested in my life.
The first memory takes me back to a sweltering summer afternoon in the Dominican Republic. I was on a service trip, working to refurbish houses in an impoverished neighborhood in a little ravine community in the center of Santo Domingo. I was there to serve, to give a helping hand where needed. One particular day we were told to make cement to cover the walls of the house on which we were working. Making cement involved pouring the cement mix into the dry ground, adding water, and mixing the concoction until it was the right consistency. To mix cement was roughly a two-person job, and we had about four of us at this particular site. So, naturally, we took the work in shifts: work a few minutes, rest a few minutes. Repeat. Simple enough in theory, physically exhausting in practice. After about ten minutes of this, in the roasting Dominican sun, I am sorry to say that we all were a hot mess. Our skin was speckled with the cement dust, our shoes had clumps of the mixture on them, our pants were dirty from the dirty ground, and we were absolutely drenched in sweat. It’s important to note that all the while my team and I were doing this, we were surrounded by the children of the community – darling, delightful, dirty little creatures that were constantly vying for our attention. They absolutely loved getting hugs and piggyback rides from us, or teaching us their whimsical, silly games. Upon my break, as was their custom, the kids would come up and start jabbering to me in a language that I was having a hard time deciphering, despite my four years of high school Spanish. One girl in particular plopped herself right down on my lap, looked me right in the eyes, and said, “¿Haces calor?” (Are you hot?). I sighed and nodded. Yep, I was hotand dripping with perspiration. She looked at me sympathetically, as if to say, “Silly American, it’s only 102 degrees outside and it’s morning. How can you be hot in this weather?” and proceeded to take her bare hand and wipe the sweat off of my face.
That moment was, without a doubt, one of the most humbling moments of my life. I could only sit there, stunned, while this little girl, no older than seven, brushed the drops of salty moisture off my face. When she finished, she gave me this little smile and then wrapped her arms around my sweaty, dirty torso and hugged me. Tightly.
I can’t look back on that cherished memory and not smile. This would be my first realization of the true, undaunted, indisputable love to which I had been exposed, in the form of a little Dominican child. This girl had managed to look past my dirtiness and sweatiness and exhaustion and just love me, as I was. People often throw around the Shakespearian phrase, “Love is blind.” But I don’t think I agree with that statement (No offense Shakespeare.) Sure, love can sometimes hinder your perception of things, but love – true love – can look at someone with all their faults and flaws, and say, despite that, “I love you still.” That is the beauty in true, undiluted, love. It’s not that it ignores the imperfections, but that it understands that a person is more than the mistakes they’ve made, or the face they were born with, or the annoying quirks they sometimes have. That darling Dominican girl understood just that when she chose to look past my grungy appearance and was willing to actually touch me, hug me. I was filthy. And I know that I was smelly. It would have been completely understandable to stay far away and down wind of me. So, I know that when I find someone that wants to be around me, even though I sometimes talk more than I should, am usually late to everything, might really smell after a long run, and have a huge zit on my face, I know that I need to grab hold of those people and not let go. They are the people I want to surround myself with, and the kind of person I wish to be.
After I returned from the DR and started college, I had the wonderful godsend to meet with such a girl. She was a psychology major and had such a comprehending discernment of people. One particular night, near the end our sophomore year, we were studying for our stats exam together in the student lounge. Somehow, we got into talking instead of actually studying (a rare occurrence among college students, of course) and at some point, our conversation shifted and took on a more serious tone. We were talking about some things about myself that I did not like, particularly how sassy I can be at times. (Oh, you hadn’t noticed that, yet?)
With a gulp of air, she told me, bluntly, “Yeah, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that, Kelsey.” She then proceeded to tell me how my attitude sometimes toward people and things was hurtful to herself and others. It was a hard criticism to swallow. It wasn’t that I disagreed with her, exactly; it’s just that it’s alwayshard to see your own shortcomings being examined and analyzed and critiqued. I felt exposed, and vulnerable, but also immeasurably grateful. How many people had I heedlessly hurt by my sometimes-barbed tongue? How many more could I have hurt, had I not been called out on my behavior?
I discovered, from that moment, that love does not settle. It can accept you for who you are – follies and all – but it does not expect you to stay that way. It asks that you constantly change, constantly evolve into a better you. My friend asked that of me, even though I know it was hard for her to do so. She was risking our friendship and my indignation by calling me out. However, she believed that the risk was worth it. Because Diane loved me so much, it actually hurt her to see me be less than what she knew I was capable of. I learned that when you find a love that does that, a love that not accept mediocrity, but that wishes to see you be the very best, incandescent you that you can be, you know, without a doubt, that that is the real deal, the whole kit and caboodle. And it really doesn’t look a thing like what I see on the Lifetime channel. It’s so much more.