the ability to be loved
to be, loved
There was a time when I could not say the simple sentence, "I deserve to be loved." I broke down. I cried and shook with the visceral dissonance of what I knew was a reasonable hope and basic human tenet, and what I could not allow myself to grasp.
In that moment, in that time of my life, love was dangerous, volatile. Love meant you had everything to lose.
I began college saturated with grief: over losing my mother to sudden illness and my grandfather to prolonged illness, in mourning my childhood and family as I once knew them, and in trying to reconcile the abuses which that home had meant with my permanent loss of it never being there, in its imperfections, ever again. My adolescent first love had evolved and become foreign to me, and my friends of many years were scattered, dispersed to different campuses. On top of it all, I had done the leaving, by going abroad, so I was accountable for this distance. I was adrift, or submerged, or awash depending on the day. I was sodden, soaking -- there was too much.
To defend myself, I subconsciously twined love and loss together, a terrible sisterhood to be avoided. Dry and protected by actions and achievement and wryest of wit, people saw that I was Strong. Strong is bullshit if it isn't permeable, flexible, livable, lovable. We must bend and grow and let it all in; or else, we suffer. There is no life without water.
That was 7 years ago. Gradually and fearfully, I placed my trust in the hands of those nearest me. And with kindness, with gentleness, with forgiving, they held me and allowed me to open up. My friends saved me, and I will be forever grateful for them, and that I was with them. We are only so much as the good that surrounds us.
My challenge mantra, "I deserve to be loved" was posed by our college therapist, a warm and patient woman. My friends had prodded and promised me that it would be ok, and I finally succumbed to the terrifying prospect of talking to someone. She asked all the right questions, and listened as the hills accept the climber -- even though the climber is relentless, struggling, lost, a mess, crying on a rock. You name the metaphor, she faced me with my own truth and waited for me to see it, too. For me, it was allowing myself the trust and vulnerability and self worth and extreme chance to love and to be loved, and to risk grief. We do have everything to lose -- but it is with or without love. Choose love.
Today I witnessed a different kind of unfolding that brought me back to my own unraveling statement, on lovability and trust and vulnerability, during a Professional Development session with a group of teachers. As professional care giver types tend to be, the whole group of us are predominantly outward facing. We see you, and her, and them, and we care about how you feel, what you are doing, what you might do. We see you and we feel for you. We believe so fervently in the many tree branches of luck that await your growth. And yet, we are often less kind to ourselves.
One of my fellow teachers broke down during a moment of personal struggle during the morning exercise. Later, she bravely shared with us that she felt like she was failing, that she wasn't enough -- and worse, that admitting it made it real. Our facilitator asked her if she felt comfortable asking for, and receiving, help. She, and several of us, exhaled sharply, and laughed in short, harsh bursts.
This was the mantra of her learning edge today: "I can ask you for help." She said it three times, locking eyes with one of us each time. The effort of saying a simple truth is astonishing, as is the sheer power of our language -- she was shaking, and crying, and could barely get the words out. And as she claimed the words, her body softened in forgiveness and raw honesty. It was a simple sentence, but that is all it needed to be.
And I remembered. I know what it is to feel your body vibrating with the need for validation, for hope, to be heard, to be loved. To feel that and to have it thrumming inside you, silent, is a terrible pain that, somehow, we live with. All of us do this, with different things, different stories in which we trap ourselves. We move carefully and breathe shallow to not muddy the deeper waters, that lurking potential disguised as fear. We brace ourselves for our own failings, hold ourselves rigid, or we fall completely apart. We allocate a modicum of happiness, of love and live with that limitation as "enough."
Speak out. Break that stranglehold and whisper the words you need yourself to say. Say them again, louder. Say them to someone you trust. Promise them to yourself as you walk along the street, measured by strides that witness the effort of being human, of growing and trying, and failing, and moving, and being beautiful. Revel in your ability to love, and to be loved.
december 2015. copyright sarah hirsch.
A blog of mostly poems, some prose. Recent works will be added to the top, and older pieces are backdated. Please write me a note if you have any questions, etc!
All works are original and copyright Sarah Hirsch, 2017. Please contact me directly if you would like permission to use any images or words. Thank you!
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