The first time I ever told my best friend that I loved her was three years after we met and only seconds after we were tear-gassed.
The first time I told two of my closest friends that I loved them was after they supported me unconditionally through a breakup.
Another time, it took me nearly getting hit by a car one night to admit I had feelings for one of my friends.
I won’t say life flashing before your eyes is a real thing, but it’s not too unrealistic. In the seconds after I managed to escape certain death, a rush of people ran through my mind. My brothers, my mother and my friends before it hit me: if something happened to me, this guy would never know how I felt about him.
I would never know how he felt in return.
So I decided to tell him. Sure, it took another six weeks before I told him and he didn’t return my feelings, but I don’t regret it. But why can’t it be like that all the time?
In my everyday life, it’s very rare for me to tell someone how I feel about them. Don’t ask me why. I could speculate reasons all day.
Someone smothering my words.
Fear of rejection.
A barrier keeping me from vulnerability, who knows?
Therefore, it’s even rarer that I’ll tell someone I love them. However, all of those reasons and barriers are thrown out the window when tragedy strikes or trauma and pain appears.
The trauma of being stampeded.
The pain of losing someone else I cared about.
The reminder that life doesn’t last forever and sometimes neither does a person’s presence in your life.
But these reminders are somewhat fleeting.
We heal. Our wounds evolve.
They either turn into scabs that remain with us either as permanent scars or throb like the phantom pain from a lost limb. The pain and scars serve as reminders that we occasionally call on until we’ve forgotten again how short life truly is.
But then we lost one of our own.
One of our friends, our brothers, was shot and taken from us.
For me, this is my first permanent loss. I’m still grappling with what it means and coming to terms with death and grief. But it made me reevaluate my life and the time we all had been wasting and taking for granted.
People spend time being angry about petty things and silly arguments. I am definitely no stranger to this.
But if we were to die tomorrow or in a month, would any of that stuff even matter? Would it be worth it? Wasting time that we could’ve spent together? Or maybe our time together was already finished, but we could spend it with no ill-will towards each other. Why didn’t we spend more time telling each other we love each other?
In the weeks following this death, I’ve never experienced so much love and gave so much to my friends at once. However, at the time I wouldn’t have described these behaviors as Love itself. Sure, checking in one another, coming together, giving comfort through words, presence, touch and even food could be responses because we loved each other but actual love? No way.
But shortly after this happened, I heard someone describe love as an action, a choice, not an emotion or a feeling. I was shocked.
Love as a choice? An action? That made no sense, right? Wasn’t love supposed to be spontaneous? It made people burst into song and do all kinds of crazy things. Sometimes you loved people despite their faults, right? Or what was best for you — against your will. It was all out of our hands…wasn’t it?
All my life I’d been taught that we had no choice in why we chose to love some and reject others. People just know when they are in love. You feel it. It’s like something you never felt before. You can’t mistake it for anything else. And if you didn’t feel it, it wasn’t Love.
As a response, we get so lost in this idea of Love as the emotion that we throw things away because we believe what we have isn’t love. We seek out this feeling of what Love is supposed to be and think we haven’t found it because we’re expecting it to reflect the feelings of chemistry, connection and attraction. Those things can come with love, but love is a choice.
You decide to respect someone.
You choose to be honest with them and to trust them.
To care for them, to be affectionate.
You commit to these loving behaviors.
And in this, you choose to love someone despite their faults. Sometimes, you choose to love someone who continuously hurts you and takes you for granted. It isn’t something that a baby with bow and arrow controls for you. I would even argue that love isn’t even fated.
Love is a choice.
You just have to choose how much and who you want to love.