“If we didn’t love each other,
we’d HATE each other.”
-Kwame Alexander, The Crossover; a boy is describing his relationship to his brother
Just now, this is my favorite definition of love. There are so many reasons to give up, to stop trying, to stop caring. There are so many arguments that can push two people apart, so many old wounds, seemingly never to heal, that can make opening up feel impossible. There are so many ways to end up hating. Love is why we don’t.
My older brother’s athleticism has always impressed me. He climbs, he jumps, he laughs. When I was ten or eleven, I had a bad run whitewater kayaking, flipping over and knocking my face against the rocks underwater. After that I was scared to get back on the river. My resistance to kayaking, my stubborn dig-my-heels-in I won’t, must’ve frustrated my older brother. He must’ve seen I was saying no to something because I was afraid, instead of learning how to paddle so I could be brave. After months and months of convincing me, my brother led me back onto the water. I froze and flipped somewhere that was easy, so my brother wasn’t closeby, and somewhere that was also dangerous to be upside down. My brother wasn’t close. And then, somehow, he was. Cutting back across the rapid was certainly an act of athleticism, but I think it was also an act of love. We are all more capable than ourselves when we’re supporting those we love. When we’re too far away, when we don’t have the talent or the time, love is why we can.
A little while ago, a friend of mine had a troublesome student in her class. Day after day, the young woman was mean. She was having a hard time at home, especially with her mother, and she was ready to tell everyone that she didn’t care. More than anything, she was ready to spit in the eye of anyone who looked at all like a mother figure. She wasn’t going to accept help. Halfway through the semester, realizing that, my friend let it go. As a teacher she reined in the worst comments, and ignored the rest. She didn’t push, she didn’t pull. Later, she told me that she’d accepted that she wouldn’t end up helping this young woman. This young woman wouldn’t accept help.
At the end of the year something strange happened. They didn’t have a big movie moment, and the kid didn’t suddenly turn out balanced. They did, on the other hand, care about each other. The student talked, not that deeply, but a little, about what she was struggling with. My friend mostly listened. Loving is why we don’t have to hate, and sometimes, maybe, not hating for long enough, calmly enough, while still being there, is enough to teach us how to love.