Prompt 182. My List of Loves
& a prompt by Carmen Radley on the many forms love takes
Why is it that we have such an easier time summoning love, expressing love, and receiving love when we’re facing a heightened sense of mortality—an awareness of our finitude, our impermanence?
In the last week, I’ve been overwhelmed by more love than I ever thought possible:
Love for these weird little watercolors I’ve been painting. I’m not a trained painter, and I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I love the stillness, the solitude, the experience of creating something where there was nothing just moments before. As I paint, I feel love for my friend Melissa Carroll, who turned to watercolors when she was sick, at first because the smell of oil and acrylics made her nauseated, later because she loved the happy accidents—the way watercolors continually remind you that you aren’t in control.
Love for the humans who visit me daily in this fluorescent chamber: my dad, my mom, and my brother, who are continually by my side, and the doctors and nurses and hospital workers—in particular the one who started going to get me an oat milk latte from the coffee cart when the side effects of the chemo kicked in and I could no longer eat.
Love for my new friends and old friends. Love for my dear Behida, who showed up on the sidewalk outside my hospital in a little trench coat and began dancing with abandon, waving her arms and hopping wildly, without a care who saw her or what they thought. I was so moved that even though I knew she couldn’t hear me, I couldn’t help but bang on the window and shout her name. Love for Cat and Michelle, who just a few days later showed up in the same spot with colored chalk and wrote “We love Suleika” in giant letters. That afternoon I could barely function, but my mom made me get up and go to the window to see it, and I was awash in love. I was even more moved by their second note: “Love to all.” When passing by a hospital like this, you can easily forget the thousands of people in these rooms who are gazing through their windows, wishing they were outside, part of the world unfolding there. To see love being mirrored to them—to me it was so overwhelmingly beautiful.
Love for Dr. Barker, whom I had a little reunion with during rounds. She was my transplant doctor only briefly, when my regular one was on leave, and in that short time she said I could get a dog, which led to my love affair with Oscar. Dr. Barker also treated my friend Anjali, whom I sat with in her final hours and who died on Valentine’s Day in 2013. I feel a swell of grief-love being here, missing the people I met here, remembering them long after they’ve gone.
And last but certainly not least: Love for Jon, who’s been at my bedside round the clock. Love for our follow-the-leader laps around the transplant unit, replete with escalating dance moves. Love for the lullaby he composed on his computer last night when I couldn’t sleep, and put it on loop next to my bed. (As I write this, it’s still playing.)
If at the end of my life, I can say I’ve done one thing well, it is love. I don’t mean only romantic love—lord knows I’ve made plenty of messes in that department—but all kinds of love. Often I think that Valentine’s Day flattens the meaning of love, limits the scope of it and the different shades it can take. So here on the day before, we have a prompt from Carmen, my dear MVP and Isolation Journals collaborator, celebrating the breadth, depth, and height of your many glorious loves.
Sending you all of mine,
P.S. We haven’t done this in awhile, so it’s time for a roll call. Share with us 25 Things About You. Longtime community member and my partner in crime Jon Batiste kicked us off, followed by my own list, and Carmen’s too…
P.P.S. Our next meeting of the Hatch, our virtual writing hour, is happening next Sunday, February 20 from 1-2 pm ET, with Carmen hosting. Become a paid subscriber to join!
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Prompt 182. Count the Ways by Carmen Radley
I once heard someone say that nature is a substance called love, and it seemed right to think of love as pulsing creation—as the animating, driving force that propels the universe. Later I began to grow suspect: I wondered if it was so broad that it rendered the word meaningless.
Another impulse is to narrow love, to break it into types, to create a taxonomy and in doing so to tame it. The ancient Greeks came up with such categories, many of which we still recognize today: philia for platonic affection, eros for romantic love, agape for the selfless, unconditional compassion one extends to strangers, nature, or God. (Suddenly a mighty, swirling river is split into smaller, gently flowing streams.)
When thinking about love, especially the romantic kind, I feel myself shift between polarities. It’s fleeting yet it endures, effortless and the hardest thing. I know love—have felt it deeply, all consumingly—and it’s still somehow a mystery to me. When I try to write about love, in what’s perhaps my own effort to tame it, others’ words fly to mind: Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. Love is patient, love is kind. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Let me count the ways.
The last is from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43.” The speaker describes romantic love swelling to the greatest depths, breadths, and heights her soul can reach. Her love is passionate, but also gentle and pure. She prays that it’s stronger than death.
I feel compelled by this, but want to take the concept further—through eros, to philia, even to agape—and see the multitudes it can contain. How do I love? I will count the ways. Beginning with an evening walk in mid-July, bowled over by a live oak in slant golden light.
Your prompt for the week:
Create an inventory of your loves—whoever breaks you open, whatever animates your life.
25 Things About Me
Back in the early 2000s, a quiz called “25 Things About Me” went viral on Facebook.
It seemed so simple on its face. Just jot down 25 things? How could that be interesting? But there’s something in the accumulation, something in that push past two dozen facts, that sends it into fascinating territory. You don’t end up with some neatly curated list, but rather a laid-bare snapshot of a human life—honest, strange, and beautiful.
Because this community has grown so much in the last few months (and also because we love a good throwback, Y2K-era internet game), we’re reprising it. Play along with us will you? Longtime community member and my partner in crime Jon Batiste has kicked us off…