Often treated in our culture as a cheesy, bleeding heart sentiment. Something corny to be put in movie titles or trailers, to be plastered over pastel tchotchkes and greeting cards, to be sneered at by some villain in a child’s story before they’re blasted into the stratosphere by a heart-filled laser from two people holding hands (or a group, or a hug, the hearts don’t care). Really though, love, for all it’s cliché uses is an incredible thing that most of us don’t think about often enough outside the context of a romantic partner or being preached at about in a church/synagogue/temple/mosque/workshop/weekend retreat – take your pick.

I have written out on my phone a reminder that my blog is “about hikes, food, tea, and love.” I’ve often wondered why I tacked on the word love when I was typing it out. It seemed cliché, touchy-feely, and, well, not me. I’m not the type to go about singing “All You Need is Love” or “Give peace a chance” constantly. I’m often borderline misanthropic despite trying my best to be compassionate and being an advocate for others doing so as well. So why did I say love? Why do I sign my Patreon posts that I love my patrons – most of whom I may never meet in person? Where did it come from?

I’ve wanted to write about love as a word for a while, but haven’t really been able to get up the courage to do so until now. I couldn’t put it in enough words to reassure myself I won’t be seen as a pink pastel covered hippy (although I’m sure someone will believe so until they see a picture of me, and even after). Despite this fear of being typecast I really couldn’t hold off any longer given the recent events in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.

Reading through the faces and stories of the dead in Paris left me feeling a type of confusion regarding these events. A hate crime because of something specific about the victim or accident due to negligence is something I can wrap my head around at the very least, even as I grieve for people I’ve never met, but killing because of a hatred wholly manufactured, to cut off a life that you have no idea whether it fits the description of what you’ve decided to hate, I can’t understand it. To hate so much you would lash out at innocent, even average lives, the kinds which make up the core of humanity as they celebrate birthdays and mourn their dead is unfathomable to me.

To be clear, I am not saying that other hate crimes or killing by negligence are understandable in the sense of agreement – they’re appalling. I am saying I can see how they could come to be in the perpetrator’s mind. How a priority of self-preservation can override someone’s sense of responsibility or how ignorance could inflame hate to the point you could lose sight of another individual’s humanity. What I cannot see is how you can hate so indiscriminately as to lash out seemingly without direction. I feel I may come to understand intellectually in time, but I cannot say if I could find that direction within my heart to see the path they tread.

I suppose it is a good thing to not be able to understand hate in such a manner in one’s own heart, but I feel that I need to try, because if I cannot see how someone could get to that point – to the point of not being able to love another – how can I help myself and others not stumble down that path? To understand why someone would do something horrible is very important to stopping it from happening again. Dismissing someone as crazy or a monster does their victims and humanity a disservice. It conflates issues of mental health and cruelty and obfuscates the truth – something that we should always be striving for.

So why am I talking about hate in a blog about love? Well, they’re related (although I doubt I have to say that) and hate can only be combated by love (which I also doubt I have to say, but bears repeating). Now I’m not talking about those heart lasers and crumbling villain fortresses we’re all familiar with. I’m not even talking about hugging a terrorist until they stop (although I’m sure expressions of compassion to even the coldest heart would turn at least a few away from hate). I’m talking about #PorteOuverte. I’m talking about people rushing to help the injured even as they fear more attackers. I’m talking about those who saw the gap in how all of the attacks that happened in those 24 hours were treated, heard the cries of those the media shunned, and strove to bring them into the global eye. I’m talking about the people who were shocked out of their daily lives by an unadulterated showing of hate and chose to not respond in kind. The people who turned to those in need of help, of compassion, of love, and reached out their hand. And the people who have since opened their hearts and dared to love someone they’ve never met, who’s life was cut short, and to grieve for them and with their families and countries.

I do not believe that love is cheapened by use. I don’t believe that you can only love your family and friends and maybe a few others before your love becomes cheap or worthless. I believe you can cultivate love in such a manner that you can pull it from your heart and give it to whomever you meet and that that makes it strong. It’s easy to love those close to us, in a way. We keep the people we care about most near us, and often we care about them most easily. It’s hard to care about someone you’ve never met, but not impossible. I believe you can give yourself permission to love – to really love – whomever you meet and to cultivate the skill of expressing this love.

In small gestures.

In big ones.

In meeting someone’s gaze sincerely and being with them in a moment.

In buying a cup of tea for someone in the cold.

In asking someone you see grieving if they’re alright or want to talk.

In saying hello.

In saying goodbye whether it’s forever – or not.

Love is often referred to as a flame. A thousand candles being lit from one won’t ever diminish its light, but it will push the darkness back further with every new flame. Your love can be that candle if you let it. Don’t be afraid of lessening it. When my partner is loving towards his family or compassionate to a stranger, I don’t feel loved less, I see how many candles he’s lit and feel my love grow. I doubt I’m the only person who feels this way about someone exceptionally caring in their life.

Be that person. Love easily, often, and even when it’s hard. It’s the core of our humanity to work together, and it makes us better people and our world a better place when let ourselves be free with it.

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