Our bed is a platform of two-by-fours and plywood that my beloved made. There is a green yoga mat and a yellow Thermarest Z Pad on top of it, and on top of that is a memory foam egg crate mattress pad. Resting haphazardly over the memory foam egg crate is a huge black-and-white striped knit blanket we got for $10 at a Goodwill. Our sleeping bags are on top of the Goodwill blanket. There is laundry. Hangers. And me.
This is how we’ve been sleeping for the last few nights: like dirt poor college students (in our expensive sleeping bags), as if maybe sleeping comfortably outside is more of a priority than sleeping luxuriously inside. On Christmas, we had breakfast bagel sandwiches we named “Ass-Smashers” instead of exchanging gifts or seeing our families. We’ve lived in our apartment for five months and never unpacked all of our boxes. Our plates don’t match. Our dog runs out of food and we feed him apples and cheese and fancy dog biscuits. Clean laundry stays unfolded for long enough to become dirty laundry again. We fight. Sometimes we become total strangers to one another. We remember things — and try to forget other things — about our pasts that bring us to our knees, sorry and ashamed.
It is messy. It is imperfect. Sometimes it is a confusing life, a hard life, and nothing like the life I imagined.
I believe there is beauty in the curated life, I do. I love beautiful table spreads and perfectly-lit images. I love knowing that a certain kind of perfection is possible: the kind that exists in perception. I am heated in my search of myself in the flurry of a world that would pretend that exactly what something is is not enough. And I have never believed that it is our job to lay down, submit to complacency, and wither.
But acceptance is a theory so rarely practiced: this I believe. And even if I’m the only person in the world (I’m not) who will admit to sometimes looking around at my life, and thinking, Really? This? …I will. I will offer the vulnerable truth of my comparison of my life to images flashing in front of me all day, and trust that it is a strange kind of unaware pain that so many more people experience, even on such fleeting levels so as to remain almost hidden.
I won’t even say I’m learning to love imperfection. That’s not totally true. Because it doesn’t give credit to the hard work involved in what it means to love something totally, without reservation. Because what is required of us is so much more than we are taught is required of us. We think that to love something is to like it. To be proud of it. To enjoy how it serves us, or comforts us, or keeps our perceptions accurate. We think that to love something means to be made to feel good by it.
But this, I am humbly realizing, is not love. It is joy, and perhaps it is also fondness. Appreciation. But to love requires far more than I am recognizing I have sometimes been willing to give, even in my very best of times. To love requires the gift of presence: true and devoted attention to seeing something, beholding it in its raw and vulnerable as-it-is-ness, and being willing to face all the terrible and beautiful of it and of what it brings up in us, which is also so full of the terrible and beautiful. The parts of us that look at something and wish it were ever so slightly just less of this, or more of that. To love a thing means we have to make a wide and sweeping motion inside us, and make room for the thing to show up, exactly as it is. And to diligently, and oh so tenderly, turn to our insides and ask, “What will it take for me to let this thing be?”
I’m convinced the way most of us are taught to lead our lives and be in our relationships is a series of one avoidance after another. To feel a thing less or more. We move — we dance — constantly around the being-ness of a thing, or an experience, but very rarely do we stand square and Center in what it is. It’s a strange competitiveness we learn around acceptance; we’re taught that we “should” love a thing exactly as it is. Love What Is! the “wise” ones say. But the awkward anthithesis of loving is that when we move in the direction of liking or enjoying a thing or a feeling, the pendulum can then also swing into not-liking, into not-loving.
When we realize we are capable of this — to not-love a thing or person we also adore — we want immediately to move away from the feeling. It is not a cozy one. It shatters who we like being, or believing we are. But then we are also not-liking ourselves, and realizing that can lead to the kind of avoidance that leads to shame, and where there is shame, there are doors closed and locked and small and scared.
We have language for the idea of loving a thing as it is — or we think we do. We’re proud of ourselves when we believe we’ve arrived there; a kind of spiritual finish line that promotes us to the near-saintly in our minds. But then are filled with shame when the balance inevitably leans back in the other direction. It feels like failure. And we are angry, and hungry for the balance to swing back, and to again feel the thing we think is love.
But we (most of us) have never been taught the language — much less the experience — of loving as coming from Center. It’s not arduous. It’s not romantic. It does not make our hearts palpitate or inspire us to poetry (necessarily). It is a quiet kind of allowing that needs nothing. Not to be confirmed or rewarded or validated or even celebrated. It just needs to be witnessed, and felt for all of what it is, which is never really one thing. Nothing is.
I do so think this is how we begin to honor our lives: by bravely witnessing, with our whole selves, all of the terror and beauty a moment can hold. I think it’s really only then that we come close to knowing Love. By letting a thing inhabit you totally. Letting it step all the way inside you, and terrify you and humble you and bring you, surprisingly, home.