Sunday, August 6, 2017
Early on, I noticed that you always say it
to each of your children
as you are getting off the phone with them
just as you never fail to say it
to me whenever we arrive at the end of a call.
It's all new to this only child.
I never heard my parents say it,
at least not on such a regular basis,
nor did it ever occur to me to miss it.
To say I love you pretty much every day
would have seemed strangely obvious,
like saying I'm looking at you
when you are standing there looking at someone.
If my parents had started saying it
a lot, I would have started to worry about them.
Of course, I always like hearing it from you.
That is never a cause for concern.
The problem is I now find myself saying it back
if only because just saying good-bye
then hanging up would make me seem discourteous.
But like Bartleby, I would prefer not to
say it so often, would prefer instead to save it
for special occasions, like shouting it out as I leaped
into the red mouth of a volcano
with you standing helplessly on the smoking rim,
or while we are desperately clasping hands
before our plane plunges into the Gulf of Mexico,
which are only two of the examples I had in mind,
but enough, as it turns out, to make me
want to say it to you right now,
and what better place than in the final couplet
of a poem where, as every student knows, it really counts.
"I Love You" by Billy Collins from Aimless Love. © Random House, 2013. Writer’s Almanac, 3/3/17.
August 7th is my 79th birthday and my husband’s 76th birthday. “How wonderful and insane,” a friend commented. It’s mostly wonderful and occasionally insane to be a first child and an only child, both under the roaring sign of Leo, living in the same house—married no less. We don’t say I love you a lot. Love comes in small ways, such as a little phrase we exchange as we hit our pillows to sleep each night: “Okay, g’night.” Even if one of us is half asleep he/she responds: “Okay, g’night.”
What are your verbal “I love you” habits? In our house growing up I don’t think we said it all that much. We had the kiss-Daddy-good-night ritual and maybe the love finale just before bed, but it wasn’t a standout phrase. It was not a habit, like goodbye.
When I had children it got more use. My first husband and the father of our children said it a lot, and I believe it was more or less a requirement for him that we answer in kind. I always wondered about that. He, I thought, was more in love with his booze and his job than his family, yet I knew he wanted to share his heart. I’m not quite sure how or when the love seeped out of our marriage unnoticed, or at least unspoken.
Now with grandchildren it’s a definite expectation or closure for us all, as in “Love you” on texts and phone calls. Some are more excessive with love emojis than others, but that's only because they have excessive in their genes.
My oldest granddaughter, just 21, said it to the loan officer at her bank. “Bye. Love you.” She was horrified when she realized what she had said to a complete stranger who had yet to approve the extension of her loan.
To say “Love you” doesn’t have as much gravitas as “I love you.” My husband and I say it occasionally. He says it, it seems, more than I do. Probably he needs to in order to get over his irritation at my quirks. For me it usually rises up when I feel a sudden surge of deep affection for this man I’ve been married to for over 30 years. We’ve grown into each other’s souls like puzzle pieces that are misshapen but somehow fit together like no other two pieces.
Old married love, like traditional practices of language, is like a comforter. It’s full of profound devotion mixed with profound annoyance at small differences we never seem to understand and that never change. Habits of communication and ways of managing time—silly things of little moment. We don’t argue over many big things at all. Well, occasionally over a theological nuance, but mostly we agree.
I suppose I love you has as many meanings as there are people and circumstances. Still, I love that it can be used more routinely with family, because they all deserve it, you know—no matter what.
No wonder Christians believe God is unconditional love…..because no human person is capable of unconditional love. Well, maybe a dear pet is. The one who can’t help all her or his instinctual ways but whose ways become tolerable because of the steadfast love, presence and companionship given without reserve.
To say I love you, and mean it deeply, must include I know you. They go together.
The granddaughter who threw off a quick “Love you” to the loan officer at the bank felt mortified. But I bet the guy experienced a chuckle and a wee resurrection. And who knows, it might have inspired him to extend her loan—which he did.
So Happy Birthday, Dick, I love you truly, madly, deeply—husband, best friend, lover, and companion in mischief and grace.