Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. -Desiderata, Max Ehrmann
It is that time of year when people reflect on love. Maybe it is because of the polar vortex, the unusual mass of Southern snow, or the slow tide of winter, but love occupies my mind. Most specifically, I wonder when I will be on someone’s mind; when it will be my turn to be loved, and to love, again.
A carpenter friend of mine recently commented that empty homes disintegrate quickly. “A house absorbs the energy of people in it, and if no one is there to replenish the energy, it starts to fall apart,” he shared. This seemed counterintuitive: inhabitants put wear-and-tear on a home so the logic should be the other way around. But I’ve been in enough abandoned buildings to know that what he says carries weight. There is poetic longing in discarded structures. It seems that the way silence echoes in the accelerated corrosion of empty buildings showcases a cosmic riddle. There is a layer of mystical decay when an edifice is left abandoned.
In many ways, we are like buildings; our energy is replenished through our good relationships, even with the wear-and-tear. Loneliness and emotional solitude can scuff the grandest cathedrals and the strongest souls. When we don’t receive or put affection out in the world, we meet the same fate as some of the structures I’ve trampled through.
We start to fall apart.
In English, the word “love” is so small — a mere four letters. It is too tiny a word for the magnitude it holds. It is too ordinary a word for something that is truly an extraordinary experience. Kindness and compassion – keystones to the concept of love – alter the dynamics of any relationships, familial or romantic. But so many of us put up boundaries and walls around the experience, or we feel unworthy of it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved for the things that made my soul happy. I felt flawed and fake, and the love I sought was based on faulty projections of myself.
Love fuels the furnace of our souls, and love is a direct link to something bigger than us. When it comes to Islam, I gravitate towards the interpretation that celebrates compassion rather than punitive restrictions and judgment. Love is a sign of humility, graciousness, and it serves as a connection to the Divine.
I often find myself gently touching people, sometimes on the shoulder or on the back, because it is one way I obtain information about that person. Don’t ask me how this works, but I can feel someone’s soul furnace. Something should be vibrating under the skin.
I had the opportunity once to touch a man I love deeply. Our relationship was platonic, and I was surprised when he leaned down to give me a good-bye hug. I touched the small of his back and I felt nothing there. He was cold.
This made sense, in a way. My friend had told me that his life journey was to be alone. His skin felt like he had given up on the whole process of giving or receiving love. I wanted him to be able to receive affection, if not from me then someone else, so his beautiful rumble could roar again. Without our soul furnace, we are like those abandoned buildings; an empty structure whose only destination is slow decay.
This platonic friendship with the man-with-no-rumble is an unrequited love but one that has taught me my value. I’ve spent most of my life feeling metaphysically flawed and unlovable. But in my experience with him, I understood that my ability to love proved otherwise. If God and the Universe decreed that I must love someone under these circumstances, then my love holds tremendous power. There must be something regal in my existence for the cosmos to have chosen me — insecure, chubby me — to put love out in the world for this man. Nothing about my being is flawed or bad. If anything, I hold amazing magic – so much that I was chosen to bring love into the world for someone who seemed afraid of it.
I understood that my heart was expanding. Something would eventually show up to fill that newly realized space. If I can put love out in the world for another human being just because it pulsates inside me, then this type of love will find a way back to me. Loving for the sake of love is building a structure larger than myself. It is a way of keeping an open tab with the cosmic balance of things.
When we care about others, especially when we do so in a way that connects us to something bigger, it alters our perception of who we are and our place in the world. At the expense of sounding woo-woo and New Age-like, let me submit that heartache and pain are also part of the human experience. Putting out good thoughts doesn’t prevent disappointment and loss. Yet, retaining the ability to love and be vulnerable despite having experienced pain is, in my opinion, the palpable presence of the Divine.
I am excited about the possibility of love, and I see that excitement mirrored in stories included in Love, Inshallah, Salaam, Love!, through the writings of Tanzila Ahmed and other contributors to this site. But I do not want my soul furnace to wane; I do not desire my castle to collapse under the weight of loneliness. As this hard winter thaws, I hope something new blossoms in my life. Oh, lover, come find me. Embrace me. I can already feel your breath upon my breast.
“The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Love, Inshallah contributor and a www.patheos.com/blogs/loveinshallah editor. She is a published author and an emerging digital storyteller. Her work is also found at altmuslimah.com and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is currently working on a memoir with support a Regional Artists’ Grant from the North Carolina United Arts Council. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter. She will be home doing nothing on Valentine’s Day should you want to send her a reassuring tweet!