Sunday, July 8, 2007

Mutual knowing

A friend once asked me, “how do I tell her I love her?” I asked him, “Do you love her?” to which he instantly replied “Yes”. It was clear to me he spoke the truth nevertheless the words were impossible for him to speak in her presence. The words were fused to his vulnerability and to speak them threatened the thing that held his inner and his outer worlds in place. He could not risk saying them or else it would all collapse. His feelings were left unheard. “How do I tell her I love her?” We are all plagued with this truth-on-mute problem in one way or another. It prevents us from being in the world with friends, associates and family members. It prevents opportunity in many relationships and maintains dysfunctions in existing ones. We deny ourselves dynamic experiences in each instance, freedom and creativity, the joy in mutual knowing, an authentic life.

“How do I tell her I love her?” I am familiar with this tension, a generational mystery sabotages an intentional life, and it is known by every man at some point, if not in its chronic form. I offered an experiment from my arsenal of personal remedies. Try a sign of affection you can manage, your own way of saying I love you. I wanted to tell my daughter I love her and for reasons beyond my understanding this seemed an impossible thing to do. I noticed I could hold her hand and caress her finger with my thumb. I thought she may notice or she may not, but for the moment this would be my way of saying I love you - I began. In retrospect this is the most important step, to begin. In my mind the ease of this expression allowed me to say I love you without the encumbrances of generational baggage. I was finally free.

Months later, I was driving my two young children to meet their mother. My daughter was very tired and emotional and her anxiety seemed to be increasing the farther we drove. In time her emotional frustration seemed to be subsiding and I was curious as to why so I looked in my rear view mirror and I surveyed the back seat. I witnessed my 5 year-old-son calmly comforting her. He was silently facing forward in his car seat undisturbed by her behaviour. With confidence and the concern of a loving sibling, he had reached across from his car seat to hers and he was stroking her hand with his thumb. He gave both his sister and I a gift I will always be grateful for.

I graduated from one way of expressing love to another until some time later I was able to say what I needed to say, “I love you.” I developed many creative ways to challenge my barrier, never knowing precisely why it was there. I am still not as demonstrative or as effusive as others but I know my children have heard me, a message my father never made clear to me with words in all of his living years. I do have a memory of an occasion, as an independent nine-year-old, when I had to loosen his hugging arms so I could go and play with my cousins.

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