Monday Notes: What is Love?

From the time I turned eighteen until I was forty-one years old, my father visited me twice. He rarely called. However, he used to always say, I love you. And when we were at his funeral, more than one family member made sure to reiterate the sentiment by pulling me to the side and whispering, you know your dad loved you. Two decades of inaction proved otherwise. If someone loves you, then, in my mind, they do things to show it. Although the dictionary shows that love can be a noun, more than likely when you love someone it’s the verb part, a series of actions over time, that lead you to a firm conclusion.

An ironic set of events have made me pause to think about love as a concept again.

My father’s wife, MJ was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She’d undergone a double mastectomy in April, but complications arose. Consequently, we spoke on the phone more as she recounted her life’s circumstances. Whether money or transportation, her daughter and granddaughter, who live in the same city, were not capable of helping her this time. I tried to support from the comfort of my home by providing Uber rides and American Cancer Society phone calls. Soon, I could tell this wasn’t enough. She needed someone present during an additional surgery.

After mulling for three days, I decided that my youngest daughter, Desi and I would go help. I didn’t want to, but I thought about how I would feel if I was undergoing major surgery with no one to support me financially, emotionally, or physically.

Desi and I drove five and half hours to Atlanta. The following morning, I sat and asked her home healthcare nurse pertinent questions that she was too distraught to consider. Later, we went to breakfast, and then I bought her groceries out of my and Dwight’s household money. Afterwards, I made her six meals and packed them in the refrigerator, so she wouldn’t have to worry about cooking. The following day, Desi and I drove her to the hospital and stayed for twelve hours of pre-op, operation, and post-op. Again, I spoke with the nurses when she was too incoherent to do so. We remained by her side until her daughter, granddaughter, and great-grandchildren arrived, around six o’clock in the evening.

LOVE_juneI was able to do these things because I saw each act as service to an individual who needed support. I saw her like anyone else who might need help in the situation.

But she perceived my actions differently.

“I appreciate all you did for me,” MJ said right before we left. “You know I didn’t even know if you liked me.”

“Awww MJ,” I replied, partly in disbelief that she’d continued to repeat a twenty-year narrative.

“Now, I know you must love me to drive all this way and do the things you did,” she said with certainty.

How could I tell her that I didn’t? How could I explain that I provided a service to her out of empathy for her circumstances? How could I tell her that I can perform a loving act without loving her? In fact, how could I tell her that I neither liked, disliked, nor loved her? She’s always simply been my father’s wife.

Well, I didn’t tell her any of that. I remained silent, wished her well, and left.

But here is what I’ve concluded (as of today). We tend to use the word love when really we mean something else. For example, had MJ said, “I didn’t know you cared about me, but now I know you do,” I probably would’ve reassured her, because I do care. Love, on the other hand, is a little weighty and requires more than two-days worth of kind acts to develop.

What do you think? What is love to you? Do you use love when you mean something else?

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RE-Defined: DISCIPLINE

I’ve been thinking about discipline a lot. People have asked me how I accomplish things, and I never have a clear answer. I think I do now. Discipline.

In 2009, I quit a school instructional coaching job so that I could focus on finishing my dissertation.

“Who do you know that can actually make themselves sit for hours during the day to write?” my very good friend had asked when I shared my decision.

“I can,” I replied.

And that’s what I did. While Dwight was at work and the girls were at school, I analyzed data and wrote eight hours a day for nine months. I know my friend’s comment wasn’t a judgment against what she perceived me to be able to do or not do. It was more about what many people cannot and will not do…discipline themselves to achieve a goal.

But I want to be clear. I didn’t magically wake up with a spirit of commitment towards projects. It was taught.

typewriterYears ago, when people typed things on typewriters, I had a fifth-grade report due on Haile Selassie and Ethiopia. I’d made several mistakes and had to use that awful liquid paper/correction fluid stuff to cover it up and re-type words. It was a bumpy sludge of a mess.

My English major mother peered through her glasses to see how it was going.

“Kathy,” she started, “you’re going to have to re-type this paper. You can’t turn in something that looks like this. Your work is a reflection of you.”

I didn’t say anything back to her. In 1983, children simply sat there and seethed with anger and did what they were told. Or at least that’s what I learned to do.

I sat at that brown dining room table for hours. I wasn’t allowed to watch television until I finished. I ended up re-typing that essay three times, well past The Love Boat and Fantasy Island…and well past my bedtime. But it was done properly. What’s more is because of my mother’s correction I’d learned self-discipline. I’d learned the importance of focusing on one task (typing) and ignoring others (television). I learned to sit quietly and perfect something until it was “right.”

Today, being disciplined has served me well. I function within a distraction-based society by turning my phone over when I’m working and turning it off altogether while I’m sleeping. I’ve learned to take social media breaks when I’m indulging too much, so that offscreen life and people can take precedence. More importantly, I still practice sitting quietly and focusing on the day’s project until it’s complete.

Thirty-something years ago, I typed and re-typed those words through ten-year-old, tear-filled eyes. Now, I’m grateful for that early lesson because I see it as having shaped a positive and useful trait: discipline.

What about you? Do you have a positive superpower that you attribute learning from your parents’ rules? Are you disciplined? Do you want to be more disciplined? Feel free to share below.

RE-Defined: SORRY

What would you do if you knocked over a glass picture frame at a business establishment?

I watched as a woman did this very thing at a restaurant. She was standing too close to the desk, applying her makeup. Her elbow moved ever so lightly, causing the frame to fall. Glass shattered everywhere. She continued dabbing her lips, and then said, “I’m sorry.”

Her friend, who was standing about ten feet away near the door shouted, “I can’t take you nowhere,” and then the two middle-aged women skittered off laughing and joking, like teenage besties.

I pretended to scroll my phone, while watching the short, black-haired woman behind the desk. She hadn’t said a word…until they left.

Then, she called a coworker over in her native language. That person swept up the shards, while the other woman continued speaking. The only thing I understood was “I’m sooorrry,” said mockingly, interspersed over and over, coupled with shoulder shrugs and eye rolls.

I assumed we were thinking the same thing. The perpetrator could’ve done more. But what? Had I knocked over a glass frame, I would’ve offered to pay for it, or at least sounded more remorseful. Perhaps that’s what matters: how you apologize and what you do afterwards.

This reminded me of the time my 89-year-old great aunt found out my cousin had stored her antique furniture outside on the balcony. My great aunt had transitioned to a nursing community, which was a quarter of the space she’d ever lived in her entire life. She was upset that the Chicago wind, cold, and snow would ruin the wood. She was confused that someone would even disregard her belongings in the first place. Anger overcame her, and she began crying. I hate to be cliché, but you really could hear a pin drop on the carpet. No one had ever, in their lives, seen her cry actual tears.

sorryI nudged my cousin and whispered, “Why don’t you say, I’m sorry?”

“Well, I’m sorry then,” she said.

This is no exaggeration. I really believe it was the most lackluster apology I’d ever witnessed. My aunt demanded to be driven back to her new home, and the rest is Christmas fairy tale history. Everyone has their own rendition of what happened and why.

It seems we’ve gotten so used to repeating certain phrases that we forget actions should accompany them. If I apologize, then how do you know that I’m really sorry? In the case of the broken frame, I do believe the lady should’ve offered the business owner something, even if it was to help clean up. As far as my great aunt goes, I think she wanted what most of us want when our feelings are hurt, empathy. So, I’d like to suggest this. I’m sorry is just the beginning of an apology. What you do afterwards is the actual reconciliation of regret.

Let me know what you think. Have you ever had to apologize for your behavior? Have you ever accepted someone’s apology? Does it matter how the person says it?

RE-Defined: FRIENDSHIP

I have quite a few people whom I call friend. There are friends who I never speak to, but still hold the title. A woman named Mika fits into this category. We’ve known each other since we were six. We went to the same schools, up until senior year. She attended my wedding and I attended hers. Her husband even edited my dissertation for free because I didn’t have money at the time. However, I haven’t verbally spoken with her in about two years. We haven’t seen each other in even more time. Still, I know she’s my friend.

I have other friends who begin text messages as if we spoke yesterday.

“KG, what did I say in this last post that could’ve been negative or offensive?” my friend Calvin asked the other day. Excluding the are you okay because a hurricane is covering your state convo, we haven’t had a real conversation in about eight months. We lol’d and emoji’d for the next few hours. He described how his oldest daughter was doing at her private university and I shared how my oldest is doing living on her own going to community college. In between, we talked about how ridiculous Facebook has gotten, and then hours later we said ttyl and good night.

New ImageMy other friend, Wanda’s birthday is six days before mine. That’s how our friendship began. For years, she and I would road trip to Atlanta or Orlando with a couple of other women to celebrate. After a while, that ended. But our friendship remained. Currently, we talk on the phone every now and then. We go out to eat occasionally. She was one of my number one supporters when I released The Unhappy Wife book, wearing the t-shirt all around Jacksonville, and holding conversations with anyone who would listen and purchase a copy. I know if anything ever happened, this chick would not only hide the body, but also regulate her breathing so she could pass the lie detector test.

I also have friends that are former high school students. I haven’t taught at that level for eleven years, and it took me a minute to be comfortable with calling these women friends, because of society’s rules. But I’ve had to admit that’s who they’ve come to be. Each is nearing 30, and as individual relationships grow, I’ve noticed that every woman mirrors a part of me. One is eccentric, wishes for no one’s opinion, and lives life unabashedly on her own terms. Another is a goal-setter, with her life paved out. The last one’s challenging home life used to dictate who she was and how she lived, but not anymore; she lives consciously and takes responsibility for her energy and space. Reflection is an understatement. They are me; and I am them.

I have another friend who I’ve never met! I’ve talked about her before. She’s a WordPress blogger named Mek. We haven’t met because she lives on a different continent. For a while, we talked at least once a day through an app. Then, our relationship stabilized and now we reach out when there is time. Our conversations include a lot of riiights and high-fives because, for the most part, we get each other. She knows all about my family’s successes and challenges, and I know about hers. We cheer each other on when there’s something that requires pom-poms and listen when there’s something that requires an ear. Without hesitation, she is my friend.

A few years ago, I would’ve argued that everyone is not your friend. I used to apply a static set of rules to all friendships. How could we be friends if you don’t follow my blog? How could we be friends if I haven’t talked to you in three years? Over time, I’ve learned that’s not fair to the person or the relationship, and it’s a bit unrealistic. People are different, and consequently, so are the ways in which they relate to others.

What I’ve realized is friendships are fluid. While each friendship has been created out of mutuality, no two friends are alike and that should be respected. Because of this, I’ve learned to appreciate each friend’s individual personality as a constant gift of love that ebbs and flows throughout my life. In that way, I’m grateful for each person, no matter how and when they show up.

This is how I now define friendship. How do you define a friend? What makes someone your friend? Have your “requirements” changed over time?