Love is such an overused word. Or is it an underused word? I can’t find the exact reference, but I think that George Carlin did a bit about how ridiculously often we use the words “love” and “hate” in trivial contexts, saying things like “I love spaghetti!” and “I hate ice cream!”.
Most of the songs on the radio are about love, and it’s that particular kind of love which is supposedly the best kind, but also the one which is inherently full of pain and suffering, and we are supposed to spend our lives looking for it and feel generally dissatisfied with ourselves if we haven’t found it yet. (Funny how so much of any medium which is sponsored by corporations is about reasons why we should be dissatisfied with ourselves, and probably buy more stuff... but I digress.) In an anthropology class, I remember reading a story about how an ethnomusicologist was collecting traditional songs from someone in the dry, stony Southwest, I think they were Zuni songs. The informant would say “This song is about when the rain starts. This song is about when the river bed fills up. This song is about when the frogs appear.” The ethnomusicologist says something like “I can’t help noticing that all of your people’s songs seem to be about water.” The wise old informant replies “We sing about the things we need that we never have enough of. I can’t help noticing that all your people’s songs seem to be about love.”
As we all know from the song, “All You Need Is Love”. But which kind of love is it? The kind where you are enlightened and saintly and feel universal love for all beings? The kind where you feel just like a song from the radio, and your life revolves around the person you have idealized? The kind where you feel secure and know that you are a worthwhile person who deserves to know happiness? The kind where you are surrounded by friends and well-wishing strangers who are all generally good people sharing the sacred experience of life? Most of those ideas of love seem unrealistic, but I know that the last one is perfectly real, because I experienced it at CAYA’s Lammas celebration last week! What a magical experience of love and community that was! To everyone who organized and ran that ritual, thank you so much for your work, your inspiration, and your willingness to share your deep personal spiritual work with us! I love you! To everyone who attended the ritual, thank you for being part of my precious community http://cayacoven.org! I love you! To every member of the CAYA community who could not be present at the ritual, thank you for the roles you have played in making that moment of community possible, your presence was felt! I love you!
I vividly remember the moment when, as a teenager in a car with my two best friends, we all said “I love you” to each other and knew how much we meant it. Of course, after going through a lot of wonderful and terrible experiences together, always knowing we were the ones we could count on, turn to in a crisis, share anything with, we had long been aware of the feeling of love among us, but it was only at that moment that we all became aware that that feeling was something we were allowed to call “love”. It is also called “friendship”, but our culture devalues friendship and refers to any people who like each other but aren’t a sexual and/or romantic item as “just friends”. We are allowed to refer to our feelings about family members as love, but then it can feel like an obligation rather than a true feeling honestly expressed.
With all this confusing cultural baggage about how the word “love” is used, there are people who use it constantly in a way that renders it meaningless, and then there are people who can’t bring themselves to say it, even when they clearly mean it the most. Do the people I love know how much I love them? If I went up to each one of them right now and said “I love you,” would that actually let them know how I feel, or would they find it confusing and uncomfortable and wonder what I actually meant?
I want to reclaim the word “love” for myself, to mean what I mean by it. I want to mean it and be understood when I say it to my friends, to my family members, to the friends who count as family to me, to the family members who count as friends to me, to the animals who are part of my life. When the day comes that I am ready to say it to someone who is my lover, my beloved, the song in my heart, I want to really mean it and not feel like I am just parroting a song from the radio.
I don’t think that genuine love (about things more important to me than spaghetti and ice cream) has to be limited only to people and animals. I think that activities and organizations and abstract ideas are also worthy of my true love. I hope, then, that you will understand that I am being completely serious when I say that one of the things I love is YouTube (you may have noticed my enthusiasm for it in previous posts). Through YouTube, I have discovered the existence of wonderful people all over the world who share the best of themselves in a way that changes the world for the better. Notable among these are John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers , who started corresponding in the form of video blogs to each other in 2007. Their video blogs drew an audience of kind, creative, intelligent, inspired people who came to be known collectively as Nerdfighters http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyQi79aYfxU .
One of the most notable Nerdfighters in history (it’s a 5 year history, but still feels quite significant to me - CAYA’s history goes back only a bit further!) was Esther Earl http://tswgo.org/esthers-story.html , whose brief, blazing meteor of a life provided a shining example of how to really live, really love, and make sure that the people you love know that you love them. Today is Esther Earl’s birthday. August 3, 2010, was the last Esther’s birthday when Esther’s family and friends and admirers had a living, breathing Esther among them to shower with love and appreciation, and John Green asked her how she wanted to have her birthday celebrated that year and every year in perpetuity. Her answer was that we should celebrate her birthday by telling the people we love that we love them, even if - maybe especially if - that feels hard to say.
For more explanation, here is John’s original Esther Day video from 2010, the first recorded instance of John actually bringing himself to say that he loves his brother Hank:
and Esther’s response:
Here is this year’s Esther Day video from Hank:
In the comments section, you may witness a lot of people who don’t know each other in person expressing genuine love for each other and the Nerdfighter community, and also some people honestly expressing how difficult it is for them to say that they love someone. I think that the honest, heartfelt expression of that difficulty is also a sacred thing. Another one of my favourite YouTubers, Eddplant, even wrote a song about it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeYpXEuHqvo
Since I am giving myself permission to share my unabashed adoration of YouTube, here are some more videos which I love and also think of as good examples of different kinds of love, what they mean, and how to express them.
Here’s a video recorded well before the first official Esther Day, in which the usually-not-quite-this-serious Michael Aranda really shows how it’s done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGQrj9eq9B0
What happens when two Nerdfighters who know each other online but have yet to meet in real life find that they really, really like each other in a way which might lead to that thing everyone on the radio is singing about, but let’s be sensible about it and see how it goes? Nerdfighterlike! This song was written and originally recorded (as a YouTube video, that is), by the incredibly adorable Lauren Fairweather http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YonOpkx6K8 , but I think that this duet by Hank Green and his wife Katherine is the sweetest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjzG0mPXwxo .
Sometimes, a relationship that you think is supposed to be love turns out to be a really great friendship. Alex Day http://alexdaymusic.com , also known on YouTube as Nerimon http://www.youtube.com/user/nerimon , wrote the song Forever Yours about that realization, and then his friend Charlie McDonnell http://www.youtube.com/charlie (and a whole bunch of their friends) helped him make the video, which tells a story about their awesome friendship. They met and became good friends because of YouTube, and eventually became housemates. After getting used to living together, they were separated for a few months, and you can see in the video how much they had missed each other and how glad they were to be back to working and playing together: http://charliemcdonnell.com/forever-yours
By the way, with support from their online following, the song got to number 4 in the UK charts and also made it into the charts of several other countries, in spite of the fact that most mainstream radio stations refused to play it no matter how many requests they got.
Of course, even when we are blessed with wonderful friendships, we still aspire to find that kind of love that everyone is singing about all the time. Charlie, having been challenged to write and play a song using no actual musical instruments, wrote perhaps the most sensible song ever about that kind of love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5ZwnmJgC-g
Cultural conditioning to value sexual and/or romantic love (is there an easier, less wordy way to say that? Maybe there isn’t one, because we keep being told that it’s what the single word “love” is supposed to mean) is important and friendship not so much, is so strong that lots of people want to see a beautiful friendship as another kind of love story. Some will even go so far as to write that story themselves. YouTube has perhaps blurred the line between fictional characters and real people that you see doing things on a screen. What started years ago as a subset of fanfic (Kirk/Spock is the most classic pairing) has found its way into the world of real people. It is particularly popular among (but by no means limited to) adolescent girls who are learning about their own new feelings. In the world of YouTube, the most popular pair of friends to be imagined as lovers are the above-mentioned Charlie and Alex. Instead of the old school style “Charlie/Alex”, their YouTube usernames get combined as “Cherimon”. Here is a hilarious tutorial on the world of shipping from Danisnotonfire (himself often shipped with his friend Amazing Phil as “Phan”): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c61d72fpa4c
Oh, and some people who are known and loved by me in real life also have their own lovely YouTube channels! You may recognize them!
The Lady Yeshe Rabbit: http://www.youtube.com/user/YesheRabbit ,
Madame Hummingbird: http://www.youtube.com/user/MadameHummingbird
and CAYA Coven! http://www.youtube.com/user/cayacoven
So now, beloved readers, I am giving you Permission to Love the People and Things that You Love, and also to express that love, honestly and unapologetically, especially to the beloved people themselves, in whatever ways they can best understand. I also give you permission to receive other people’s expressions of genuine love to you with grace and gratitude - it may take courage to allow yourself to really accept that you are loved, that you deserve the love which is offered to you, and that there is no need to dismiss or deflect heartfelt compliments which you are given. As a Lammas bonus, I also give you permission to love YouTube, and to watch YouTube videos without feeling like you are wasting time and being unproductive. A lot of wonderful things have been created by the YouTube community, most wonderful of all the community itself. What will you create when you make the people and things you genuinely love your highest priority, placing love above guilt or a sense of obligation?
I Love You,
Wishbringer Molly Blue Dawn, High Priestess of Serendipity