All About Love

Over the winter holidays, I was engrossed in re-reading bell hooks' book, "All About Love". Throughout the thirteen chapters, hooks is determined to define love, not as a noun, but a verb. She writes:

Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the word "love" and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book, "The Road Less Traveled", first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues, "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will-namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love."

I have read these words many times before, but on this reading, I finally got it. You see, in my younger years, I was a hopeless romantic. I believed love to be sonnets and guitar chords and late night confessions of the heart. So when I met Mo in the fall of 2000 and there were no over indulgent words of poetry perched on his lips or songs of the heart written just for me, I thought, "This will never last." Unless...

"Unless, I choose to make it last..."

In August of 2000, I was on the cusp of turning 25. I was moving to the "Big Apple", the place where, "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere". I was on a quest to find myself again after a messy break-up of the relationship I thought would last. I was entering one of America's best schools of art to obtain my masters degree. I promised serious relationships.

So, from the first moment I saw Mo, I thought, "Wow. Cute. But, NO!" Plus, I was working for Residential Life and Housing as a Resident Director and Mo just happened to be a Resident Advisor assigned to my team. During training we had a long session about the implications of mingling with staff members, especially those we double NO.

Mo was not only assigned to my team, but he also happened to be the RA assigned to my floor...which meant he lived directly across the hall from me. I found him stopping by to borrow things like brooms and pans and silverware. During one of these casual neighborly exchanges he said, "You have a lot of books. Have you read all of those?" He seemed shocked when I said, "Yes." He sat down and started going through them. He poured over the philosophy and anthropology books I had. We began to talk about them and then hours later we realized, we were still talking.

Our visits became more frequent, our conversations longer. We would cook dinner together through the week, pick up things from the grocery store for each other and generally look after each other. But both of us were aware of being in a vulnerable place and not wanting anything serious or committed. (He was dealing with his own messy break-up which involved two children as well as trying to cope with the rigorous demands of earning an architecture degree while being a foreign student in a foreign land.)

I'm not sure when either of us chose to fall in love with the other. But it dawned on me on September 11, 2001, that I was indeed in love with this guy who was somewhere around the World Trade Center at the precise moment those fateful planes hit. I felt an overwhelming amount of relief when he called to say he got to work safely but they were evacuating his building. He arrived back at my door hours later, sweating, covered in dust and tears. I hugged him so tightly. I just knew I never wanted to let go.

Thanksgiving of that year found us making a trip to the U.K. together. I don't remember what inspired the trip and surely everyone around us was questioning our decision to travel at such a tumultuous time, but off we went anyway. The vacation gave us a chance to see what it would be like to be this "international" couple...the artist and the architect traveling the world. (Okay, so may be a little of that sappy, romantic stuff seeped into our relationship at certain points.)

Despite a great trip, our return to Brooklyn found us at odds. I was relieved when Mo decided to return to Jamaica for winter break. When the term started up again in January, we were still on again, off again and our relationship stayed that way until the spring. In May of 2002, we decided to move into an apartment together. We chose commitment.

When the term ended that May, Mo decided to spend the summer in Jamaica working for his father. I stayed in Brooklyn and made arrangements to end the summer in Jamaica with him. It was difficult to be away from each other for those two months especially since we felt like we were finally on the same page with our relationship and wanting to work together as life partners. My trip to Jamaica was extraordinary. I loved it and I knew I loved him. For the first time, I felt like there could be a future for us.

This time our return to Brooklyn found us deeply in love. Christmas of 2002 found us engaged.

The first week of 2003 dealt us a devastating blow. Our relationship was again tenuous. Circumstances surrounding Mo's children and their mother back in Jamaica left us at odds. We realized that in order for us to move forward together, we needed to deal with our feelings regarding Warrior and Earth Mother. Mo needed to put to rest the relationship with their mother and come to terms with the fact that he could not rescue her or the children. We decided to go to couple's counseling. Counseling was great on the one hand but not so great on the other. We were both struggling. Neither of us knew for sure what we wanted. Counseling revealed that we were very different in so many ways...that we lacked a fundamental understanding of each other. While we struggled with our relationship, we had another thing to consider...Mo's immigration status. He was in America on an F1 student visa which would expire 30 days after graduation that May. He would be forced to return to Jamaica unless...

Unless we got married. After several meetings with our immigration lawyer and with our counselor, we decided that we were not ready to end the relationship (which would have surely happened if Mo went back to Jamaica). However, we weren't really certain that we wanted to continue it either. Or, at least I wasn't certain I wanted it to continue. But I agreed to get married and "see" how it went.

July 3, 2003 found us in the office of the City Clerk of Manhattan aka City Hall. In attendance were my parents, my best friend, Mo's aunt and grandmother, his best friend, a mutual friend and Mo's mentor. We said, "I do", had brunch and then went off to our Honeymoon in Ithaca, NY. I was feeling dazed and confused. I still had a lot of doubt about our relationship and whether or not we were doing the right thing.That my wedding day was not the best day of my life always bothered me until very recently (last week) when I read this. (I am slowly understanding that it is not where we started, but where we are that matters.)

July 3, 2004 we celebrated our anniversary and our marriage by renting out a space in a neighborhood bar and inviting all of our family and friends. I have always considered this my wedding day because I was truly, truly happy and in love and committed to Mo. We danced and ate and celebrated! It was great!

We seemed to even out and enjoy a true honeymoon period right through the birth of our son, Shine, in May 2006. Indeed, it wasn't until 2007 that we began to feel uneasy. While the pundits refused to acknowledge that the American economy was falling apart, it was apparent to most of us living and trying to work in NYC. Mo and I began to face years of unemployment and financial uncertainty.

The pressures of trying to keep our heads above water began to take their toll. There were many moments of wanting to throw in towel and call it quits. At the end of February 2010, I found out I was pregnant with Song. This very unexpected event came when we were on the verge of physical, emotional and financial collapse. Moving here to Kingston in June of 2010 was by all means an attempt at saving ourselves and our relationship. It has been a long and weary road. However, we are still here...still choosing to love. I have been realizing (thanks in large part to the reading of "All About Love") that marriage (or commitment) is consciously choosing love every day.

Mo's aunt posted this quote on her Facebook wall recently:
People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. (source unknown)

I think bell hooks would agree with this. Love is not that swooning "sweep you off your feet" feeling. Love is harder than that. Love is deeper than that. Love holds more Truth than that.

Choose Love.


Heeather said…
It's funny...we seem to have gone through such similar experiences (marrying foreign men and so on) ;) ...

When we were in counseling we read a book (can't remember the name, but I know it's in a box around here somewhere)...and the premise was that Love is a Choice. You have to consciously doesn't just happen. And it's so true. Just like it's so easy to get upset and angry over the little things, it's important to remember to choose to love daily too.

Thank you for the reminder. I do love you as well!
elissa said…
Your love story is a beautiful and inspirational love story because it is so real and true... Hugs to you and Mo!
Rae said…
heather, is a choice...and it is often such a tough choice to make. i love you too. your words inspire me. hang in there, lady!

thank you, elissa! i think of you often and miss you so much. lots of love to you and tim and those wonderful kiddos!
Thanks so much for sharing your story. It meant a lot to me the first time I truly realized how love is a verb, and how I could choose to act on it. I really appreciate hearing your path so far through the challenges and joys of love.