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Public Displays of Affection

This week’s F5 question is from Roganda of The Weather and Everyone’s Health. I think.

So Valentine’s Day is coming up, and my impulse to be timely has overcome my dislike of mush, so today’s question concerns love.

“Love is omni-inclusive, progressively exquisite, understanding and tender and compassionately attuned to other than self.”
—R. Buckminster Fuller.

What are five ways that people in your life (any relation: child, parent, spiritual advisor, friend, etc. etc.) have demonstrated through their actions that they love you–whether they meant to or not? (bonus points for interesting, unusual, unexpected or especially subtle examples).

As some people have repeatedly told me, I have been unbelievably blessed (in my adult life, at least) with kind, generous, and wonderful friends. My friends as often as not love me very much, though they rarely say it. And though from time to time, as is to be expected with a family like mine, relations are strained with the folks, we also all love one another very much. In the past I used to feel badly being single, and used to whine that nobody loved me, but that was a mixture of depression, frustration, and frustration. In fact, while I’ve spent so long looking for a woman who deserves someone like me (ha, the good and the bad alike), I’ve enjoyed so much love and kindness from people around me that I don’t know even how to begin to give it all back. I don’t know why people think I am so nice#151;repeatedly, both in Korea and here in India, people tell me they can tell I am a good and kind man#151;but maybe that’s part of why I have the luck of knowing so many kind people.

One thing I will say is that love is at least partly a decision, and at least partly involuntary. That’s a paradox for you, isn’t it? But maybe that’s why love is often so complex and difficult for us human beings… and so rewarding.

Still, what am I to list off here, from all of these bewildering acts of love that surround me? Moments from childhood? Moments from love affairs? Exhcanges between friends? I realize I have been truly blessed when, presented with a question like this, I have no idea where to begin. But given the parameters of the question, I’ll try to find the most interesting examples, even if they are not the ones closest to my heart.

  1. There are many awful, bothersome, annoying things that my parents have done to me out of love. Making it unbelievably hard for me to date until I moved out, forcing me to practice saxophone daily, trying to keep me in the house instead of going out cruising on Friday nights in high school—making integration with my peers even more difficult that before— but one example stands out above the others. Nagging is something that parents just do. In my folks’ case, it’s about money, specifically student loans. It’s maddening, and they bring it up at the worst possible times—most wrenchingly during the breakup with my last girlfriend—and yet I know it’s motivated by a worry about my well-being and a desire for me to live free of such a heavy and useless financial obligation. And so I try to see past the pestering to the love from which it is generated.
  2. There was a girl I once dated under slightly strange circumstances. I was leaving the country, she knew I was leaving, and yet with only a month’s time to share, we got together. In retrospect, for my part, I figured we were both just lonesome and decided to date to alleviate that. That was what I thought until I told her that I’d realized I in fact didn’t love her the way she deserved. I was shocked to hear her response, which was that she never wanted to see or hear from me again. A long time later I did contact her, but our correspondence didn’t last long. I knew that she’d rebounded very hard, gotten together with someone who was not good for her to fill the space I’d left behind, and then been hurt even worse. And in the end, I knew that she didn’t want to see me again because, in fact, she loved me and it hurt to see me and not be with me. It was a sad and surprising expression of love.
  3. For many years, my friend Charlie let me lean on him, let me whimper about my petty (and not-so petty) problems. I’ll admit it, I was depressed, really fucking depressed, like the kind of depressed that someone ought to seek medical help in dealing with. And I had my reasons, which I won’t get into here. But anyway… for a long time Charlie (the most constantly present among a few friends, including Dee and Vera and Kat) was my anchor and the voice of reason in my life. And when things got relatively good, and then I suffered a minor setback—yes, a painful one but not the end of the world—I lasped into whining and groaning like some kind of ghost. It was, I shall admit, ridiculous. And he outright told me. He told me to fuck off, grow up, face it like a man, and get the hell on with it. And that was, of course, exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Of course, I still got drunk that night and whined at someone else, but what he said to me did sink in, and the next day I began making a concerted effort to do as he had said, which was what I knew I needed to do. It’s not easy, but I’m doing better all the time with this particular struggle of mine. But I needed that kick in the ass to finally decide it was time to decide it was time.
  4. When my family moved to Lac La Ronge, a tiny northern town in Saskatchewan, I was used to idyllic mockery. I was the funny little boy with glasses as thick as the bottoms of glass Coke bottles, and I used to march to school with one foot in the curb, and one in the gutter. The older kids mocked me, of course, but this didn’t amount to more than them calling out, “Hey professor!” at me, something even my Mom giggled at, because she thought it appropriate and cute. Well, moving from Nova Scotia to Lac La Ronge was like being taken from Hobbiton and thrown into the middle of Mordor, at age 6, for no reason that I could comprehend. Was this the Faustian bargain my father made to get a better job? The town was full of rather badly-off Native kids, Cree as I recall, and while I made some friends among them, my unusual demeanour also won me many beatings. A pack of older boys (and yes, I do mean to use the word “pack”, as if they were animals, for that was how they behaved) used to chase me everyday after school. I was the slowest boy in town, and small for my age, so of course I was the obvious target. Until I learned how to hide in the woods behind the school, everyday was a race not to see whether I could outrun them, but rather to see how far I could get before they would catch me and beat the living hell out of me. Well, one day my sister Annie happened to be around, and saw this about to happen, she ran up and screamed, “You leave my brother alone!!!” and then kicked one of the boys in the groin so damned hard that he fell down on the ground, rolling around in pain. Then we walked home. I was, of course, mortified at having had to be defended by my baby sister, but I was also grateful. It was an act of love, that attack on some nasty boy’s genitals.
  5. Not all love results in something close. With a grandmother whose language I never learned to speak during her lifetime, with friends in Korea who don’t speak English any better than I do Korean, there are examples in my mind of love that meets a boundary but persists just the same. And there is the boundary of propriety, which my 6th-grade teacher Mrs. Bremner observed with the utmost care and attention. And yet I know that that woman loved me best of all her students. I know it having loved students of mine, in that way that I too have, as a teacher, loved students with all that care and tenderness that a teacher can feel for a child who is just so different, special, and wonderful that over the months you grow attached to them. In my next-to-last term at Wonkwang University Language Center, there was a girl in my class named SU-In who was the most delightful, bright, forceful little girl around. She was, in fact, a little like an adult, moreso than the other kids around her. They respected her and observed her injuctions usually without question, and I often called on her or had her start conversations in class. She was a most wonderful child. And when I left the school, she appeared at my doorway, friends in tow, to ask me for my email address and find out where I was moving on to. Well, this makes me think back to Mrs. Bremner, the teacher who called on me all the time, gave me extra fun homework that I liked to do (like researching different pantheons of gods from ancient myths), pinned my poems and pictures highest of all on the corkboard and said they were the best, just often enough for me to know she really liked me and respected me, that in the same way I felt about Su-In, in that very decent and wonderful teacherly way, she indeed loved me. I wonder what she’s up to now… because, this love knew a boundary. We never became close, never corresponded after I left her class, and never interacted again. Perhaps I shall look her up sometime, though.

A runner-up hung about in my mind, stirred up by the example of love knowing a boundary. One thing a teacher finds, among both kids and adults that he teaches, is that a certain number of students tend to develop crushes or infatuations with you. In my last semester in Iksan I had at least three (and probably three) women between the ages of 20 and 30 in my various classes who were head-over-heels in love with Gord Teacher, in fact. Okay, one was crazy and neither just spoke almost no English at all… but that’s beside the point! Wait, what was the point? Certainly not stroking my own ego.. ah, yes! It was the cutest example of a girl in one of my classes who was “in love” (puppy love, at least) with me. It wasn’t the sexy woman who came to class with new, ever-bolder hairstyles and treats for me. It wasn’t the atheltic woman who invited me to a soccer game for a date and then brought along a translator because she spoke no English. No, it was a young, very cute freshman girl who came to my Intro English clas everyday, and said nary a word in 90% of classes. She didn’t like group discussion much, because she wanted more than anything to talk with me. And her English wasn’t really so bad, but… she just never could get a proper sentence out in class. One friend of hers, a roommate at the time, told me she practiced English every night in front of the mirror. Well, her practice of English consisted of staring in the mirror, making pretty faces, and saying, “Hi Gord! How are you? Oh, I’m fine! I Englishie practice hard. It’s today a nice weather!” Poor thing couldn’t even manage that when she was confronted face-to-face with me, though. It was slightly heart-wrenching and very cute, coming from someone way too young for me. Cute, and sweet, and encouraging.

If you want to see what other people have said in response to this question, please check out the links under the Friday Five drop-down list to the right.

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