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Archive for the tag “love”

30×30: Lesson 27: Stand by me

September 2014

September 2014

It isn’t a coincidence that “Stand By Me” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” are two of my favorite songs, not necessarily for their musicality but for their meaning. Both speak of loyalty. I grew to love the second song sometime after I moved to Harrisburg and decided that my sister Andrea was one of the single-most important people in my life. The first song, I dedicate to my boyfriend Jon.

During the decade (123 months) that I have dated Jon (if I’ve calculated correctly), we’ve spent more than 1/3 of our relationship apart. 17 months have been spent on separate continents. 33 months in different cities. Two months or so in different states.

During those 123 months, I’ve been a deli worker, an undergraduate student, a high school English teacher, a freelance journalist, a grad student, and a college French instructor. Jon has studied politics, worked night shifts in warehouses, worked days in manufacturing, and sold craft beer for two different companies.

Of all people, Jon has endured me at my worst: when I’ve been huddled over tea while wrecked with the flu. When I called from France and forgot his birthday. When I come home from Pittsburgh after not having seen him in weeks and talk only about the work I should be doing. When I’m crying too hard to speak for reasons that I don’t even know. My moments of least triumph.

But Jon has also been there for my last ballet performance and my first academic conference. He was there in Trinidad when I learned I was white, in Belgium when I tasted my first lambic. Jon asked me to have a voice and was there when I gained it. He loved me with make-up with without it, with curves and without them. He taught me to find the beauty in otherness.

I owe so much of these lessons to him.

What astonishes me about the song “Stand By Me” is more than just this loyalty. It’s also the equality of it. The lyrics ask that one stand — there’s such a tallness and pride in this word — by — not behind or before — the other person. It’s a song of asking. It’s a song of vulnerability.

In the past 147 months, Jon and I have cooked together, grown together, laughed hysterically together, and grieved together. I look for Jon’s face in every crowd on every continent. I see Jon’s smile after getting off of every plane.

Jon’s taught me what it’s like to be accepted without deserving it. To be loved without having earned it. And the lesson of my life is to love that way in return.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

30×30: Lesson 17: Lifelong listening and love

I couldn’t sleep after my first ballet performance (in case you were wondering, it was Laurel Valley Studio’s second rendition of “The Lost Children,” sometime around 1990). The heat of the lights and the swirl of the costumes kept me awake long after bedtime — as well as the memory of my favorite dancer named Crystal who broke her wrist onstage during her solo. Sometime in what seemed the middle of death (as nighttime always seemed to me as a kid), I crept over to my parents’ room.

“Mommy?” I said.

“Mmmm?”

I remember searching for words to explain why I was awake. “I’m glad Crystal’s okay.”

“Me too. How about you sleep with me for a little while?”

And so I climbed into the warm space of the bed that my dad had left empty when going to milk cows, and I fell asleep with the sense that my mom would always be there whenever I needed her. For anything.

*

Is listening an art, a craft, or a choice? Is it the ability to be on the same wavelength as someone anytime they need you, or is it a skill you hone in order to read the longing in somebody else’s eyes?

For me, listening, like silence, is trust. But it is also peace. For me, growing up with a mother who would put down the phone, turn off the vacuum, and allow me to talk was fundamental to my ability to work through problems, express myself, and learn that I needed to lean on others beyond myself. And this way in which she allowed to breathe also founded my understanding of the friend, partner, sister, and teacher I want to be.

But what is incredible about my mom — about both my parents, actually; as well as my family; and especially my boyfriend, now that I’m really thinking — is the way in which not only has their ability to listen continued, but the way in which their love is followed up by selfless action.

“Just tell us when you need us,” my dad says each time I return to Pittsburgh for a new semester, “and we’ll be there.”

And they all have been. Such support — in action, in patience, and in the words at the end of the phone — give me a foundation on which to stand. Strength to go on. And love to share with others.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Three of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, 2014

Three of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, 2014

30×30: Lesson 8: Facial hair, honesty, and having a voice

On the evening that my boyfriend Jon and I held hands on my parents’ corduroy sofa and declared — as you have to when you are 19 — that we were “officially dating,” Jon surprised me by telling me that our relationship had two ground rules. The first one was honesty. The second one was telling him when he had food stuck in his goatee.

I probably laughed. I certainly brushed the comment off. But in reality, I had no idea how much the first statement (okay, both) would challenge the way I viewed just about everything.

Up until that point, I had this weird perception of womanhood that combined the elegance of a ballet dancer with — and I can’t figure out of a better way to say this — silence. Not necessarily a lack of a voice, for that would have been too extreme, but just a poised and gracious refusal to challenge others, to rock the boat. I called my quietness — which was way beyond my introversion, for that is different — by many names: easy-goingness and accommodation. And I was at peace with this.

But Jon wanted to hear me. He wanted to know what I wanted to eat for dinner, where I wanted to take a walk, and if I agreed with what I was taught at college. What did I think of English porters? Was the steak he grilled overdone? He was so full of questions — and what I mean by this is that he just wanted to have a conversation — that I found him slightly terrifying. But if I could not tell him what I really thought about that bass solo we’d just heard, I certainly couldn’t express why, on certain days, Jon annoyed the crap out of me. And how, on some days, I just inexplicably needed my space. And how, on most days, he was the most incredible person that I’d ever met.

The first time I found my voice was the day when I took twenty minutes to tell Jon that I was annoyed by the way he had hung up his coat, inside-out and by the arm (I swear this was a big deal). The result of the conversation stunned me: Jon wanted to keep hanging out anyway.

After all these years together, the sweetest lesson of our relationship has been learning that speaking my heart doesn’t mean that Jon will leave me, that telling the truth is the first step to finding a solution, and that all this combined — the speaking, the listening, and the sharing in any relationship, not just ours — is actually the definition of trust.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

 

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