by: Hayley Kolding
Canton High School
We were walking on a spring day. Snow was still melting in dirty piles, like laundry heaped up by the side of the road, and a mineral taste soaked the air. I breathed and was giddy. It was one of those days when I was looking—really looking—at everything around me: cracks in the sidewalk, ants whirring quietly in the dirt, holey leaves praying to the air. Everything. The wonder of it made it hard to walk in a straight line.
I had tried to explain it, this giddiness that sung me straight off the sidewalk. He’d asked about it; he wanted to know what music I heard as I swayed and smiled. I looked down at my shoes, not waterproof, in a puddle, and told him that I wanted to soak in all this life flowing around me. I told him that I loved it all: sunlight, ants, children. The woody earnestness of trees.
That when I loved it so much, life overwhelmed me.
He told me that I was allergic.
He said it fondly, I think, as if he thought me pleasantly quirky for trying to breathe life in when I knew it might make me sneeze. So I smiled and kept walking. On and off the sidewalk, mostly in agreement. But all the same, I was sad to hear my love spoken like a symptom.
As a child of tree bark and pollen in the wind, I don’t think that love should be treated with Benadryl. And yet so many fear the word that I find as honest as breath. Hesitant partners balk at it; relationships end when “I love you” is met with only a nervous “thanks”. The term for pure affection has been counted as the worst of the four-letter words. But for all the advice columns warning me not to use “the l-word” until I mean it, I can’t think of any reason to wait.
Love—it’s the only way to describe what fills me when grass cushions my footfalls, when peep frogs chirp at night. It’s the only word I have for when strangers sneeze in the supermarket and I say, “Bless you,” because I’ve been reminded that they, too, breathe and live and sneeze. Love—just the simple, joyous acknowledgment that existence is shared.
Sometimes that acknowledgement is difficult to make. On icy nights in January, it’s so hard to love the cold. When goosebumps rise on your skin like spider bites from every icy nip of the air, how can you feel affection for the chill? Speak it: I love the cold. Let it flood your mouth, pure and sharp like ice water. The love, the cold—they belong there; they are part of you. Speak the word, and you will allow yourself to mean it.
That’s the power of love. Of course all words are meant to persuade an audience—journalists stack them into truths as bitter and undeniable as black morning coffee; advertisers sing them like siren songs to mesmerized couch potatoes. But love’s power works on more than just the audience; when spoken, it has the power to affect us, the rhetors ourselves. That single drawn out syllable—love—provides a time frame to reflect: on the pulse in the fingertips that trace letters on our backs, on the swaying of grass like the hairs on our heads. It lends a second for contemplation of the rocks, cold as our feet are, sharing waters of their streambed, and of our lungs, above water, filling with air that thousands of others have breathed. With that one word, we can come to realize that life is no allergen; it is our oxygen. To love it is only natural.