oh ok i'll just choose love not fear
People I admire keep saying, “Choose love, not fear” and I’m not sure I know exactly how to do that.
“Choose love, not fear,” is the social-emotional equivalent of “Have a green smoothie for breakfast.” I know it’s good for me. I see people whose poreless skin glows with inner beauty drinking that shit all the time and I want poreless skin glowing with inner beauty, ergo I should make a damn smoothie. I have all the things I need to make it, the ingredients and the tools. All I have to do is decide to pull out the spinach, the blender, and the coconut water. Everything I want is in my kitchen.
I didn’t make a smoothie this morning. I keep drinking black coffee. I have a 20-ounce next to me now.
Is it habit that keeps me reaching for bitter, invigorating brew over the thing that will actually nourish me? Or is it fear? I don’t know. I haven’t mastered how to interrogate actions in the moment yet. I still need the benefit of hindsight and an outcome that I can say, with certainty, was preventable if I’d played it another way, or was ideal because I did it my way.
And when we say “Choose love, not fear,” what does that mean? Choose love of whom over fear of what exactly? Choose love of strangers over fear of shooters in our sacred spaces? Choose love of our communities over fear of the loss of our decency? Choose love of ourselves over fear of our powerlessness? Choose love of humanity over fear of people who don’t look, think, speak, or act like us? Choose love of nachos over fear of cholesterol? Choose love of Nicolas Cage movies over fear of people finding out that you love Nicolas Cage movies?
Are smart people telling me to channel Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Clinton when I meet Twitter trolls and haters? Are they telling me to do my best Michelle Obama to the people going low and meet chaos with compassion? Because trolls and haters and low-goers are notoriously nonconsensual when it comes to the compassion of socialist lib-snowflakes like me. Are we saying that we need to look at shooters in schools and find love for those people, even though they make every single dropoff on every single morning just a little bit gutting for every single parent you know?
Or are we saying that we need to choose to focus on the people whom we do love, rather than to focus on the trolls, haters, low-goers, and gutters of parents at school dropoff? That makes more sense to me, but the a paradox at the heart of that idea says that if you choose love, then you choose to invest your heart in people who could get shot in school, and the very act of choosing love opens your heart to paralyzing terror that what you love could be taken from you. Choosing love is, in so many ways, choosing fear.
TBH, I’d rather choose rage because if I choose rage, then the things I think most about are the things I want to destroy. If I destroy them, great! If they survive, tomorrow is another day. Conversely, when the thing you think about most is the thing you love and that thing is destroyed, then tomorrow is destroyed, too.
It’s easier to read stories about shooters and bombers because we feel strong and rooted in our opposition to their hatred. Be intolerant of intolerance. Resist. Conversely, it’s excruciating to read stories about the dead because we love them in their deaths, even if we never knew or loved the people they were in life. In their deaths, we mourn not only the last thing they experienced, which was probably terror and pain, but also the death of our own confidence that such a violent end could never happen to people like us, or the people we love.
Many of us live as if something was promised to us: Be born white, cis, hetero, and middle class, stay out of the Army and don’t have sex in a horror movie, and sure, you might get dinged up on this wagon train called life, but chances are pretty good that you’ll drift away at the age of 309 on a gondola made of morphine. PROMISES WERE MADE. These people just went to a movie, like I do. To school, like my kids do. To a club, like my single friends do. To a Kroger, like my husband does. To services, in their dressy clothes, like my Grandmother. THEIR DEATHS CONSTITUTE A BREACH OF CONTRACT AND I WANT TO TALK TO MY GODDAMN ATTORNEY. UN-FUCKING-ACCEPTABLE.
Choose love, not fear.
The more I think about that expression, the more I have to believe that it’s not asking us to refrain from feeling fear. What it’s actually saying is, “Choose love, and have faith that your love will be enough.” Or perhaps, “Choose love, fearlessly.” I’m afraid that my love will be insufficient. I don’t want to bring a plate of warm from-scratch brownies to the knife fight. “Choose love and believe your love is mighty. Choose love all the way. It takes courage. Don’t be scared.”
Easier said than done. I am scared. I remember what it feels like to trust someone and get hurt. I remember seeing the faces of parents on the news. I keep choosing love half-way. I keep putting spinach in the blender, looking at it, and pouring another cup of coffee.
Half-way love looks like a post about my volcanic rage, written as a love letter to your volcanic rage. I love you too much to let you feel alone. Half-way love looks like solidarity with the survivors of shootings and assaults, written as a promise that I will not stop until the people who hurt them have been punished, punished, punished within an inch of their lives. I love you too much to let those bastards get away with it. I love, therefore I rage. That makes sense, right?
I believe in love’s ability to transform. I believe that love is the answer. I believe that love will save us. But I’m not sure I’m the one to do the loving-loving. My brand of love is a little more hard-edge. I want to beat the emotional shit out of somebody. I want to fucking destroy some hearts and minds.
I try to convince myself that my desire to psychologically mutilate monsters is rooted in love. “But see, I’m punishing them FOR YOU, because I LOVE YOU so much, because what they did to you was SO WRONG. That’s why I peeled the skin off their faces with my WORD SCALPELS. For the LOVE.”
I am trying to convince myself that righteous anger is my love language. I’m not great at compliments and snuggles and IRL emotional shit. I don’t do affirmations very well and I tend to approach grief like a garage that needs a good scrub-out. “Yikes, that’s a mess! Let’s get some trash bags and a push-broom and GET THIS SHIT OUT OF HERE, won’t take more than a day and then we can go get burgers and laugh and laugh.”
Of course, I’m not an idiot. I’m too smart to buy my own knockoff idea that rage is rooted in love. It’s as obviously fake as a Canal Street “Jouis Wuitton” satchel.
I can’t really convince myself that love is why I dream of having an up-close conversation with the #MAGABomber that will leave him sobbing on the floor. That’s not love, kid, and you didn’t really need anyone to say so. You already knew that. And it’s not love that makes me approach unspeakable pain as if it’s a sloppy closet that just needs some old-fashioned elbow-grease and a dollop of Life-Changing Magic. I’m not choosing love. I’m choosing rage, the shield that I hold up to protect my broken heart, because I’m afraid that my heart won’t be strong enough to take another blow. Because I’m scared.
Choose love, not fear. Believe that your love is sufficient.
It helps to remind myself that love isn’t a wimpy thing. It’s the presence of backbone, not a spineless heap. Love doesn’t say, “You can keep abusing me because I love you.” Love says, “Cut that shit out. I won’t let you be a piece of shit anymore. We’re in this together. Now, let’s hug it out.” Love isn’t a drippy, soggy, falling-apart thing. It’s firm, and it’s kind, and it refuses to let you be awful.
It helps to remind myself that I already know the power of firm, kind love. I’m a motherfucking mom. Loving someone so much that you won’t let them turn into a piece of shit? That is my WHEELHOUSE. I know that children need love even if they way they ask for love DOES NOT make them easy to love. I approach all children this way, even the ones you might call bullies. Children who hurt other people are in pain, and kids in pain do not need more pain. They need to learn a new language for expressing their sadness and fear and anger, and it’s our job as adults to teach them what love looks like, as much as it’s our job to teach them the A-B-C’s. It’s my job, as a mother who truly thinks of all children as her children (but yes, admittedly, my kids are my kids just a little bit more), to say, “I believe you are inherently good and I love you no matter what you do and I will not give up on you.” I treat all children this way; it only feels like work when the kid has a snot snail running out of his nose and he keeps blowing it further down his lip until he can lick it. Dude. Come on. I love you too much to let you be gross.
It helps to remind myself that I can handle this fucking nightmare like a MOTHER. I can mom this. I can mom it hard. I can love fully and fearlessly and take not even a grain of shit.
It also helps to remind myself that there is zero barrier to entry when it comes to acts of love, and there’s a shit ton of barriers to entry for acts of rage (not to mention blowback at busted-sewer-line levels.)
I can’t DM the guy who tried to shoot a black church in Kentucky, and when we couldn’t, he went into a grocery store to find some black people he could murder. That guy isn’t available to experience my hatred of what he did. I will never get to look into his eyes and tell him that his hands did the work of Nazis and rapists and demons from hell, and he deserves to spend the rest of his life in unspeakable agony. Can’t do it. If I choose that, then all I’m doing is sitting in my feelings.
But someone is available to experience my love: The First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, where the shooter tried to go. Communities of color in YOUR hometown. If you were a black person going to church next Sunday, how would YOU feel?
The man who murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue this weekend? I can’t send him a letter and I’ll never get to have an up-close conversation with him about what I think he deserves to experience for the jagged gashes that he tore open in the lives of innocent people all over the world. But you know who is available to experience my love? The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Jewish communities in YOUR hometown. If you were a Jewish person attending services next weekend, how would YOU feel?
It helps to remember that rage is almost always internal, because we’re socialized to experience our rage invisibly. Put another way: the rage I feel is only real to me, unless I share it, which can have dangerous or harmful consequences. On the other hand, love is simple to share out loud and really almost never hurts people.
How can you support communities that feel afraid? By donating a few dollars, bringing a bag of bagels or muffins or donuts, sending a card? Yes, you and I can do one or all of those things. We can act on our love even as we experience, and share privately, deep feelings of rage.
Like so many invisible tasks, choosing love and not fear isn’t as simple as its brevity makes it seem. “Drink smoothies not coffee” is the same number of words but here I am with my coffee and not a smoothie in sight. I don’t have a satisfying conclusion to make or ten steps to choosing love, not fear. I clearly have no fucking idea what I’m doing. I’ve got a face full of pores, a bitter mouth, and my spinach is wilting in the fridge. Help?
When I went on the Tree of Life site to link it in this post, I popped over to their blog. The most recent entry posted on October 24, several days before the shooting. The blog entry is called, “A Little Bit of Joy.” The Rabbi writes that people tend to make time to mourn, but don’t make the same time to celebrate. Even though comforting each other in grief is an act of love, grief does not refill our tank. Joy does.
I think you should read the whole post. It won’t take long; it’s a sip of wisdom, but strong. The part that leapt off the screen and into my chest was this:
Every birthday celebration unobserved is one less opportunity in your tank. You can respond with, “Oh well, there is always next year”. None of us can say with certainty that there is always next year. This is our hope, our dream. Would it not be far better to celebrate a simcha [joyous event] because you made the time, and be able to state at the end, “I’m glad I came. I look forward to celebrating with you next year.”
As we’re in grief, not just for the lives lost over the last week of violence and hate, but for the death of our faith in the safety of our ordinary lives, remember that comforting each other is a part of love, but so is joy. And joy, fearless love, is how we keep going together.