Tell me what you love.
If I look you in your eyes and ask you to tell me what you love, the answers will likely roll off of your tongue. You love pizza and crafting and roller coasters and poetry. You love to read, you love to write, you love music, birds, tattoos, obscure documentaries, and the color of the sun filtered through the smoke of a wildfire. You love your boyfriend. Your mom. Your brother. Your sister. Your daughter. Your best friend. Your dog. Your grandmother. Your cousin. Your son. Your aunt. Your wife. You love pastries and foreign languages and folk music the way it feels to itch a bug bite. You love early mornings and late nights and study breaks and hugs and sentimental cards on your birthday. How long do you think you could go on and on before you said, “I love myself.”
Most people go a lifetime.
I used to think I was invincible, like most young people do. I knew everything, knew exactly who I was, could have conquered the world. My grandmother, with a smile sewn of wisdom, told me if I really wanted the truth, I should stand in front of a mirror. She told me:
“Meet yourself in the mirror, make a date of it. Look closely, and even if it’s strange, keep on looking until your eyes became skies with constellations of light, and the rest of the world fades away. Examine every inch of your face, and feel however you feel about it. Be thorough. See even the things you don’t like to see. When you know your face like you’d know a friend’s, meet your eyes again. If it’s awkward or forced, do the best that you can, and with all the sincerity you can muster, say, ‘I love you.’”
I thought it was stupid, and I told her that right there, but for some reason I still crept into the bathroom that night to rendezvous with my eyes. I was surprisingly awkward, awkwardly shy, and stood with my gaze turned down, like I was seeing myself for the first time. With a flutter in my stomach I met my own stare, and though everything in me protested, I let out a half breath that carried an almost inaudible whisper of the words… I love you… and then I cried uncontrollably because I knew it wasn’t true.
I stood in that bathroom every night for a year, and I lied to my eyes until I could rewrite the truth. When I looked in the mirror and knew for the first time that I loved myself, I also knew I would never need anything else to survive.
My grandmother knows me, and instead of telling, she showed me that love is a tree, and if we don’t grow the roots, we’ll spend our lives collecting dry leaves; they are charming when pressed in books and kept in picture frames but they don’t grow up to feed our families the way seeds do.
She told me:
“You cannot say, ‘I love you,’
without the implied foundation
of, ‘but I love myself, first.’
If you don’t love yourself,
every time you have ever said,
‘I love you,’
it was a lie.”
And she was right.