“How involved do you want to be?” I said. “Because this is serious now.”
Twenty is fickle. Whatever you think you know about your life and relationships when you’re 20 years old is uncertain — where you find yourself with other people and where you find yourself with you. There’s the usual relationship problems of life and the oddities of learning to be an adult, and then non-problems that you look back at later and ask yourself why they were ever an issue. Yet, there are times when even being twenty becomes something serious. When all of a sudden, the line must be drawn and your relationships with others laid bare. When the casual confusion of twenty ceases to exist, how does the rest of your life change?
Hospital beds are a strange phenomenon. There are no lies here. Anything that ever was casual about a relationship that you had before suddenly isn’t — there’s a very certain land of no return. They will make or break your relationships in ways that you never could have thought possible, but there are no lies in those moments. Hospital beds are honest. When people are sitting alone in your room, looking at you for no good reason other than the fact that they care, you realize that perhaps love is more complicated than your fickle twenty year old brain thought. That maybe, your twenty year old perception of love as singularly romantic is flawed — that love finds you in small places when you need it most. That real love is the simple recognition that sometimes things really do suck — and that there are no words. Love is having a best friend that’s willing to fly from college to see you, and then live in your hospital room with you for more than a week before going back to college to do finals. Love is leaving a class to take your friend to the ER and then sitting with them in a public library while you pour over children’s books talking about sharks for an entire afternoon afterwards, just to give them some sense of normalcy. Love is making someone homemade soup and bringing it in real a picnic basket, all while inviting them over for Christmas. Love is inviting your student into your home and letting them live with you for a weekend. Love is extending a hand; watching someone cry. Love is simply sitting with someone, alone in a dorm room, and patting their shoulder while they sob uncontrollably. Love is telling someone that it’s okay to be upset. Love is laying in a hospital bed with them and simply listening — being there. Genuine physical presence.
Love is so hard. But it’s not complicated. You know it when you feel it.
The hospital bed phenomenon also brings a deafening silence from people you thought would be loud. It might be easy to allow this to be discouraging — suddenly, you know how people really feel without a single word. But it can also be encouraging — the next time somebody asks you to do something, remember what they did when you needed them most. Because the people that reached out to you — offered help and then followed through — those are the people and organizations that you should be spending your time on. It’s a definitive answer and restructuring. That doesn’t have to be a loss. You’re not loosing anything — obviously they were never there to begin with. You’ve simply found where you are with people — a line that everybody else gets the luxury of dancing around. But it’s not the line that matters — it’s what you do with it.
Just like everything in life, there is a void of uncertainty in the future. But if I get to be certain about anything, then I am certain about love. Because somehow it found me when I needed it.
Love simply is.
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