The summer of 2012 was one of love.
There were no declarations of passion, no extravagant bouquets presented on a front porch. No ardent messages scrawled in cursive and furtively slipped under a door. I did not meet the personthat I want spend the rest of my life with. I did not settle into autumn with the blaze of a past season’s romantic misadventures to keep me warm as the weather turned.
And yet, the summer of 2012 continues to shimmer in my memory as one of love.
I had just finished my first year of college, and was participating in a social justice program based in Chicago. It was run by the community service center at my university and had three main components: an individual internship at a host organization, experiential learning within a cohort of some twenty other fellows, and weekly group reflections facilitated by the program manager and coordinators.
During the week, I’d ride my bike to the far south side of the city to teach gardening and art classes at a tiny community-based art center. Our cohort would gather on Thursday evenings for dinner, and the program staff would guide us through conversations on a different issue each week: education, media and politics, labor, immigration and refugees, housing and homelessness, criminal justice, mental health, violence prevention, art and activism.
We would spend all of Friday together learning about the issue we had discussed the night before through trainings based in different Chicago neighborhoods and centered around the voices of community members. The people we heard from were either deeply engaged in or deeply affected by the issue they discussed. Oftentimes, they were both engaged and affected, and their activism stemmed from consciousness that their personal struggles were embedded in larger social structures.
At the end of each week, my body would ache as much as my heart. I often experienced a sensation of being stretched and filled to capacity. I felt exhausted and yet so alive, more than I had ever been.
I am not sure if I knew at the time that the emotion I felt overwhelmed by was love.
Instead, I experienced that summer as a sense of profound connection, to nearly everybody around me.
I felt connected to the kids at the art center who created beautiful things in the midst of trauma and deep, systemic inequality that translated into violence in their communities. Who in one breath shared their pain and fears, and in the next their hopes and dreams, all while watering a patch of tomatoes or cutting construction paper collages.
I felt connected to the staff at the art center, who showed up everyday ready to offer the kids an outlet for their pain, and beyond that, to create spaces for joy and appreciation of creative expression.
I felt connected to the strangers I met briefly to learn about the issues that kept them up late at night and early in the morning, their relentless fight to uplift themselves through the lifting of others.
I felt connected to the people in my cohort, all of us clenched, curious, eager, oftentimes even anxious as we tried to open ourselves as much as we could to new perspectives and experience. We grappled together with questions that had no clear answers, about our place in society in relation to others, our contribution to seemingly intractable systems of privilege, and our potential to work toward dismantling them.
I felt connected to the program manager and coordinators, who came into every conversation with us ready to be surprised rather than ready to deliver a pre-packaged message. They saw the goodness in each of us and so pushed us to see the goodness in others.
That summer passed, and the years began to accumulate behind it. One year, two years, half a decade.
And yet, I still find myself returning to the lessons of those eleven weeks, struggling to understand why that summer meant so much to me. I realize now that perhaps the significance of that summer was the experience of love.
Love, in a form that was unfamiliar to me in its expansiveness.Love that looked more like a field of sunflowers craning their necks skyward in search of light, and less like a solitary red rose yearning to rest in the vase of one’s beloved.
I am guided to this epiphany by the reflections contained in Krista Tippet’s quietly powerful book, “Becoming Wise.” She remarks on how we have have squished love into so small of a category when it should have the capacity to be all-encompassing:
We’ve made [love] private, contained it in family, when its audacity is its potential to cross tribal lines. We’ve fetishized it as romance, when its true measure is a quality of sustained, practical care. We’ve lived it as a feeling, when it is a way of being. It is the elemental experience we all desire and seek, most of our days, to give and receive. (p. 104)
The summer of 2012 was one of love.
There was the deliberate and thoughtful crossing of lines – neighborhood boundaries, lines of race and class, lines of thought and ideology, the pushing of comfort zones. There was sustained, practical care among a community of individuals practicing vulnerability with one another. There were people seeking a way of being that was more whole and inclusive. There was an abundance of giving and receiving. We felt it in our aching bones, tireless minds, and pulsing hearts.
It is a feeling that I hope to continue chasing for the rest of my days.