The past nine months, my life has become unrecognizable. When I say this out loud, it means who I am is unrecognizable. But in truth, I now see myself for the first time.
In February, I hoped to write again; beginning was also deciding. I once said, “I’m sick of writing because I’m sick of myself,” and to be kinder towards my person, I didn’t go back to that place.
On a Friday evening, I was pressed for new perspective. I used social media—asked anyone to write me about themselves and send their postal address to my email.
I decided to handwrite a thousand love letters to strangers.
Love letters, I called them. They remind me of the letters Mom wrote me when we lived apart. Her letters contained her—so when I read her words, I could conjure her to appear beside me when I looked for her most. When posting my letters to strangers, I wanted to send myself to cross whatever separated us geographically, but also as individuals.
The first day I got thirteen emails. And then thirty—from Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, England, Canada, Australia, India, and even from my own city. Woman, girl, boy, husband, widow, baker, cheater, lawyer, orphan, judge, sinner, scientist, columnist, genius, liar.
And one common sentiment: Not one considered themselves to be great. They did not see themselves as generous where it was evident to me. It was profound, and then unrelenting. With equal hardship and joy that befell them, I felt deeply for people and our intricacies, aches, paranoia, and resilience.
They were not strangers. Rather, they appeared to me as multitudes of myself—and myself a constitution of them. I understood that during our time alive, everyone was trying our best.
Mom wrote me in her letters, “If someone hurts you, forgive them ten times. A hundred times. A thousand times, you forgive them.”
To give meaning to my childhood, at times, seeming irrecoverable, I spent the rest of it grieving—for thirteen years. Though grief may add importance, it cannot add meaning. Grief is only meaningful when it’s no longer needed. But continuing to grieve whatever had passed, I sabotaged who I could be. Sitting at the edge of my bed, gazing up somewhere past the ceiling, I forgave myself for everything.
In April, I joined a panel of writers in Los Angeles. After the panel ended, I stepped outside onto the balcony overlooking the main street.
There was a tap on my shoulder so light that I turned around to brush off the debris that must have escaped a leaf blower nearby.
Instead, there was a man with gray eyes and red glasses. He pointed at his name tag. He asked me if I recognized his name, and I did. He said he got my letter: “You who are yourself deserve love foremost without condition from yourself.” (Writing I know is divine. When I say a thing to strike someone’s heart, it strikes mine because it didn’t come from me but a wiser place.)
I embraced him. He said, “Now that I’ve met you, I know you mean it.” We only talked a minute before I was called away. When he walked the opposite direction, I watched him so I could memorize how it felt to be loved.
Love isn’t something to be found, but is something to become.
When I got back to Seattle, I learned that one of my writing students passed away. She had cancer. I don’t recall the church, but I stood in the lobby and stared at her photo on her memorial booklet. Blonde chin-length hair, a white off-the-shoulder dress, and a smile on her narrow face. It was five pages printed out without a word about her writing. But this was her book. I knew it because a group of people had moved in around me. All of us huddled together, held her book against our chests, and closed our eyes because we had never felt such grace.
For that man on the balcony and this woman in the booklet, I would’ve surrendered all comfort to lift them up onto my shoulders and take them across deep water. Even if it meant they, themselves, may or may not feel discomfort again. When my grandma passed, I missed her because she showed me how to hold someone’s hand steady when it wasn’t. I didn’t know that man or this woman, but I did because I’d once held them.
I don’t only want to become love, or to love continuously; I want whoever I love to know it is the truth.
The University surprised me with news. They offered me candidacy at their PhD program. I was supposed to go. This is what I said over again. But after two months, I turned it down. I believed the chance would someday come back around. Right now, I couldn’t afford the money or time. I followed a different education—how to become someone I would never withhold from those who needed me. I would write again.
I re-taught myself everything. I started here: Everything is love and nothing is not.
I will not suffer. I will not suffer because of suffering. I will not suffer because of non-suffering. Suffering is not a sign that says: yes or no. Suffering is not a punishment of who I am or who I was. In any manner of what I do now and hereafter, there are three words constantly beating against my heart: I am willing, I am willing, I am willing.