The commonest phrase and gesture the victims of 9/11 heard, felt or expressed in their final hour would have been, without much doubt, “I love you.” It is a revered and solemn gift. Yet, many never think to say it or avoid saying it.
Perhaps we mean to say it more, but don’t; for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we don’t say it because we lack courage or we don’t know how to say it in ways we mean it.
It takes a great deal of vulnerability for some to say, “I love you.” For others, it’s just a matter of making the time and effort. For others, again, it’s simply remembering to do it.
Converting Words to Meaning
Many people struggle to say the words because of the meaning attached, or to say the words with meaning. They struggle for intimacy, because there are trust issues between the two or they don’t have the self-esteem of courage to look someone in the eye and honestly give of themselves that way. But boldness and vulnerability are to be their allies.
Converting words to meaning, or finding different words or ways to say the same thing, requires imagination motivated by love.
Somehow, it must be remembered, words can cheapen meaning. We can flippantly say, “I love you,” and it becomes habitual and meaning is stripped away. Such a powerful phrase folds in importance. But that can only occur if we say it mindlessly.
It can, therefore, be seen as a form of blasphemy—to say, “I love you,” not meaning it. Still, we might have all made this mistake if we’ve ever committed to regularly saying it in the first place.
The meaning of the phrase is where its power resides.
And words are not the only way to say, “I love you.”
Saying It As If Today Were the Last
As I reflected recently on the motion picture, Ghost (1990), I was compelled, afresh, to reconcile the frailty of life—that loved ones die always too early.
Sam Wheat, played by Patrick Swayze (himself now gone), is admirably and fatuously in love with Molly Jensen, played by Demi Moore. He famously responds, “Ditto!” to her vocal affirmations of love toward him, much to her annoyance. The “I love you/ditto” issue becomes central to the film.
We have to do better than “ditto,” although, again, we need to be free to express love beyond words. Some people’s dittos will really communicate a richness of love.
Saying “I love you” with utter sincerity is foremost acknowledging that any of our precious relationships could end at any time. That puts life into proper perspective. Remembering to say “I love you” is making the most of the given moment, before they stop being given.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Herzen.