I have a history of writing about love here. From building community to building loving accountability to learning how to care. Not just any kind of love, big love, explosive love, revolutionary love. I’ve been into explosive love for as long as I can remember. But I really knew that exploding with love was my Whole Personality™ when I read this line in one of my favorite books:
“As expected: she, the daughter of the Fall, recipient of its heaviest radiation, loved atomically.”
-Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
That line ripped me open. I remember where I was when I read it: under a hundred year old dogwood tree, on North Campus at the University of Georgia, and I was crying my eyes out. So hard in fact, that someone came up to me and wordlessly handed me a dogwood bloom before they walked away.
It was a line about a woman, the titular character’s mother, who’d been through so much pain and rejection that all she had left was love. She was the daughter of an atomic blast, of a fallout so big that the radiation of it lived in her forever, and yet. And yet, she loved atomically. I thought I was her, I still am her.
Lately, however, I have begun to realize that maybe I read it wrong. This quote that I’ve modeled my whole life after might not be about being the daughter of everything bad, but still glowing with love, dripping with it, pouring it out of my ears and nose and eyes FOR EVERYONE dammit, no matter what [see: season 2, episode 3 Euphoria GIF of Cassie screaming AND I’VE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER] is not me being the mortal realm’s very own Aphrodite despite all of the bullshit. Maybe it’s that, when you’ve been hit so hard by the nuclear fall that is all of this, your atomic love is its own version of radiation poisoning sometimes.
I don’t mean love itself isn’t the single greatest most powerful wonderful thing to ever exist (it is), I’m saying that maybe this whole time I’ve been exploding with it, I could have just been…been what? Maybe I could have just been. No qualifier needed. If you commit every single waking moment to Atomic Love, building the huge revolutionary, vulnerable communities, having the hard, hard, hard conversations, and caring about every single drop of pain on this god-forsaken planet, you won’t last. I’ve built my whole life since that moment under the Dogwood Tree around Atomic Love, but lately I’ve been thinking about Not Atomic Love. Or, as many people know it, Love.
I know I’ve written about the very important need to care deeply, to have hard conversations, to constantly build a consenting community where we keep us safe, and to commit to lifelong unlearning. But those things alone are not all we are as humans. What else is love? A quiet moment before bed recounting your favorite parts of the day. Celebrating each win no matter how small (for me right now that’s sharing my Wordle scores with everyone and drowning in the praise). A carefully made salad. Dueting with your dentist to Lauren Hill (her singing beautifully and you singing better than normal with a bunch of random tools in your mouth). Laughing with the Citi representative about your credit card fraud when the scammers changed your “What’s your favorite hobby?” security word from “Writing” to “Bowling.” In fact, this list could go on forever because it’s everything. It’s everything, and what I’ve been trying to do lately is slow down, take a breath, and choose love in every small moment, rather than burning through my life in search of the explosion. The ones who love you won’t ask you to explode. In fact, they’re probably begging for you not to. The world you love, and we love as a community, and working hard, each day, Dear Reader, to save, doesn’t need us to explode either. It needs us to be here, be present, and keep choosing to love and be loved, together.
In Before Sunrise, my mother, Julie Delpy, asks my dad, Ethan Hawke, “But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more”? Yes. It is. It’s also a choice to love a little more. Not a lot more, not an infinite, world-saving amount more, just a little more. A constant, little, stream of love, forever.
It’s love. It doesn’t have to be atomic. It just has to be.