Learning to Truly Love
Posted by Larada Lee
September 15, 2020
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Love is as love does. Love is an act of will–namely, both an intention and an action.” – bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions.
This summer I found myself having seemingly challenging internal and external conversations about love, what it actually is, and what it looks like when enacted. I deem these conversations challenging because that is exactly what they were in all of their essences due to the vulnerability, raw compassion, and overall perception shift they activated. At the height of my summer, I began reading a series of works by some of my own personal and most beloved Black revolutionaries and writers in an effort to become more well versed in my understanding of what Black liberation is and how it can be achieved. During this time I began reading All About Love: New Visions by none other than living legend and Black feminist icon, bell hooks.
I found myself actively engaged in community organizing specifically around the movement for Black lives. As someone who has participated in power building and organizing before at varying capacities and with many different organizations for almost 5 years, I can say with full certainty that I had never experienced anything like what I have witnessed during these current times of civil unrest. I was introduced and reintroduced to so many concepts and ideas.
Out in the streets during protests against white supremacist and state-sanctioned violence, I felt a newfound level of protection and guidance. What a great deal of folx are unaware of about demonstrations is just how much organization and coordination goes into them for them to be “successful.” Many of the times I had taken the streets, I served as a leader, leading chants and uplifting the voices of those who had come out to make a point to the state that we are here, and we are angry, and we are at the point of acting on that anger.
The media was ultra-successful at painting this picture of protestors as disorganized, misguided, and violent. Anyone who knows better is aware that the media portrayal of us couldn’t be more contrary to what is actually taking place in real-time. I saw many angry and awakened folx shifting their pain into great purpose: community care. From community bail funds to mutual aid funds for things like housing, bills, toiletries, etc. To medics volunteering their time, stationing tents equipped with medical supplies to assist anyone who may have been harmed during the demonstration, to people uplifting Black children and pouring love and light into them, to conducting healing circles for Black people during this time of struggle and uncertainty. These are just a few of the countless instances that I witnessed with my own eyes. I realized at the heart of all of this was one thing: love. I cannot say that I may have been able to identify it as such had I not read All About Love.
Before reading the book I was not all that privy to what love LOOKED like. Just like many of us, I was only able to identify love as a feeling or emotion. Mysterious, unexplainable, and yet the driving force and the center of all things. In the first chapter of All About Love, titled Clarity: Give Love Words, hooks states, “when we intervene on mystifying assumptions that love cannot be defined by offering workable, useful definitions, we are already creating a context where love can begin to flourish.” She continues saying, “to begin thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.” Throughout the remainder of the book, hooks reiterates what needs to take place for love to be present in our lives.
Commitment, accountability, honesty, clarity, values, redemption, mutuality, and community.
As someone who hasn’t spent much of their life enacting or receiving love as it is defined by all of those things, I learned that there may have been a possibility that I attained a distorted and incomplete perception of love. My childhood is riddled with stories of trauma, abuse, and neglect. My story is definitely one of survival. It goes without saying that my life has lacked love in a multitude of ways. I realized that all of the things that were reiterated in the book in regards to love were all things that I desired at varying points through familial, platonic, and romantic relationships and hadn’t received. That’s because, just as hooks stated, I wasn’t giving love words, leaving me unable to identify it concretely.
I began doing more things in the name of love. Communicating when it was difficult, taking my loved ones through the process of accountability in the aftermath of being harmed by them, undergoing that same process when I was the perpetrator of harm, giving clarity in complex situations, and being more responsible. I saw all of my relationships flourish within an instant and many had noticed a change in me. Overall, it made me a much better sister, friend, partner, leader, listener, and a more well-informed organizer. As I was gathering ideas to write for this post I began to wonder what love meant to my loved ones so I set aside the time to ask them and encouraged them to give their most authentic responses. Many of the responses carried the same sentiments.
“Love means everything to me. I’d like to think that I could navigate my way through life, find my purpose, find my calling, find myself…without the need for any love or reassurance but the truth is I know that love is needed to truly flourish in any of that. It is through self-love that you learn how to express yourself to others and it is through loving one another that you learn how to truly find your purpose in life. You learn lessons on how to forgive and be more tolerant of others, how to be compassionate… Everything you could truly want out of life, I feel is rooted in some form of love. As there are so many lessons to learn in life, and so many forms of love. I think sometimes people feel the weight of love so crushingly because they are desperately trying to fit it all into one form when there are so many different forms of love to be expressed, and even many more to be discovered. Love is more to me than just deciding who I want to wake up to in the morning. Love is the center of all life, and my life is rooted in love.”~ Ladonna Watkins, age: 20.
“Love is something that everyone tries to define. Love is something that is shown over time. Love is a feeling that not everyone knows. But love is a feeling that constantly grows. It’s something that you cherish, hold onto, and can never really expect but just like most gifts, it’s simply the best.”~ Leann Lofton, age: 21.
“I think love is more of a commitment than a feeling. If you love someone then you are committed to them. Not just with your body or by mere words either. You display this love through your actions and the energy you exude onto those around you. I believe if you love someone then you open up an environment that allows your foundation to root, and to grow. I believe if love is done like this, when people are deciding to “love” one another they do it genuinely.” ~ Pearson McDaniel, age: 22.
“Love is an intense thing that humans experience. Love can come in many different forms, as well as be defined differently for everyone. Love can happen in romantic and platonic relationships and can be the foundation of one’s individual growth and change. It can be described in one word or a thousand sentences. This is what love is to me.” Adiah Shaw, age: 20.
After reading their responses I took some time to reflect on them and truly meditate on their words. I was reassured in all of my newfound beliefs about love and their words were echoed throughout the entirety of the book. I thought back to all of the acts of love I saw and still see enacted in this movement every single day.
I’d like to underscore just how revolutionary love is at its core. We’ve been able to create and sustain an entire movement through loving one another. Just like movements and anything else in life, love is something that has to be constantly worked on in order to remain functional.
When theorizing on what needs to take place in order for full Black liberation to happen, I see love at the forefront of every action. Love is not self-sustaining but has the power to transform and heal. If anyone were to ask me what we need right now during this time in the midst of a global pandemic and uprisings against white supremacy and capitalist state-sanctioned violence I would say, love. Not the kind of “love” that encourages you to make peace with the oppressor while actively being oppressed but the kind of love that uplifts all of those who are being oppressed as well, building community with one another, and actively resisting said violence together.
All in all, love is worth all of the maintenance it requires and I’m willing to commit the rest of my life to enacting and knowing love.
“We are not born knowing how to love anyone, either ourselves or somebody else. However, we are born able to respond to care. As we grow we can give and receive attention, affection, and joy. Whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment.”- bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions.