“…you shouldn’t blow the chance
When you’ve got the chance to say
I love you…”
Olivia Newton John
There are 2 people to whom I say I Love You daily. There are 2 others to whom I say it almost daily. There are 3 cats and a dog who hear it from me several times a day. There are 7.68 billion people to whom I never say it at all.
I don’t recall the last time I said it in a romantic sense. It’s almost certainly been a decade. It’s been at least that long since I’ve heard anyone say it to me in that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if I never say it or hear it that way again. Nor would I be unhappy about that. It’s gone badly for me in almost all cases. I can be done with that now.
Why do I say it and hear it so rarely?
Let’s begin with what I believe I Love You means. For me, to love someone means that their happiness is at least as important to you as your own. It means you will, whenever possible, act in ways designed to increase that person’s happiness.
Now, it’s absurd to think I could feel that way about 7.68 billion people. I will never see, let alone meet, well over 99% of them. How can their happiness really be at least as important to me as mine? In any meaningful way, it can’t.
But what can I feel about the rest of the humans who share this planet with me? I would prefer none of them suffered. I would prefer that they all practice and receive Kindness. To a greater or lesser extent, I can empathize with them. Whether it’s an impoverished mother from a tiny tribe in Africa, or the richest woman in a high rise in Manhattan, no mother wants her baby taken away without her consent. I can imagine how that must feel. It’s basic to being human. Their experiences are different from mine, but there are certain aspects of life that we all share. Our hearts all, I suspect, feel joy and pain about many of the same experiences. We are more alike than we are different.
But do I love them?
I don’t think I do in the deepest sense of that word. But I recognize that their happiness is, if not necessarily to me, as important as mine, as yours, as anyone’s, at least to them. I hope others love them too. There’s no reason you, or the person next to you, or someone who has never seen a cell phone deserves less from life than I do. So, while I might not love them, individually, I love their existence.
I find I enjoy being able to say I Love You. It makes me feel good. Perhaps that’s because I can empathize with the person to whom I’m saying it. I like to believe hearing or reading it makes that person happy. It may make me feel good because I can feel the reflection of their happiness. Or, maybe it’s just that I enjoy it in the same way I enjoy pastrami. I don’t get enough of that, either, anymore.
I loved my Father deeply. But, I think I can count on one hand the times, after my childhood, that we said it to each other. We didn’t need to say it; it was always clear to us both. He is gone now; our love continues unabated.
It isn’t necessarily clear, however, to the rest of the planet that I love their existence. Either you or I may be gone tomorrow, too. That makes today the ideal time.
I probably don’t know you. I’ll almost certainly never meet you. And if I do know you, we’re probably not in the habit of saying it to one another. (There are, as you know, only about 4 people out of the 7.68 billion running around, with whom I regularly exchange that phrase.) So, let me say what I can.
I love your existence. It’s at least as important to me as my own. I do my best to act in ways designed to increase your happiness. And, if you are nothing more than your existence, as some would posit, then I suppose it would be fair for me to say, in a very general way:
I Love You.