When Do We Play Love-Tennis?
Once a year?
I was shocked and amused when I heard that it is common in Western funerals to hear attendees saying ‘I wish I had known [the deceased] better’. But I was not surprised.
I took my birthday off Facebook this year. This meant that none of my friends got a notification reminding them to congratulate me on the anniversary of my birth. I didn’t get a single out-of-family or close friend birthday message. And I liked it that way. The older I get, the less fond I am of birthday the concept of birthdays in general, but birthday messages in particular seem rather insincere to me. Call me cynical, but aren’t they are the epitome of people only remembering you when they are socially obliged to?
I was explaining to a friend why we appreciate unexpected compliments so much, and why we tend to remember them so fondly. The giver of the compliment is not obliged or expected for any reason to pay this compliment, and they have no real duty to even be observant of the matter that they are complimenting you on. But they do, simply because they want to and they want to let you know. This is how you know it is from the heart. There is no social currency being exchanged, it is pure.
When times are tough, people may remind you how great you are and how you will rise above it. When celebrating what has gone well, people may emphasise how great you are for having achieved whatever has happened. But in the every day, the days of neither heroism nor grand failure, do we receive words of affirmation as we simply try and struggle, one day at a time? This is the beauty that precedes triumph or failure anyway, the make or break moments, but again, we have been trained to reserve our appreciation and turn off our perception to everyday beauty until there is something to celebrate or console.
When people say ‘I love you’ on Valentine’s day, or when proposing, or when they share a first moment together, it is a beautiful thing. But more beautiful is to hear ‘I love you’ when the person is not their finest self, or through difficult times together, or in unusual and less-than-romantic moments. On special days, novelty prompts thoughts of romance, and may even make lovers feel obliged to express affection through extraordinary gestures. But when times are tough, and when it would be valid to put the bizarreness of a moment first, recognising love in the midst of struggle or unflattering moments shows real love and affection; consciousness and gratitude for the moments passing together between people.
I suppose consciousness is what matters here. Attentiveness, thoughtfulness, sincerity. Every day, not just in once a year or in the ‘classic’ moments.
A funny note: people may defend sending sweet messages on someone’s birthday because it’s their special day, there wouldn’t really be a reason for remembrance or affection otherwise. But what does a person do on their birthday? Equally nothing: simply, and by no power of their own, surviving the last rotation of the sun. But social norms have convinced us that once a year is sufficient, valid, and special to show gratitude for the fact of someone’s existence.
Are we too lazy (to think about people without being socially obliged to)?
Are we hiding (from the reality of our emotions, from our hearts full of love waiting to be shared)?
Are we scared of the perception of our emotions (that it is clingy, needy, overbearing, sappy and vulnerable to express love at these times)?
What are these hindrances? To me, they are manifestations of modern manufactured individualism: self-consciousness and self-centeredness, distance from our naturally loving hearts, and arbitrary concepts that tell us when to buy flowers and gifts in order to perform our love in relationships.
I am reminded of a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:
The beautiful contrary. We see that no terms and conditions apply. We see that the timeless wisdom from God’s Messenger recognises the sincere bond that casual and meaningful expressions of affection will build between both the giver and the receiver. We see an opportunity for the fulfilment of our natural and least pretentious soul when we can share love freely as we are meant to. Any day, any time.
Life is short. Tell the people.