Sharing this personal story feels tender. Exposed. And yet, I heed writer Anne Lamott’s words: “Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked.” So, yes, writing this is risky. But it also might resonate with you or reach into your own heart in some way. Here is the story of my first love — and the lessons I learned along the way.
Still, he opened a new world to me. He introduced me to the wisdom and beauty of Hermann Hesse, Kahlil Gibran and Viktor Frankl, to Judy Collins and her Wildflowers album. Because he loved “Desiderata” I placed a poster of it on my bedroom wall; he read me poetry by Rumi and I devoured it. I wrote him love letters on pink stationery.
He was an artist and invited me into a spiritual and creative space that did not exist within my small circle of friends.
My heart was his and I felt the ecstasy of that first love. And then the bottomless pit of abandonment and betrayal. I blundered through it all. I was so young. And because I had no solid sense of who I was at that age — because I handed my power over to him — I blamed myself when he left me for someone else. What had I done wrong? What had I said? Wasn’t I pretty enough? Wasn’t I good enough?
I weep for that young girl. I want to hug her. I want to comfort her. She just didn’t understand. She didn’t know that this experience she called “love” was nothing more than filling the aching, empty hole within her with someone outside of herself. She didn’t realize that she needed to fill that emptiness with her own love and her own beauty and worth.
As I’ve grown in age and hopefully wisdom, this is the one truth I’ve learned that remains solid and unwavering: We need to love ourselves first and foremost. We are — and always will be — our own first love.
So what does that mean or look like? Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
I agree. Loving ourselves means accepting all aspects of who we are, yes, the joyful, bright, loving, creative sparks of the Divine within, but also those parts we’d rather hide in our messy humanity, those painful and dark feelings that dwell in our shadow side.
When we offer ourselves the space to simply “be” with whatever is happening within us, whatever it is we’re feeling, we sit down at the table of our heart, with all those parts of our being and “break bread” with the entirety of who we are. We hug those orphaned children of our soul — the sadness, the pain, the anxiety and loneliness — and offer them our hospitality. We learn to welcome the stranger within.
In allowing this, we become more whole. More present. We begin to love ourselves. And others. We know we’re not alone in our sadness or pain or whatever it is we’re feeling, because we are in solidarity with others throughout the world who share those same feelings. We are in this thing called “life” together.
And sure, there are times when I jump ship, when I’m not loving myself as I should. I go for that extra slice (who am I kidding — slices) of pizza, think those negative thoughts, tell myself I’ll exercise tomorrow. And actually, that’s OK. I know I’ll do better the next day. Or the next. Part of loving myself is learning to be gentle with myself. Not to beat myself up when I feel I haven’t lived up to my own expectations. It’s all part of that self-acceptance.
To some of you, all this “love yourself” stuff might sound glib. More spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Perhaps. But one thing I’ve learned as a “human” being is that we tend to be hard on ourselves. We don’t often cherish the priceless beings we are. And doing that is very much a process, not a goal. We are always in the midst of growing into the love we so very much deserve.
I don’t know what makes me think of my first love today. It was so long ago and he rarely comes to mind. Perhaps it’s the gentle rain outside. The wisp of a memory tucked inside the heart that escapes once in awhile to remind me of who I was then and who I am now.
As painful as the parting was those many decades ago, I wish I could thank him for the tender gifts he gave me. I pray he is well. Even today, when I hear Judy Collins sing “Michael from Mountains” I think of him and a poignant feeling drifts through my soul. And I bless him. I bless him for being part of my life’s journey. I bless myself for all I have become.