We had hiked to the top of a hill across the street from his house. I was standing, arms wrapped around a tree, looking with tears in my eyes, at this strangely beautiful man before me. The wind was blowing south east, the direction I was facing–a swirl of my curls danced before me. It’d been the most magical week, but I had to go. We were saying our goodbyes.
“I don’t want to sound like your parent,” he said, “but be careful out there. I know you need to go. I know you have a life to return to, routines to get back to, fun times with lots of people to be had. And it’s good, Rachael. I’ll miss you, I’ll really really miss you, but it’s good.”
“I want you to promise me something, though. Promise me you’ll be careful.” Through tears and silent nodding, I reached one hand out for a firm hold on his, the other touching tightly the rough bark of that small pine tree. “Your heart is huge and you love so deeply. You have things people could easily want to take from you, manipulate, use for the wrong reasons. But I don’t want that for you. You deserve true love.”
He stopped, stared into my eyes like his gaze came from the roots beneath our feet. I swallowed, gazed back. I didn’t have to ask, How should I be careful? I didn’t even have time to protest in my mind, What kind of advice is ‘be careful?!’ When you know in the soul of your being that someone really loves you, ten thousand usual annoyances get so easily let go.
“So here’s how, Rachael.” His voice lowered with importance and his eyes locked in on mine. “Look them straight in the eyes. Really look, Rachael. If you look, you will see. You will see what they’re really there for in their eyes. You will know everything you need to know just by looking. Do you understand?”
Out there on the land there are long pauses between thoughts. Images of past lovers and the ways they’d looked at me danced through my mind. The sun was setting the sky lavender and all the grass was golden. At the bottom of the hill, cows trotted along the cattle trail like a line of ants finding their way back home. This man stood strong and sweet, his red face the backdrop to two soil-brown eyes that saw me with no resistance nor reasoning–just an open, pure yes. And I knew he was right, that it was true, that a simple look is enough to know what’s before you. I knew because I’d seen so many eyes averted, so many stares cut short or shaded with fear. I knew because no one had ever looked at me the way he did. And no love had ever felt more true.
On our way back down the hill towards the house–which is really not a house at all, but a tee-pee, but a straw bail hut, but a loft, but a dream–I stopped and squeezed his hand, turned to him, looked him square in the eye. “Thank you for telling me to really look at people. I think that may be the best advice about love I’ve ever gotten.”
He smiled, laughed like a baratone saxophone. “Yeah? Good. It works both ways, too. When you love someone, even just your friends, give them your eyes. Grab Jen by the face when you get home. Look her square in the eyes and holler out, ‘Jeeennn! I loooove youuuu!’. “
We laughed like jazz all the way home.
So often we fret and fray over what something is or is not. Whether dating, in a relationship, or focusing on your solitude, we can’t help but wonder, Is this love? Is this love?
When it’s been long enough since we’ve really felt it, we ask like a child who’s forgotten what her home looks like. Is this my house? Is this where I belong? Is this door open for me? Do I feel safe enough to walk through it? To stay? We ask like children, because underneath all of our confidence and zest and candor and adulthood–beyond the sex and stories and sentimental moments–we are still just itty bitty babies seeking refuge and tenderness, the kind of safety that makes way for our deepest selves to emerge fully.
But reasoning our way into an answer doesn’t always resonate for our bodies or the rest of our beings. That’s why we keep traveling back to the question. That’s also why they say, when it’s love, you just know.
If you want a litmus test, if you’re seeking clarity, then peek in with purpose. Look it straight in the eye. Feel how honestly you want to hold your gaze. Feel how wholly they hold theirs back. Feel how long you could stand to stay with them in that spot. It is what it is. If you look clearly, you will see.
If you really want to know, the how is simple. The answer’s in the eyes. Yours and theirs. Just look. You might not get the combination or reality that you want. But it’s all there in plain sight.
Wishing us all the courage to look openly, to see clearly, to enter fully into what’s real and true and divine. More on that divine business next time. For now, thank you for being here.
What’s your take on how to know if it’s love?