by K. T. Darling

Image credit: K. T. Darling

When I was a wee girl, love was safety and warmth; the strong arms of mum rescuing me from danger, the soft material of dad’s jumper as I snuggled closer. Love was a comfort and a shield – a warm fuzzy feeling that my family wrapped around me like a quilt of armour against the crazy world.

As I grew older love was a bubble; protecting and healing, teasing the knots out of my soul, soothing injuries and injustices and laying me to sleep gently at night. Yet love was also a strong platform from which to leap into the world. It propelled me, enlivened me. It had faith in me and anything I might do, consistently giving courage and encouragement.

In my late teens I ‘fell in love’ for the first time and fell hard. A relationship that, like a wild animal, consumes you whole and takes you for a wild ride through the forest before depositing you, broken and covered in mud, on the cold ground. I felt this love strongly and at the time believed in it completely. But this was an immature love of compromise and sacrifice. Of trying my best to be what the other person saw me to be, instead of who I really was. Of agreeing with ideas and opinions which went against my instincts. The cold ground of the forest floor was a welcome relief.

When I was 23 my dad died. I hate the terms ‘passed away’ or ‘passed on’; they don’t sit right with me. One day he was alive and the next day he was dead, very suddenly without any warning, and my life changed forever.

My knowledge and experience of love was both compounded and shattered, was compressed to a tiny seed of everything and expanded to a giant universe of nothing all at once.

Such pain I felt, such physical, wrenching pain, I thought I would not survive it, could not survive it and did not wish to survive it. To have lost my soulmate, my best friend, my papa, was more than I could bear. Suffering this great loss opened a huge chasm inside me, enlarging my capacity to despair and feel sadness but equally my capacity to love. It spurred me to appreciate each atom of those close to me, to never take for granted the time we have, and to love unconditionally, always.

Love is so much more than these mortal shells we inhabit. It transcends time and space. It is the very essence of life. We are not infinite beings: those we love we will always lose. But to love deeply and completely is in itself a liberation from this mortal life, for love is greater than the sum of its parts.

Some years later I met my girl. Neither of us were ‘looking for love’, but love was most certainly looking for us. We started dancing next to each other in a club; her beautiful open smile and twinkling eyes had me hooked from that moment on. Instead of ‘falling’ in love it was more of a ‘rising’ in love. I had never felt like this before, it was as though the loss and pain in my life allowed me to love her more deeply, more completely and more openly than I had ever thought possible. It was an act of bravery to love like this; there was both strength and vulnerability in letting go and rising upward together.

We’ve kept on rising ever since and the love we share continues to astound me. A real love; nothing pretend or fake, nothing resented or coveted, nothing restrictive or forced. Our love encourages us to change and grow and it asks of us only that we keep talking, keep communicating, keep open. This is not to say that it is easy; true love is not easy by its very nature, and we have been through difficult times, my girl and I. But through even the darkest hour our love has been a light that uncertainty, fear and hardship has made burn stronger and brighter. I am always learning more about what it means to love and be loved. Love is empathy and compassion, it can be lonely and it can be a crowded room. Love is patience.

When I was younger love was always something someone else bestowed upon me, or else it was projecting out of me and onto others, like a giant flashlight. These seemed to be the only two ways love flowed and it wasn’t til I was approaching my thirties that I realised one of the most valuable and intrinsically important loves is the love you give to yourself.

I have begun to understand, through counselling and self-reflection, that I’ve never really loved myself. I always disliked my physical appearance and lived constantly with the feeling of never being enough. Not thin enough, not clever enough, not popular enough, not busy enough, not pretty enough, not artistic enough, not funny enough… Not enough. I spoke to myself internally in a way I would never talk to any other being; berating myself, insulting myself, keeping myself down. Treating myself with none of the empathy and compassion I try always to give to others.

Loving myself was never an option, but now as I grow and mature I realise that not loving myself can no longer be an option. It’s not easy and it takes time but I’m slowly learning how to do it, to turn that flashlight inwards, and it feels like an incredibly important journey. As the wonderful RuPaul so succinctly puts it, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Recently I was witness to a father talking nastily to their child, calling them ‘stupid’ and an ‘idiot’. This made me so deeply sad; the same sadness I feel when I see people taking their parents for granted or siblings treating each other with casual contempt or cruelty. The very same sadness I get when I hear couples who have vowed their undying love and yet speak to each other with venom and resentment in their voices.

Life passes so quickly. Before we know it the people we love, those that make us happy and bring us laugher and joy, that support us, protect us and make life worth living, could be gone in the blink of an eye and I urge you to always tell those you love how you feel.

Love is in the choices we make everyday, from the tiny to the huge, in how we treat ourselves to how we treat others, in how we address strangers and in everything we do for our families.

On my Grandmother’s deathbed she told me “kindness is so important”. Looking back on her life she only hoped that she had been as kind to others as she could, and everything else faded away. What we wear, what we possess, what we look like, how other people judge us… None of these things really matter. Showing love, compassion and kindness to ourselves and the other beings we inhabit this earth with is what counts, that is what feeds and comforts your soul, and that is how you will be remembered.

I look forward to learning more about love and what it means to love as I grow older, to hopefully have children of my own to wrap in a loving quilt of armour. To keep growing, evolving and finding new ways to love.

For my dad’s eulogy I wrote these words and eight years later they still resonate, summing up my thoughts here aptly;

“Life is sweet and life is sorrow,
but life is short.
So be true to yourself,
and love those close to you with everything you are.”

Author Image: K. T. Darling

K. T. Darling

K.T. Darling is an artist and writer from Scotland with a degree in Jewellery Design. Her creative works include jewellery, sculptures, drawings, paintings, photography, poetry and prose. Darling is heavily inspired by a love of nature and colour, a curiosity for detail and tiny things, and a need to find visual and poetic forms to express concepts and emotions which are deeply important to her.

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