I finished reading a book called Love Is a Mix Tape. My friend Jeff recommended it to me. The book's written by Rob Sheffield, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and it's the story of how he dealt with the sudden death of his wife, told through the songs of his favorite mix tapes.
It's beautiful, it's funny, it's smart, it's touching.
And it's terrifying.
As Sheffield describes his struggle to find himself and his bearings after the love of his life died, as he detailed the unbearable pain of that loss, I started to feel like my heart was pumping dread through my bloodstream and sending it through my whole body.
I texted Jeff and said, "Love Is a Mix Tape makes me never want to love again, ever."
I added, "Thanks for ruining love for me."
I was only half-kidding.
I'm familiar enough with loss, and Love Is a Mix Tape served as a reminder of how painful it is to lose someone or something you love dearly--219-pages of vivid, raw words expressing what's at stake when people decide to love.
Part of me is tempted to avoid loving anyone or anything again. I think it might be a good idea to give my dog Perry away before he dies, so I don't have to endure that trauma. I've imagined what it would be like to move to some remote spot in Utah and spend the rest of my days among the orange and red rocks there. With the exception of maybe a Netflix account and a bar where I could watch football, I'd isolate myself from civilization--that way, I wouldn't really be torn up if something happens to any of the people I love.
It'd be so much easier, so much simpler. Because if I'm close, if I care, if I love, I've entered a high-stakes, high-risk investment scenario: the payoff could be through the roof, but the cost if I lose could sink me. Love is a scary, scary game.
I know so many people who wouldn't dare go skydiving or bungee jumping or get on a motorcycle because that would be too dangerous, too terrifying, too risky--but they'll love. That's crazy to me. Love is the ultimate risk. You have to be incredibly brave and at least slightly insane to love. I'm learning that in all areas of my life--with people and with work.
There's a deep price to pay to love someone or to love what you do. I've received the invoice myself several times.
I've stood in front of someone I loved and said, "Do you want to be with me or not?" and had to feel the sting of rejection.
I've let people into my life, allowed them to become a part of my life, to share my life, and then had to watch them uproot and leave.
I've had people taken from me suddenly--no chance for a goodbye, no chance to tell them everything they deserved to hear.
I've had to watch people go slowly--watch powerlessly as they struggled and suffered before finally slipping away.
I've seen my friends pay the price.
I've seen them sacrifice time, comfort, sleep, independence so they could be good parents or good spouses.
I've seen them cope quietly behind the scenes and under the radar with a miscarriage while other friends celebrate and share their kids with all of us on social media.
I've seen them feel helpless or powerless as they watch their child battle an illness, a diagnosis, or an addiction.
I've seen them pay alimony to an ex who doesn't deserve it, or I've seen them have to fight for support from an ex who should be giving it.
Sometimes, the cost to love someone comes up front--moving to be with them, giving up some freedom, stepping outside of a comfort zone. Sometimes the cost comes later--an affair, a diagnosis, an accident. The cost is real, and the cost is steep, and it's unavoidable if we decide to love someone.
There's a cost for doing what we love, too.
Sometimes, doing what we love means we make less money than we could doing something else.
Doing what we love means putting more of ourselves into our work, which means it's harder not to take it personally when we fail and when we face resistance or rejection.
For me, doing what I love means waking up before the sun rises even though I'm not a morning person. It means leaving work and going to Starbucks or some other spot to keep working. It means constantly thinking about the next lesson I'll teach, the next piece I'll write, the next message I'll preach, the next podcast episode I'll record. It means I don't clock out, ever.
To do what I love, I have to keep putting myself out there for people to see, and anyone who's had to practice vulnerability knows it's a scary and sometimes exhausting endeavor. I should be a pro at this by now; it should come easily, but I still go into a media blackout for an hour after I post something vulnerable online while I argue with myself whether it was a good idea or not.
Because I work at a school in a large district, because I work at a large church in the city, I have eyes on me everywhere I go--when I'm in a shoe store at the mall, when I'm out to eat with friends, when I'm picking up beer, on my good days, on my bad days. I have to watch everything I say on Twitter and assume it can and will be used against me.
And I know that because I've had people use my own words against me. I had someone quote back to me some of my own writing to explain to me why I was living a life of sin. I've had emails and conversations with people who nitpick the tiniest minutia of talks I've given or pieces I've written and want to rake me over the coals. I've had people peel a sliver, a sentence, from the skin of my life and tell me they know everything about my insides.
The cost of loving someone can be high. The price for doing what I love can be steep. And sometimes, I think to myself, I don't know if I can afford this anymore. I don't know if I want to anymore.
But what's the alternative?
The alternative to the risk of love is safety--easy, low-cost, predictable, boring, sterile, empty safety. This is the kind of safety that suits us up in insulated armor and convinces us we're going to be okay, but it fails to tell us that our armor's been forged in fear.
And all the while we're being shielded from those risks of love, fear poisons us inside. It cripples, chokes, kills the best parts of us. Fear keeps us from the best life has to offer us, and keeps the world from the best we have to offer it. To choose to avoid the cost of love is to choose the cost of fear. To choose the cost of fear is to invest in a product, a path, a life I don't want.
I'll have to sacrifice for the work I want to do. I might have my heart broken again. I will probably lose someone else to cancer. I will definitely lose more people I love--to distance or to death or to who knows what. I'll have to pay the price to love again and again and again, and there will be days I feel like I'm about to be bankrupt and I don't have a single penny left to give.
Even still, I'll pay the price for love. When I understand that both love and fear come at a cost, the choice becomes easy. I choose love.