I tell Max “I love you” every night.
I do it because it is true. But also because I believe there is a mysterious, miraculous power contained in and conveyed by those words – I love you. I truly believe the very act of sincerely saying that changes our world, our lives, our reality. Something is tangibly different about life after those words are spoken in any setting.
Nevertheless, those words don’t really mean anything to Max. He simply doesn’t understand that abstract phrase. Sure, I think Max understands to some extent the intonation I use in the phrase and can thus read a good deal about what is going on when I tell him that. But at the end of the day, the words themselves mean nothing to him.
And the fact that he doesn’t understand makes me frustrated, because I want him to know that I do love him.
So, I have had to find other ways to convey that message. And Max has taught me that while speaking love is important, doing love is really what any relationship, especially a close friendship, is all about.
Max has taught me that love is not merely something we say or hear or know, but rather something we experience. And experiencing involves doing, sharing, and all the little (and big) things that add up to constitute this thing we call living.
Max has taught me that love is when I take the time to play with him midday, when I take him out for a walk and let him sniff around for a really long time or run around with him, when I guide him away from busy streets and other harmful areas, when I kneel down on the floor to give him a really good belly rub after he has collapsed in anticipation of it, when I dry him off after getting really wet, when I just sit with him after a long lonely day of being apart.
What strikes me most about all these expressions of love is that (along with being actions) they involve me meeting Max where he is – coming down to his level – and sharing life with him.
They may not always result in comfort or warm, fuzzy emotional resolution, but they create a space in which we experience a unity that encompasses the joys and pains of life.
Love is thus not a cognitive belief; rather, it is a felt reality. It is not something said or done at a single point in time, rather it is something continually explored and experienced as we live into it more and more.
So thank you Max, for loving me and teaching me that love is the dynamic, life-altering, often difficult reality through which we experience one another.