Every time I call my 98 year-old grandfather, I have a little contest to see how long I can keep him on the phone. Historically laconic in phone conversations, he comes from an era when long-distance calls were expensive and only saved for the most urgent or necessary of situations.
I’d say my record is 3 minutes, give or take, with the average phone call lasting around 1:25. There’s rarely a “goodbye”, just an “ok”, or maybe not, and then the sound of the TV fade, fade, fading in the background as the receiver lands in the cradle with a loud click.
These days, whenever we’ve caught up and are signing off, the urgency with which Pap tells me he loves me is overwhelming. He’s not a particularly emotional man, nor is he poetic or flowery. But once I say “we’ll see you soon…I love you” he responds with such sincerity, such emphasis, it’s like the words aren’t quite enough to get at the feeling he’s trying to express, like those three words aren’t nearly sufficient.
I get it.
I suppose it’s the reason we try to find so many different ways to express our love, to tell each other we love one another. ee cummings did it without punctuation, Shakespeare did it with iambic pentameter, Elizabeth Barrett Browning counted the ways. The Beatles assured us all we need is love, Stevie Wonder just called to say I love you, and Aretha crooned that her love made her feel like a natural woman. We paint about it, watch movies about it, write in journals and cards and letters about it, obsess with our friends about it, spend hours poring over words said or unsaid, long for the day when we find true love, wonder if we ever will. Over and over and over again.
When Jay and I were in middle school we were best friends; then in 10th grade, we weren’t. That’s a topsy turvy loosey goosey doozy of a story that I’ll spare you now. My point is, however, that after our friendship ended after three years, I always regretted not telling him I loved him. Because I did love him-something fierce.
I finally got around to telling him, obviously. And I tell him every day that I love him, probably because I do love him so dang much but also because I’m making up for lost time for all those years I lamented not doing so. And I tell my mom and dad. And my kids. And my nieces and nephews. And my brother and sister-in-law. And my friends from high school and college that I don’t see nearly enough.
Have I told you? If I haven’t, and if you’re reading this, it’s likely that I love you. I’m not saying I want to marry you or anything, more that I appreciate you for who you are, what you do, how you love.
And though my grandfather not only told me but showed me in so many ways that he loved me-he came to my games, he warmed my shoes up by the fire in the morning, sang silly songs to me, took me fishing- he knows the importance of telling me he loves me now, and wants to be sure that I know it, that I feel it.