For as long as I can remember, I’ve had dreams about my dad dying.
The details were always fuzzy, but the pang of loss so sharp I remember it still. I’d fall to the ground sobbing, clinging to his feet, before waking up disoriented with wet, raw cheeks.
Growing up, dreams about losing my childhood best friend weren’t rare either. She’d disappear into a blinding light while I scrambled to pull her back, frantic despair spreading through each vein until it consumed me entirely.
Today, this fear lingers. More than one missed call from my mom, or a “call me when you can” text, quickens my breath. Anxiety slowly builds as I fumble to call her back, quick to evaluate her tone.
A few years ago, a friend drove 592 miles to see me and I recall with clarity the day she was on the road. I sat at my office cube fidgeting and distracted, checking my phone for a call or text of reassurance. I feared an accident, a blown tire, or a slipped glance at 80 mph.
I was studying in Hungary during my brother’s first deployment. With no precedent or warning, whether in a café or sitting on the tram, my eyes would well up. I’d quietly plead with God for Luke’s safety, all while trying to reason my emotions out of a panic.
My greatest fear is not my own death, but the loss of those I love. Though it is not a fear rooted in personal experience, for I have been spared the unexpected loss that many suffer. If I examine the source of this fear, then, I find it is rooted in love, the consuming love I have for the people in my life, and in stories: stories of others’ losses, accidents, assaults, miscarriages, cancers, and strokes.
While the permeating joy and latent fear of love have ebbed and flowed in the recesses of my consciousness for as long as I can remember, never have I felt them more acutely than over the past 12 months.
Last year, I serendipitously fell in love. I was beginning my final semester of college and emerging from the darkest season of my life. My focus was on self-care, a new internship I had recently started, and planning for life after graduation.
Meeting Martín was the last thing I anticipated and it put me in a delirious shock. It felt like the best news in the world delivered at once in human form. It was so unexpected, it took several months for our relationship to sink in and even feel real. I still marvel at the grace and miracle of it all, and I hope I always will.
As I reflect on the past year together, I realize just how profoundly our relationship has grown me. While our love is a source of great joy, it also daily reveals my selfishness and chronic flaws that are easily hidden from others.
It is no wonder that we are wired to love; it is the very force that refines us, molding us into the greatest versions of ourselves. It fills out the skeletons of our lives and puts flesh on the bones of our days—giving them purpose and meaning.
While my relationship with Martín has indeed refined me and brought my life immense beauty and joy, it has also heightened my fear of loss. When I say goodbye or hang up the phone, I fear it is the last time. I envision car accidents and worry over migraines that might indicate an illness. Though often latent, at times this fear abruptly surfaces and pierces my chest.
From the passenger's seat, I watch his eyes focus on the road. While the credits roll, I feel his heartbeat against my skin. Cooking dinner, sipping coffee, reading… these mundane moments catch me. I press his palm into mine and draw him closer; convinced that if I just hold him tight enough, his breath will never cease.
To choose love, to choose openness to the world, is the most courageous thing we can do. It is a brave, hopeful act to love despite our fear of this fleeting, fragile life.
As Mary Oliver writes:
To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Feeling everything deeply is my enduring blessing and gut-wrenching curse, yet it has never made love less worth pursuing. It is a simple truth of life that love is, and will always be, the source of our greatest joy and grief—and to embrace this dissonance, to love wholly despite our fears, is to live courageously. While it may not minimize our fear or the agony of loss, finding contentment in grey spaces of tension and uncertainty fosters a posture of openhandedness. It enables us to hold our loved ones lightly, nourishing gratitude and respect for the sacred fragility of life.