Love first. Love last. Love period.
Together, the twenty-nine prior learnings, lessons, and leadings comprise a story of love. Love for others. Love for life. Love for God. Love for goodness. Love for myself. And love for love’s sake. In my first thirty years, this limitless and abundant love is the consistent fiber that runs through all else. I have learned that if we choose to love first and choose to love last, we are powerful beyond measure. There is no greater or more important lesson.
The love that I am referring to is neither mushy-gushy nor romantic in nature. True love is hard. It tests us and forces us to be courageous. It requires us to hold each other accountable and to forgive without condition. It asks us to choose acceptance over retaliation, trust over doubt, faith over fear. In both the best and worst moments of our lives, we must root our actions, our words, our dreams, and our beliefs in love. Until it becomes a habit, in each moment and with each breath, we must ask, “what is the most loving thing to do?”
I have found that while it is sometimes challenging—sometimes seemingly impossible—putting love first is always worth it and always brings me closer to the person I know I am meant to be. In my life, this has looked like smiling at and saying “good luck” to a homeless person when I didn’t have money to give. It has looked like calling Child Protective Services because of suspected child abuse, spending three hours comforting the child, and another three hours helping the suspected abuser find help. It has looked like talking a teenager through an overdose on the suicide hotline and praying out loud when she lost the ability to speak and the police had not yet found her. It has looked like giving my partner time to discover himself and his dreams, even when it meant sacrificing an income. It has looked like saying, “no” when I know that a course of action or a decision is unsound or unjust. It has looked like challenging hatred on the subway, in the streets, in school hallways, in my office, and in my heart. It has looked like taking a deep breath and not saying anything when I know my words could hurt, degrade, humiliate, or suppress the words of another. It has looked like apologizing when I mess up, expressing gratitude when it is deserved, and showing up when it matters most. Love is a part of my resistance to systems that fail more people than they help. It is knowing that my work puts kids in college rather than in a coffin or a prison cell. It is pushing against the people and forces that pull us backward instead of forward. It is taking care of myself so that I can take care of others. Love rarely looks the same, but it always feels right.
I do not always succeed in fully living into this lesson—I am prone to impatience, to selfishness, to frustration, and to passive aggressiveness. Yet, when I choose to love first, love last, and love in all the moments in between, my limits are extended, my gifts are amplified, and my light can transcend even the darkest corners, situations, or moments. Love awakens us. Love transforms us. Love unites us. Love inspires us, heals us, fills us, and guides us. Love pushes us. Love motivates us. Love enriches our lives and makes life worth living. Intentionally anchoring my life and my work in love is without a doubt the most important, impactful, and influential thing that I do. It is the lesson and the leading that guides all the others, the conductor for all that I do, and the conduit for all that I am.