In December, 2010, I write an email to my friend. I tell him I have this crazy idea: a year-long project during which I will consciously, unabashedly dedicate myself to spreading love. I tell him all about the coffee shop text, the way it affected me, how it stayed with me for days. I tell him how kindness begets kindness, love begets love. I tell him, damn it, the world needs more kindness and love, and I don’t care if I sound like a song lyric.
(I am lying. I do care. Half of me is alive and humming with the possibility of launching a big, ridiculously hopeful year-long project… the other half is embarrassed by my own enthusiasm. I compensate for my inner dissonance by typing faster.)
I tell my friend that the world is too full of cynicism and snark, and that I can’t imagine a more worthy use of my time and energy than to spend one year actively attempting to counterbalance the ugliness. It’ll be my act of rebellion, I say, my stab at something truly beautiful in the face of the world’s unbelievable cruelty, its violence, intolerance and raging indifference.
And that’s when the cynic inside me saunters out of the shadows of my reptilian brain function and up into my frontal lobes like she owns the place. “Really, j?” she says, her voice dripping disdain. “A love project? How… adorable.”
I stop writing. I stare at the screen, at my blinking cursor, my exuberant note (typed at lightning speed in the hopes of outrunning the very voice that’s addressing me now), and I imagine my friend reading my words, the smile spreading across his face, the shake of his head, the (affectionate) roll of his eyes.
In that moment, my face burns. I feel intensely sappy, embarrassingly earnest. My finger hovers over the X that will make my message – and this whole big, beautiful, ridiculous idea – disappear.
You should know about my friend. He is a hardcore realist. He sees things how they are and does not confuse that with how he wishes things could be. He writes about inequality and hypocrisy like a man on a mission. He wants to change the world, same as I do, but not gently. Not sweetly. If the world were a table setting, my friend would yank the table cloth out from underneath it without any flare it all. His goal would not be to leave the setting undisturbed; it would be to leave absolutely nothing undisturbed. The dishes would all be on the ground, some broken. The table would need to be reset from scratch.
He might even break the table so we’d have to rebuild that too.
My friend and I talk a lot about the state of the nation. I tell him of an article I read about people who’ve stopped waiting for congress to get their shit together and are implementing, on their own, in their home towns, incredible programs for social change. I tell him there are people who get into politics for the right reasons, but that the problem is we can’t all agree on what constitutes “the public good.”
He says, “I still prefer the philosophical idea of Plato’s Republic, where each issue could be debated on its own merits, without bartering favors or undue compromise.”
He says, “There’s nothing about how our system works right now that I find very positive except for the exceptions.”
He says, “The system is broken, maybe only by the people that pollute it, but it’s broken.”
He says, “It isn’t about making little changes to make things slightly better. It’s about screaming dissent because that’s all that’s left to do. “
He says, “It’s about a species-wide awakening, and the evolutionary leap that might happen if we did wake up.”
He says he doesn’t have much hope for that.
He says he’s not a cynic, but on this, we’ve never reached agreement.
Instead of deleting my message, I write this at the end of my exuberant note to my friend: I know it’s a little… Pollyannaesque, but fuck it. The world needs more of that too.
And I hit send.
I feel self-conscious and exhilarated, nervous and empowered. I wonder what he’ll say, and even as I wonder it, I know it doesn’t matter because I’ve already decided. There will be a Love Project (and I will bounce between nagging uncertainty and purposeful passion all year long).
In January, one week into my publicly announced Love Project, Gabrielle Giffords is shot in a Safeway parking lot. I am riveted to the coverage, appalled by the senselessness, the brutality, the vitriol of public discourse that I’m sure has made it possible. On a BART ride to San Francisco, I make a list of reasons to end the Love Project. There are about 30 items on my list but they all amount to the same thing… only fools believe that love can change the world. (And fools get shot, metaphorically and actually.)
The next day I write a post, and I’m not sure as I sit down to write it whether I’m in or out. In the end, it’s a plea for reassurance; I am awed and humbled by the response.
I am in.
Throughout 2011, there are times when I falter, times when I find it incredibly hard to practice love fearlessly, to write about love like a true believer. When a magnitude 9 earthquake rocks Japan and the subsequent floods kill thousands, I struggle with feelings of futility… or when my friend collapses in her exercise class from a ruptured brain aneurysm… or when I watch, confused and conflicted, as people celebrate in the streets the assassination of Osama Bin Laden… or when, in my very personal, private life, I find myself at a fork in the road and “fearless love” becomes not a theory for me to explore, but a lifeline for me to grab hold of.
But all that happens later, after I hit send, after I reveal my earnest, hopeful, ridiculous heart to my friend and decide that no matter what he says, the project is a go. It’s something I have to do, whether or not I can articulate why. But that certainty doesn’t make me any less grateful when my friend writes back to me.
He says, “You ARE a hero. Don’t forget it.”
He says, “A thing like the Love Project can cause ripples and waves that turn into tsunamis around the corner and down the road.”
He says, “I believe in you big time.”
He says, “In the launch post, be sure to include ‘I know it’s a little… Pollyannaesque, but fuck it’ because that is epic.”
And I do.
Judy Clement Wall‘s short stories, essays, reviews and interviews have been published in numerous literary print journals and on sites such as The Rumpus, Lifebyme, Smith Magazine, Used Furniture Review, Beyond The Margins and Fear of Writing. She writes about living creatively and finding north at Zebrasounds.net, and about love at AHumanThing.net. “Earnest, Hippie and Doe-eyed” is part of a collection of essays, poetry and art chronicling 2011, the year she spent publicly committed to loving fearlessly. You can download the rest of the collection here.