I’m usually pretty good with words. Granted, I originally drafted this in Comic Sans, which is reason enough to doubt that anything I say is grounded in rationale. But take it on good authority that even though I can’t enjoy onions or find my way without a GPS or whistle at a human decibel, I can usually write my way out of any life experience.
But when it comes to, Love, capital ‘L’ and all, I cannot summon a thought concrete enough to write about.
I excel in the sphere of clumsiness, and so as I try to stumble my way through what 20 years of life has taught me about love, I can liken it only to the feeling you get when you amble down a set of stairs and realize, just as your leg foot-plants into the floor, that there isn’t another step.
For those few seconds, your foot — and you by extension — fall through air. From the moment you decided to descend onto the first step, you had nowhere to go but down; you committed yourself to two possible, dominant choices: go down, or turn around and go up. But it doesn’t take being an expert in anything but living to say turning around and going up works against momentum and feels about as rewarding as going back to rectangle one can feel, so you go down. You commit. Your body becomes an automaton, operating seamlessly on the property of motion so that the mechanical, unremarkable movement becomes natural.
Your whole body sets itself toward the goal of making it down the stairs. It doesn’t really matter what the staircase looks like; maybe the end is clear, a level ground perfectly perpendicular to the angle you’re traversing. Sometimes, it’s not in view until you’ve stair-stepped down in spirals (arguably more fun, but also more work).
Like so many other simple things, no two staircases are alike; a few years on a University campus older than a rotary-dial phone and with more architectural variety than Europe can confirm that. But the general paradigm of navigating them remains the same. And it becomes so ordinary for us to plop down a set of stairs that we don’t even think to look where we’re going. We take a few steps and then no longer feel like we need to map the rest with our eyes. For some reason, our brain convinces us we are comfortable enough moving forward to look up instead of always looking down.
And so, in heading down a staircase, you survey the stairscape. Easy enough, you say. So, you go. Your eyes confirm the trust your brain put into this immaculate first step, and your nose draws an easy arc to the air as your eyes level forward and leave your feet to do the walking. Sure, you’re walking, but you’re also navigating a decline, which becomes a grave concept the more you think about it; there’s only one way to go but down. The staircase ends, but it brings you elsewhere. It’s the hypotenuse — the longest possible way you could go — but it’s also a much smoother way from A to C, as opposed to A to B to C.
But, I digress. My point in this trigonometric dissertation on staircase architecture and the parallels (pun intended) of love is that even when our heart leaps into our mouth after we miss a step, it’s not the staircase we had been trusting of; it was ourself. The variable is the stair; the constant is us.
In every new relationship and even in the ones that fail, we take the first step not because we like to chart unfamiliar stairitory, but because we know, at least until the phantom stair, that there will come a time when we can fly down with all the “no hands, ma!” thrill of letting go of the rail. And that is worth taking the first step for.
That’s also not to disvalue the upward-bound staircase, which presents its own set of challenges — mainly the ones that feel like work the whole way up. But for reasons we can’t explain, we keep plodding, anticipating either a stair chair to rescue us after we’ve been going long enough or a convenient dead end. Maybe that was never the right step to begin with.
The point in all of it, in crosshatches of stairs going up and down, is that we tackle them. We move. We don’t know if the next flight will ever even come or if a landing is around the corner to give us a moment to breathe. But no one likes someone who stops midway on stairs, so the simple dichotomy of only two ways to go reminds us that, sometimes, we just have to make a decision and get going.
This Valentine’s Day, if your love is just as clumsy, trust whatever step you take; it’s in a direction, so it’s in the right direction.