There is a four letter word that gets me every time. It’s physically hard for me to say and even when I know it’s true, the word just doesn’t like to come out. It has immense weight and can hurt or even kill someone if used wrong. It can be the scariest word in the world.
I believe in saying I love you.
Growing up in a traditional Japanese household, the phrase “I love you” was never spoken. Love was not something seen at the dinner table, or at bed time, or even during the holidays. The Japanese can be cold and independent people, showing emotion is almost a sin.
One day, I was surprised when I thought my grandmother was about to say it to me. As she said “I love…” my heat sunk, I wanted to hear it so badly, and at 18 it would be the first time ever. Yet at the same time, I was scared and didn’t want to hear it; if I did, would I have to say it back? I knew I felt it, but saying it was something in a world all its own. It would feel so uncomfortable and almost painful for me to return, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to hear it or not.
I didn’t have to make that decision. As my grandmother finished her sentence with “…your blouse”, a wave of opposing emotions crashed over me. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry about saying anything in return, yet at the same time I yearned to hear that phrase—the whole phrase.
A year later, I still think about that moment. For the Japanese, it’s just easier to not admit to feeling anything. I’m not really sure where the root of it all lays, but I do know that it needs to change.
Still today, it is hard for me to say I love you. When telling my mother—the only one in my family who is not Japanese, that I love her, I have to take a moment, understand my feelings, and push out the words. It’s a painful process. Since my mother divorced and is now away from the Japanese influence, she is a strong believer in using that sacred saying whenever possible—but only to those you know it applies to. She says it to me almost every day now, and when I don’t say it back (because it’s just too hard) I feel guilty. But she knows, and she understands. Growing up your whole life never hearing the phrase makes it difficult to believe in love, and expressing it even harder. But the more I grow up, and the more my mother says it to me, the easier it becomes to say.
No one should ever have to go through life unable to recognize or express love. It is the most intense, true, and pure emotion in the world. To not grab it when it is in front of you, when you want to say it, is wrong. Tell your parents you love them, tell your children, tell your spouses. Tell those who matter that you love them: this, I believe.
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