By Keesha Joseph
I grew up in a pretty average household with a more or less functional family. My mother showered me with a touch of her love every day, while my father — although a ghostly figure — tried his best to meet my basic needs.
Where I come from, the privilege of having two caring parents is beyond imaginable. I navigated life by surviving on this emotional and practical love while bearing the weight that it carried: the weight of its expectations.Love, as we know it, is as hard a topic as death. From a young age, I was taught that Jesus gave us his love at the price of his life. I wondered, would I have to continue sacrificing myself to reach such a level of greatness? In the past, I severed the threads of my heart for the love of others — only to receive a morsel of it back. I threw away all vanity in hopes of gaining the love and attention I was so accustomed to receiving. This is the type of love encouraged in Haiti: jealous love. A love that sucks the compassion out of relationships and leaves only the bitter taste of keeping a crooked visage.
It’s hard not to be skeptical of love without thinking of ulterior motives, but unfortunately, that’s what it has come to be. In keeping with my faith, I’ve tried showing as much care in my relationships as I could. My motive was to keep with the Golden Rule and do unto others as I would have them done to me. I wanted no one to envy me, nor did I want to envy another, because jealous love was the kind of love that got you cursed — or worse, killed. In the end, my culture had forced me to fight against its meaning of love; against the associated greed that clouded the mind with hate.
This realization threw me into a tangent of finding the answer to my question: What is love? Despite hearing countless songs about this topic, the answer is still very subjective. After thinking about past experiences and linking these thoughts to my present values, I came up with an immediate response. When I force myself to think of what love means to me, I imagine golden wings sprouting from my back and trapping me in the warm embrace of the words: self-love.
Self-love can mean different things to anybody. To me, it is the poison and the antidote. We usually think of love as either giving or receiving from others, but true love might come from inside. Over the past few years, my mind and heart have been playing a game of tug-o-war. Against my culture, my heart desires to be selfish for itself, while my brain remains orthodox in keeping appearances for the love of others. Why not love myself enough to break free from these chains tying me down with this country? If only it were that simple.
The Bible can only give so much information about God’s love and life’s values for us. It nurtures our soul, yet it can’t control our thoughts. My desire to find true happiness is linked with this self-love, yet I don’t allow myself the pleasure of feeling its embrace. I let it shadow over me long enough before it can grip me by its teeth. I admit I’m afraid of love — both internally and externally. It’s something I’ve had to face for a while now. I’ve learned to be cautious with whom I give my love. I’ve seen and heard the dangers of jealous love, the ugliness of a broken friendship, and the instability of a marriage. Why is love the center of conflict yet the solution to most?
My issue lies in the expectations placed in terms of achieving perfection. Self-love and perfection are like fish and land; one dies while the other still lives. Keeping on airs is just as hard as trying to break out of it. Many children in Haiti feel that burden as well. Jealous love has made us hate the way we involuntarily think about ourselves and others. We tiptoe on the thread of betterness to thrive for something new. Changing this culture and the way love has developed is a must. Religion isn’t guiding these morals anymore, and parents aren’t always ready to provide the proper compassion, which is why learning how to love yourself clears the path for a simpler life.
Love is about how we choose to view the world, ourselves, and others. With the right mindset, we can overcome these insecurities and embark on a journey of trust and recovery. At least, that is what I hope to find in my journey of self-love. I hope I can continue on the straight path toward a greater purpose of self-fulfillment and fully envelop myself in the coat of love.
Keesha Joseph was a senior in high school when this piece was published. She hails from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Keesha loves reading and writing both stories and poetry, and considers music her second life. She watches anime whenever she gets the chance, and dreams of traveling to exotic places.