Today is the 4th observance of a holiday that was born on the internet when an inspiring young woman passed away, and her friends promised to honor her memory. Esther Earl asked that she be remembered on her birthday every year by people saying “I love you”, not in a romantic way, but to the people in their lives that make life bearable and even fun; the friends and family who share their love and lives with us.
Unitarian Universalists talk a lot about love. We have love for the whole world, all of humanity, and so on. It is true that this is a kind of love, but for almost all of us, it is an abstract. It is great to love people simply for their humanity, but that is loving them because they share qualities with us, and not for who they are as an individual. In order for us to be able to make that abstract even relatable, to be able to call it love, we need to have deeper love in our lives. In order to be able to really love the stranger, we need to first share love with friends and family. We need to know the power of love. We need love to be personal to make it real in our minds.
Of course we love the world, and we want the best for humanity. We know we won’t get it for everyone in our lifetime, and we accept that. That is an abstract. It has to be. No one could shoulder all of that pain or all of that joy. We have to pick which people we allow to be fully real in our hearts and minds. Different scientists have different numbers, and those numbers vary from person to person, depending on personality, social situation, and culture, but they all agree: we can only fully humanize a certain number of people in our lives. We can only fully share the joy and pain of a certain number of other humans, and everyone else is just a little less human. It is the depth of those relationships, how fully human those people are, that sets the bar for everyone else. People who love deeply have more love to share.
Esther Day isn’t about abstract love. It is about the people who are there to listen and lend a hand. It is about recognizing that the little things add up, and while it feels awkward to say “I love you” in our culture, it is important to make it known once in a while. It is about remembering who has been there for you, and telling them how much it means. Esther Day is about personal love, shared between people who have been through life together and feel better about the world for the experience.
Saying “I love you” leaves us vulnerable. It opens us up and expresses hope. That leaves the possibility of disappointment and hurt. Saying “I love you” is a kind of humanist prayer, sharing yourself with the other person, and letting them know that they have value, and that someone is willing to take a risk for their happiness. The words have power. But only when we share them.