Saying “I Love You”

by Chris Canniff


Last spring, with my graduation only a little more than a week away, I was still mired in exams and papers.  Nevertheless, I was trying to carve out time to spend with the people who had mattered most to me over my four years at BC.  Each year introduces you to new people, brings you closer to some, and causes you to grow apart from some others.  As graduation looms, a sense of finality comes to one’s mind that encourages reflection on all of this.

Although I wanted to tell each of these people how much I love them, I was worried that it might sound awkward or be misunderstood in some way if I was just going around to everyone saying “I love you.”  It is not always easy to figure out how to tell someone that you love them.  We learn in the First Letter of John that saying those words is not necessarily what love consists in: “My little children, let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  Had I loved each of these people “in deed and in truth” and not merely “in word or in tongue”?  This was the question that hung in my mind in those final days.

How had I loved them?  I could not immediately think of anything extraordinary that I had done for them.  Then, had I really loved them at all?

Life does not always provide us with opportunities for acts of love on a grand scale, but to persist in small daily gestures of love is perhaps a greater heroism than one might think.  For that love which endures all, keeping on amidst the mundane, despite estrangement, and even in the face of its rejection, is a love that is truly devoted to the other rather than being wrongly ordered to the self; it is a love that is unconditional, unconquerable.

With every tight hug, every thoughtful gift, every helping hand, every kind word—with everything we do for another, we say to them “I love you.”

In those final days, I was planning to go out to dinner with two friends who were not graduating.  I bought each a small gift and wrote each of them a note.  It was hard to come up with what to say, and I think that what I ended up writing may even have sounded a bit awkward at points.  But I meant every word of it.  The hardest thing for me to write, though, was the closing of the letter.  How should I sign my name?  “Regards”?  “Sincerely”?  “Best”?  Then I thought to myself, “What a dumb question!  I’ve loved these two friends.  There’s no reason that I can’t just say it.  And if I really have loved them with small daily gestures, then in a sense I’ve already told them, I’ve already said it.  It isn’t a secret to any of us.  To say it now in word makes sense because I have lived it in deed and in truth.”  And with that, I signed each letter—Love, Chris.

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