In my younger days, I could not say “I Love You” to anyone -- not even to my parents. When I was a student in Paris, France, I couldn’t sign my letters to them, or to my girlfriend, “Love Eric”, I thought It might send the wrong message. In my 50’s I started to say I love you to my wife and I figured if I didn’t tell my parents or elderly aunts and uncles soon they might die before I told them. It was around that time that the post office came out with the LOVE stamps with the hearts. I certainly could not put them on an envelope to anyone I knew -- that was far too much of a commitment. And I could not use them to pay my bills for fear that my creditors would get the wrong idea and send me more bills.
At 62 I had open heart surgery. My heart became infected and the infection caused a series of strokes resulting in a second surgery. After that brush with death I figured I better tell people I loved them because I could be gone the next day and not able to let them know how I felt. This was a great weight off my chest because I actually wanted to let people know how I felt about them. But using the word love felt too strong and too long-term. The word is loaded and not just for me — if I told a female friend, “I love you,” she’d think I was trying to reset the relationship. And there is a lot of wiggle room between loving corned beef and another person -- the concept just confused me.
And it wasn’t just about signing letters. I couldn’t hug people — you know just a hug nothing sexual. For years my wife and I celebrated new Year’s eve with the same people. Midnight would roll around and everyone would hug each other — and I’d stand there with my hand out waiting to shake hands. Hugging was too much even with close friends. A good handshake could say as much. My friends always gave trouble about this, but I didn’t care. I saw no reason to hug someone else’s wife or husband.
Clearly, the holiday season was the toughest time of the year for me. Christmas and new year’s cards would pile up on the dining room table. Eventually I felt I had to go out buy cards and respond to my friends and colleagues. But how do you sign those cards — I couldn’t sign,” love, Eric” to my work colleagues. I liked them, but did not love them. And signing “Like, Eric “seemed stupid and I ruined many cards trying to make that salutation work. And that X O X thing never worked for me, it was virtual before virtual was a thing. What was a heartless person to do? And of course by the time I got to the post office the only stamps left were the damned love stamps; no currier & Ives, no puppies, no flags ( which I found a bit too jingoistic to use.)so I couldn’t mail the cards which was okay because I could never sign them.
Now since I am years past my strokes and miraculously still alive — I want to tell people how I feel. I say “I love you” to friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I have been known to say it, to the lady at the doughnut shop, to the pharmacist and to strangers. And now like Leo Buscaglia( who in the19 90’s was the guru of hugging) I hug consenting adults and insist that the post mistress, in our neighborhood post office order more love stamps.
So tell people how you feel while you can and while they are still around.