I used to spend my summers volunteering at a camp for families facing childhood cancer. During those weeks, counselors would write each other notes of support and encouragement, especially when a counselor went out of hir way to help make a camper’s day. These notes would provide a burst of confidence, sometimes through an inside joke or a quick expression of gratitude. I have received hundreds of these notes—not necessarily because I’m an extraordinary counselor, but because of the sheer amount of time I spent at camp. And after all these years, there is one that I remember vividly, one that I hold close to my heart; it ended with the simple phrase: “You are so loved.”
Even today, just remembering that sentence floors me. She didn’t say “I love you,” even though she might have felt that way, because the note wasn’t about our friendship. Instead, she was reminding me that I was beloved by the greater camp community, and the hugeness of this love continues to humble me.
Today, as I was reading the horrific news about the shooting in Connecticut, that phrase rushed into my mind. I found myself repeating it in my mind; the pulsing rhythm of repetition was soothing.
I’ve been trying to decide why its such a powerful phrase, at times even more so than I love you. And I think the secret is hidden within the grammar of it all. There’s a funny thing about this phrase; it’s in the passive voice. English teachers are supposed to teach their students to avoid the passive voice at all costs; MS Word will cast its green squiggly line of shame underneath sentences written in the passive voice. Why? Sometimes, it’s an issue of clarity: the subject of the sentence can be muddled in passive voice. The action itself can be buried. Consider the difference:
I rode the bike.
The bike was ridden by me.
Which is clearer? More engaging? Yes, yes, I will concede that the active voice is, more often than not, stronger and more accurate writing. But the phrase You are loved seems to defy that rule.
In the sentence, You are loved, you is both the subject—the one doing the action—of the sentence and the receiver. You is passive, in the sense that you is not doing the loving in this sentence, and yet you is still the subject—the actor. And what is you doing in this sentence? You is deserving of love, earning love, receiving love—a vast love from known, unknown or even a multitudes of givers. You is being showered with love, just for being you. And I believe that the knowledge that we are loved can help us transcend and help us heal.
After I heard the news today, I wanted to tell everyone I care about, “you are loved.” I wanted to tell it to my students, my dog, my coworkers, my neighbors, and strangers. I wanted to because I think we forget this sometimes. I think we forget that we are loved. By someone, by our community or village, by our friends and our family, by our coworkers, by the people we serve and those who serve us—it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that we are loved. It breaks my heart to think that there are people who don’t know this, who don’t know about humanity’s vast capacity to love not just our closest confidantes, but strangers, just because they are human; after all, just today, millions of people poured their tears, prayers, and hopes over the nation for a group of strangers. We did this out of love.
I welcome the conversations that will come up about guns, education, society, and mental health. Institutional forces must be analyzed, evaluated, and challenged because they shape our realities. I am open to any rational and civil dialogue about how to make our communities safer. And I’ll be ready to do that tomorrow. I really will.
But right now, more than anything, I just want everyone to know that
you are loved.