My father taught me the secret of skipping.

He didn’t teach me how to skip, I knew that as soon as I was steady enough on two limbs not to cling to the edges of things. But he taught me the secret. You see there is a force that builds up when you are skipping, a force that centers in your belly. If you skip just right, it will lift you off the ground and you will begin to fly.

Sometimes when the sky was baby blue and the sunlight bright on trees dressed in green, he and I would talk and skip and laugh. As a child these moments were precious to me. Too soon it would be time to say goodbye, to fly back home, he or I, to the faceless connection of telephone lines.

It has been many years since I have skipped with my father. Growing up has its own set of differences. Gods and men and education-I can’t remember exactly what broke us apart. Only that the moments we used to share so easily, the moments of just us two, became always accompanied by a third. My sister became the filter. Subtly, at first, we are often together the three of us. I loved these times too. But somewhere along the way, my father stopped speaking to me directly. Stopped speaking only to me. It was always collective, always between the three.

Yesterday my father taught me the secret of love.

He returned my call late. I was pleasantly surprised. It was already past midnight, three time zones away. We spoke in the way we have been, cautiously closer, but respectfully, in the areas of our uncertainty. Because of the time of year, our conversation turned to spirituality. He was careful, but eager to speak, because he wanted to share with me something precious to him.

We were silent for awhile. Then he told me a story. He said that as he approached draft age, he went to a Quaker organization in order to become a conscientious objector. One of the things they told him to do was to get letters of support from leaders of his community. My dad was raised in a small community, in a catholic family on the outskirts of Chicago. He went to his family church to talk with the priest. He told the priest that he had thought a lot about the war, and he was acting out of a sincere belief that the violence happening in Vietnam was wrong. At the time, my father could have easily gone to Canada, where he had extended family. But he was young and idealistic; he would rather take the risk of jail for his beliefs than run away. He then made a kind of confession to the priest. He told him that he desired a connection with God on a personal level, to have the experience of God. He didn’t believe that it was possible, at least for him, within the Catholic Church.

The priest answered that on my dad’s first point, he had no problem writing the letter. On the second point, he told my dad to just go for it. To do what he needed to do. The Catholic church was my dad’s first connection to God, and now he had a priest’s blessing to leave and embark on his own spiritual journey.

My dad said to me, if a priest could tell me that, I would be remiss to tell you anything different. It is movement that is important, not what it is you are doing. As long as you aren’t stagnating, that is what is important.

I learned what I believe to be the truth about love almost entirely by accident, by virtue of the fact that I had realized that love is not always a two-way street. And that is okay.

As a teenager I was in love with the most remarkably beautiful man I'd ever seen. He was years older than I was. I used to see him at church, back when I went to church and he went to church, and my God, was he beautiful. No one else seemed to agree. He was tall, slender. He had brown hair, brown eyes, beautiful hands. I could never do his smile justice with mere words, never. I first noticed him after thinking he looked an awful lot like the boy who had most recently broken my heart. He doesn't look much like him, of course, but at the time everyone looked like him.

I liked him. 

The whole thing scared my best friend, who mocked me at every turn, and sort of amused my mother, who grew fond of reminding me of the rather large age difference and the fact that he had finished college twice over while I was still in high school. None of that mattered. I, undeterred, spent large amounts of time thinking of him even though we'd never spoken. It was a crush at this point and I knew it and I never would have called it anything other than that. I was observing him from afar and nothing more, taking stock of how he laughed softly to himself when he thought no one was watching and of how gentle and soft his voice was, of the way he'd dote on his mother, of the way he was unabashedly interested in nerdy things.

I would write about him in my diary, not understanding what on earth was drawing me to someone I didn't know at all. I needed someone to think about, I suppose, and he was someone to think about, and he was pleasant and intelligent and just my sort of good looking and that's all I needed. I was 15. There were less savoury characters about whom I could have been thinking. My mother spoke of the age difference as though it made him some sort of drug lord, but that didn't matter. I had a crush on him. That's all there was to it.

Then he actually spoke to me.

I don't even remember what he said -- it was most likely some pleasantry or another, most likely related to the fact that it was Christmas -- but that didn't matter. He had, for some few seconds, focused his attention on me. My mother introduced him to me then, in a sort of "I don't think you've met my daughter" way, and he smiled at me. Before he left, he wished me a merry Christmas, and I was giddy for hours. He started to talk to me more frequently after that, just average small talk typical of semi-acquaintances who have nothing much in common. I didn't care what it was; it was making me happy.

When I was 17 and applying to universities and he found out that my first choice somewhere he was familiar with, he became extremely forthcoming with advice and encouragement. Once I got in, he was extremely forthcoming with yet more advice and encouragement. We suddenly had things to talk about and notes to compare.

He hugged me that Christmas.

He went to say goodbye to me and I was extending my hand to shake his when I realized that he seemed to be initiating a hug. By the time I noticed that, he'd noticed that I was about to shake his hand and switched course. And then, in the midst of that mess, there was a hug and time stopped. I wish I could tell you what went through my mind during those few seconds or even how long it lasted, but I have no idea.

Once, not long after I finished my second year, he was asking me how things were going. I didn't have a job for the summer yet, a fact that was not pleasing to my mother, and I mentioned this, as well as the fact that it was not pleasing to my mother. How this led to me explaining my extreme introversion, I'm not sure, but he listened and nodded and said that things were going to be all right.

When he was leaving, he bade me farewell and turned to go; "thanks," I said, not really intending for him to hear it. He did, turned back and smiled at me. A simple moment, yes, but I would treasure it for quite some time. There was this overwhelming sense of grace about him, a sort of grace that I had never seen another human being possess. People such as that should be treasured. I treasured him. He just didn't know it. It was as though, as I described it to a friend, he was on some other, higher, better plane of existence and something had gone miraculously wrong in order for me to even be able to see him.

It was almost like being in love. It was its own kind of being in love. I know it was, and you can't tell me it wasn't. You didn't feel it. How do you know what it felt like?

I would hear his mother tell my mother things about him and his life and it would make me unjustifiably sad. I worried about anyone breaking his heart because I did not want his heart broken. I lived in fear that he would marry someone, not because I had any real hope for a future with him, but because that would make it even more wrong for me to feel the way I did.

I always sort of knew it was silly, you know. There was certainly no shortage of people reminding me of that. Then, after hearing second-hand that he was concerned about his his future, something occurred to me: unrequited love is not necessarily a bad thing, and just because someone doesn't love you back doesn't mean they don't receive the love you have for them. Ignorance or a lack of knowledge is really irrelevant.

Sometime before this saga began, when I was still pining for the boy who broke my heart and started this chain reaction, a friend was trying to console me. It seems ridiculous now, but at 15 a simple "sorry, I'm just not into you like that" is soul-destroying. I needed a mega dose of inspiration and I needed it fast.

"Want to hear something amazing?" my friend asked. "Every night, before he goes to bed, someone is thinking of you."

I was confused. 

"No, really," she went on. "If there is, as they say, someone for everyone, and if everyone thinks of the person he or she is going to spend the rest of time with, someone is thinking of you before he falls asleep. Even if he doesn't know you. Even if he doesn't actually end up with you."

In retrospect, the logic behind that was clearly flawed. Nonetheless, the general sentiment stayed with me: everyone has, over the course of his or her life, loved someone from afar. The one real benefit of loving someone from afar is to provide some kind of happiness, however temporary, to the person doing the loving from afar. But if, as many in this world are fond of saying, people do not "find love -- love finds" them, there is perhaps some benefit to the person being loved from afar as well.

I am, unlike my grandmother, not a religious person. My grandmother -- before her memory started to fail -- used to pray for everyone. Family, friends, people she met in stores, acquaintances, total strangers, people she saw on television. Everyone. I used to ask why. "Because everyone needs to be prayed for," she would say, "and not everyone has someone praying for them."

Regardless of one's views on prayer, everyone needs love. And, as my Gram might say, not everyone is giving all the love that they should or getting all the love that they need.

If you ever find yourself wondering how and why you started to have feelings for someone even though you know it's downright hopeless, chew on this: if you love them, really love them, you won't let that stop you. They may even need that love more than you know, even if they don't know where it's coming from.

Am I insane? Maybe. But all I know is that for as long as I loved that man, I would think of it in the sense that he was getting the benefits of that love. Even if he didn't know where it was coming from. It never hurts to have someone love you. Loving him helped me. It made me feel whole. The only thing that could possibly make it even more helpful than it was is thinking that maybe it helped him too.

I'm now in love with someone who loves me, and I would not trade that for anything or anyone. I always knew I would know that someone else was worth getting to know when I would feel my emotional grip on my paramour start to change, and it did. I now think of him as an older brother-type figure. Strangely enough, my previous feelings for him don't really make that weird. It's not weird because he didn't know. I am still forever sending positive and love-filled thoughts in his direction, you know. The only difference is that now, they tend to consist of sentiments such as "Dammit, man, marry her already."

When he does, I'll be first in line with a congratulatory hug and a bottle of champagne.

Because I loved him as I should. 

2008: Word has it he is now engaged. And you cannot imagine just how much my heart is bursting with joy for him.

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