If you have the guts. the intestinal fortitude. tell people they are beautiful, special, wonderful, whatever compliment you can think of. this could eventually catch on and start a tidal wave of love. when someone rear ends your car smile, and tell them how glad you are to have met them. when someone gives you the finger, give them the peace sign. that really freaks them out. just call your friends to tell them you love them. dont say anything else. when they ask you whats going on tell them, "I just called to say i love you and i mean it from the bottom of my heart".

This is a very nice philosophy, and one that seems inherently attractive once you get past all the stereotypical hippie "peace and love, man" images and associated cynicism that accompany it. We are attracted to simple solutions for complex problems, and you don't get much more complex than human relations across the whole planet. If we somehow could get everyone to feel better about themselves, and consider others more in their actions, it's likely the world would be a better place.

This is probably a good idea that, like communism, just doesn't work once you factor in the complexity of human behavior.

However, I'm here to tell you that on a local level at least, it definitely doesn't work. Or perhaps it works too well. Decide for yourself.

The point where it all falls down is that a significant number of people are starved for affection. My own experience tells me it's at least 50% of people, possibly up to 75% or more. I'm probably one of them. If we relied on affection for nutrition then there'd be a world-wide famine of epidemic proportions, and most of us would be lying on our death beds with swollen bellies, covered in flies.

So, you tell somebody like this that they matter. That they are a special person, lovable and worthwhile. That is a powerful emotional high. It's like a drug for them. They want more. They crave more. They can't resist it.

(Actually, it is a cynical world and the most likely response is skepticism, wariness and distrust. You might get a laugh, a dismissive comment, sarcasm. Lets assume that you can project your sincerity.)

They want more.

They want more from the only source they've found it: you. They'll find a way to be around you. Maybe you'll date (if appropriate sexes) — but do you really want a relationship where you're only valued for this one thing? Or worse, a relationship where one day your realize you're merely bartering compliments for sex? Or will you just give, and give, until you're sucked dry and have nothing left. How much have you got to give?

This also gives you significant power over the other person. You're their dealer. They need you. It's an easy position to fall into abusing; you may not even realize that you're doing it. If you can take, with no consequences, are you strong enough to resist?

(This write-up brought to you by "real life experience", together with "I'm feeling cynical today.")

It tears my heart to see her this way.

Breaks it to see the many tears lingering behind her lashes, forced and kept at bay by pure will. Hurts it to see the scar of an invisible knife let loose upon her soul, kills it to see her walk, when surely she must crumble under weights no ordinary human could bear to carry. Every day she comes, she breaks my heart and walks on, not knowing that behind her beats a bleeding heart, behind her a few human tears are shed, in love and out of pity. She does not know this because I do not tell her, does not know this because I cannot find the courage, the courage to rise and walk up to her, just once, and tell her what I truly think of her. But barriers are more solid between strangers; my legs turn to stone, my muscles to ice, and I can only sit there and watch her slowly and inexorably die from the inside.

How many hurts have you endured, I wonder? How many pitiful, despicable wounds have been inflicted upon your dreams and hopes and ambitions, how many hordes of demons now jeer at what remains of what you live for? I want to ask her this, but I can see the answer from the way she walks. Somehow I can see it in the way her shoulders are hunched, her eyes trying not to look at another in the eye; from the way her fingers fumble with the little keyring in her pocket, the way she smiles timidly when she should laugh out loud. She passes by the little things, the things that once would have set her eyes alight. The glory of sunset she has forgotten, the beauty of rhyme and meter is now lost upon her. Of powerful, soaring music, of beauteous haunting magic - she knows nothing any longer that she can love. She tries to speak, and finds she has no voice. She tries to fly, only to tumble down, bereft of wings.

She is fifteen, and every little failure gets to her. She is fifteen, and grows older each day in the back of her head, till she is adult, now, and woman, hardened to life, ignorant of love. Around her are friends whose ceaseless chatter she cannot stand, enemies whose menaces and wars only make her shrink back, terrified, into this pitiful shell of a girl who could have been. Fifteen, and already seeking refuge from the world around her.

I know what you think of her, those many thousands who see her as she is. Wimp, you will snicker, coward, idiot, you will scream, and you will laugh, long and loud, at her ungainly stance, her bookish air, at her terror and her fear at committing a crime she knows nothing of. You will raise an eyebrow and remark, with quiet contempt writ large in your voice as she passes by, of her hair, of her eyes, of the way she looks, or the way she acts. Even when she is not there, you will laugh at her among yourselves, mock her and make fun of her, when careless memory chances to remind you of her. A sneer will rise in your voice when you talk to her, though you would rather not; an apathy, an indifference in your stance when she tries to talk to you, when she finally has the courage to try to be different from what you hate. And when she begins to hate herself for what she is, when she stumbles and stutters when once her tongue was as fluent and liquid as Milton's himself, you will laugh at her only that much more.

But I have seen her dance. I have seen her make music more tangible than flame itself, when given the freedom - seen her make poetry obsolete, make passion writhe and struggle within human chests, make God himself bow before her when she twists, when she turns, when she makes swans as graceful as mud flinging through the air. I have seen her take storms and make of them lightning and thunder immense on a frothing sea, seen her magnify the smallest of things, the lightest of beings, till they dwarf the sky itself, and I clap, though my hands do not move, and I whoop, though my tongue does not stir, as only a lover can, as only an admirer could. She does not know any of this. She does not know because she does not see me, in the corners of shadows, waiting, and watching her.

She loves this, loves this freedom that is dancing. To an ordinary simple tune she could give shape; a nightingale could stir her sleeping arms to life, and make them rise. It frees her somehow, in that indefinable way that chains heavier than mountains can weigh lighter than air at times; it makes her more human, less of the monstrosity that humans have told her she is. And to this claim she has no repartee, no point of attack; she accepts it and convinces herself of its truth and moves on. This is why she does not dance in public. This is why none of her friends have ever seen her glide the way I have. She is afraid, afraid - too young to be past caring of what others think, though ceaseless torment has made her older than age itself.

Everyday, when I see the others treat her with scorn, I want to grab them by the throat and thrust them into hell itself. I want to hurl abuse at them till their ears are ringing loud with it, to throw stones at them till they are bleeding black-and-blue and sorry for it, for everyday they hurt a woman far better than they could ever hope to be. Everyday, they stop a force from changing the world they live in, as only obnoxious humans could. But I can do nothing, nothing - she does not know me, I know her not. Each day we are strangers. Each day I wish we were not.

But I know she is wrong. She is not the monster she thinks she is, not the hideous creature she thinks herself to be. Even to the ordinary eye, she is fairer than most, and more kind. More striking than most, and hence more hated than most. There is a set to her face, a curl to her cheek that makes her look beautiful in the evening air. Her mother has never told her this - she assumes she knows already. Her father does not speak to her of it, because it is not the kind of thing fathers say. No brothers, no sisters - only a sea of people who look at her with envy and think it is hate, and treat her accordingly. And now she is a monster inside her own head, worried and confused and frightened, convinced she has no gift, inching closer everyday to the point beyond which there is no return. She thinks she does not matter, and so does not try to. How wrong - nothing could ever be farther from the truth.

She is there now, in front of me, making her way down the street, trying to make herself as small as possible. She cannot succeed, but somehow she does, for no one looks her way as she walks past. She will walk like this all the way to school, and then she will sit and once again minimize herself as much as possible, to avoid the wolfish, cruel gazes of her peers. And suddenly - somehow - I cannot bear it, cannot stand the thought of it any more. It is more than any heart is ever called to bear.

Suddenly I am walking behind her, my fears and privations dust on the wind. Suddenly, I am right beside her, so close I could reach out and wrap her full within my arm. She does not notice me - she is trying not see me - but now I am right in front of her, and she stops and looks up at me, worried and confused, surprised and puzzled. She has seen me before. But we are strangers still.

For a moment, I freeze. I had not planned this out, not thought this before - what do I say to her, how do I say it?

The truth, something whispers, something that loves this girl more fiercely than it has ever loved anything else in the world.

"Miss,"I begin, "you don't know me."

"I do," she says unexpectedly. "I've seen you before."

But she has said too much, she thinks. She bites her lip and looks away, at a place above my shoulder.

She is breaking my heart again.

"Miss," I start once more, but then my rational, carefully constructed sentence simply withers into the air. I am stuck without words, and suddenly I am struck by the absurdity of it all, this exhausting search for sentences to shape my statements into. What would be the point of words? All I need to say is the truth.

"You're beautiful,"I say simply. "I've wanted to tell you for so long. You're beautiful. I think you're beautiful. You are beautiful, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot and a fool and not worth a pice to anyone. Never let anyone convince you otherwise. I've seen you dance, and if you chose to, you could blow them into dust if you wanted to. When you move, it's magic; when you dance, you're an angel. You have more talent than anyone I've ever known. I'm not lying. I won't dare lie to you. You need to know this. You're beautiful, miss," I say again, and now I take her by the shoulders, and look her in the eyes.

"You're beautiful. Don't ever think you aren't. You're beautiful."

And I let her go, let her stumble away from me, watching me all the while with surprise on her face. She doesn't utter a word - it is one of those moments where you are not supposed to say a thing - but just stands there, looking at me with dazed shock. But in her eyes - in her eyes, I can already see the seed of a glorious smile take fruit.

I turn, and I walk away.

Twelve weeks later, she dances in her school's annual performance. She is graceful on stage, magnificent, inspiring. I am there, in the audience, in the crowd, and I know that beside me they are spellbound, enraptured, pleased and delighted, every murmur within heaping praise and adulation upon her. Tomorrow, after this event, girls will cluster around her and congratulate her - perhaps a handsome boy will ask her out, though my hearts courses with jealousy at the thought. Tomorrow, her life will change, her universe will be transformed. I am glad for it. Tomorrow, she will walk tall. Tomorrow, she will be the queen she truly is.

She graces the crowd with a soulful gaze, the arc of it sweeping wide. Perhaps she has caught sight of me, perhaps she has not - but she is looking in my direction, and I can only hope she is looking at me, for then she smiles, a glorious, beautiful smile, and the audience as a whole reacts as one, sighing with rapture more supreme than mere love.

I smile back. It is all I can do before this woman who was once a girl.

Tomorrow, I will have changed the world, in some small, tiny way; made it better for, if no one else, just one person on the globe. Just one, that pitiful, paltry number, that source of everything that must come after it, disease or plague or love or justice beyond.

But changes must begin from somewhere.

Why not here?

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