A Thousand Words
Oregon · USA
One year ago today I had the amazing privilege of sitting across from you at a cozy little restaurant called Verde Cocina. I brought you a small box of Fran’s Chocolates gray salt caramels, and we talked over some drinks. You told me about your New Mexico upbringing, your nursing career, and your lovely family including your beloved niece and nephews, and I told you my story in turn. Before I knew it two hours had flown by, and all too soon it was time to say good night. I wasn't exactly sure how I’d gotten you to agree to go out with me in the first place given our very few interactions to that point, but I was extremely thankful--and a bit relieved--that you did. Quite honestly, though I tried to convince myself that the worst you could do was simply decline, I really didn’t want to think about what might have been but never got the chance to be if you‘d actually said no.
And now, today, and every day since, it’s been better than I ever could have dreamed...because you’re better than I ever could have dreamed. It’s not that I had any particular expectations of you nor of our relationship—having been let down enough times before to think that a partnered life just wasn’t my destiny—but you truly are like no one else I’ve ever met.
This was plainly evident during your surprise birthday party when your lovely sister set an impossible challenge before each of our friends and family in attendance: “Give us the one word that best describes Ashley.”
But when we came around to your dad, he fell silent. He knew one word would never suffice. The rest of us knew we were ultimately doomed to failure, too, but we were just trying to do as Romans.
Ash, I hope you know unequivocally that I hold you in the highest esteem...not just as my girlfriend but as my best friend. Trust that I’m not asking you to think of me as your best friend in return...not when you’ve got such amazing people in your life as your sister and Shi. All I mean is that you occupy a place in my heart that no one else will ever be privy to. You've shed light on places I thought would never see the light of day again in this earthly lifetime. And even beyond all this, you’ve helped me discover places in my heart I never knew existed. You cherish my heart, fortify my faith, uplift my spirit, and nourish my soul like no other.
You will always be far too humble to ever acknowledge this, but your uniqueness of spirit is palpable to any and all who have spent even a modest amount of time in your amazing presence. Whether it’s family, friends, patients, colleagues, coworkers, or even strangers in casual conversation, they all recognize that the inner you is every bit as beautiful as the outer. And that is to say, beautiful.
“You better hold onto her!”
Next to “I just love her!” that’s probably the single most common refrain I’ve heard from my family and friends who’ve spent any amount of time around you. But, in fact, that’s the exact opposite of what I’ve tried to do. From day one, I knew I could never try to “hold onto” you, nor would I ever want to: A soul as singular as yours should never be constrained. You’re simply not mine to ‘have’. As I said early on in our relationship, you are free to go if you ever please. Though I obviously don’t want that to happen, I could never stomach the thought that my presence in your life did anything to restrain you...to clip your wings instead of buoy them...to give you any reason to lose your personhood or abandon your dreams. I’m drawn to you precisely because of who you are, not because of who I think you ought to be.
The miracle of it all, then, is that in spite of this freedom...in spite of my painfully obvious foibles and imperfections...you still choose to stay...to walk alongside me and hold my hand...to ask me how my day went...to lift me up when I’m feeling down and support me wholeheartedly in staying true to my convictions...to sit with me watching ballet, a cooking show, a nature documentary, a Blazers or college football game...to have dinner with me even after I’ve hopelessly burned the butter sauce. All this time you’ve asked of me absolutely nothing, and that is why I wish I could give you everything.
I also wish I could’ve dedicated a more spectacular image to you on this occasion—one that was truly commensurate in scale with how deeply I care about you—but this image depicts a special moment that had little to do with the waterfall or the sun or the trees that day and everything to do with the privilege of sharing space and sacred time with you. Before the hike, I’d made a silent commitment to take no more than one photo just to commemorate this day and ensure that my full attention remained with you. This is that photo. (And all the while you were right behind me photographing me!)
And in the end, how much can a single image really convey? About the same as the (count ‘em!) one thousand words you’ll have read by the end of this, and that’s this: not nearly enough for you to ever understand how much you mean to me.
So thank you, Ashley Miller, for sharing with me this day, the 364 that came before, and the countless days that are yet to be. I choose to say all this to you in this manner--a manner far more public than I ever thought I would choose--not because I don’t care who knows...but because I care that everybody knows:
I love you.