In grade school, when we were learning the format for writing personal letters, some of us—probably the boys—wondered why we always started these letters with “Dear.” So we asked—probably with some pre-teen embarrassment—and the teacher responded with something about “writing conventions that don’t necessarily mean what they say.” Relieved of the possibility of inadvertently expressing our emotions, we joined the ranks of innumerable letter writers who dutifully began their missives with this deeply emotional adjective. Still, the cognitive dissonance remained.
Most of that definitional discomfort has faded, though, over my years of married life. To be direct: I am recognizing, more and more, that Chris and I are dear to each other. Having come to that comforting realization, though, I’m still not completely able to paint word pictures that match the depth and breadth of that emotion. “What makes dear dear?” I ask myself.
Yes, dear is always positive, and may always resist precise definitions. Synonyms like cherished, precious, treasured are helpful—but each of them also asks for further explication. I know that this adjective is connected to loving Chris, that there’s something special or even rare about holding her dear. And in these later years of my life, I think that dear relates to Chris’ presence—“Always there, always available” fits. (As you may have experienced personally, the absence of a dear one would leave an empty space—a sadness or incompleteness—that would not easily be filled.)
Perhaps this linguistic conundrum continues as it should: The most profound emotions requiring us to spend our entire lifetimes searching for just the right words. So, as that quest continues, I’ll thank God for my adored, beloved, irreplaceable life partner.
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