I learned the meaning of love in a way that I never expected to. It started with a fit of self-loathing, where I told myself that I was not good enough, not enough. I am not the smartest or at the very top of the class. I am not the wittiest or the most daring. I am not the prettiest or the most alluring. I am not the most well-liked or the most popular. I am not the funniest or the kindest. I am a simple, plain face in a sea of sameness, easily over looked and easily forgotten. I live in a small, unimportant place, filled with small, unimportant people who live small, unimportant lives. In my school, I cannot shine in the area of education and intelligence because my school is one of academic honor, where being the best is not praised but expected. I’m not the star athlete, or any sort of athlete. I’m not the one winning a load of awards or participating in every club. I am not the best at anything. I live in a world of black and white and yet I find myself in the gray. I live in shadow. For seventeen years I have been weighed, measured, and found wanting. I feel my life is a chorus of stabbing disappointment. Is that all? What else can you do? Surely there is more than that. I score high on tests, but not high enough. I do well in school, but not well enough. I win academic awards, but not enough. I stand tall, but not tall enough. Nothing is mine alone. Everything I must share with ten or more others because they are just as good as or better than me. But that empty longing for recognition has become an even farther dream. A new shadow has grown where I am trapped in the shade of inadequacy. But this shadow is colder and more unforgiving. This shadow reeks of injustice and unfairness. This shadow belongs to one with whom I will never be able to compete. I ace tests, and so does she. I tell jokes, and so does she. I succeed, and so does she. I win, and so does she. I sprint before her, but only a single footstep ahead, only my age and experience keeping the distance. But look at her. She is so tall, so beautiful, so intelligent, so funny, so loved. She belongs there in the sun, with fate and fortune pouring glories down upon her head while I cower and mope in the shade. See, there is more to this shadow than meets the eye. This shadow is not one of an enemy or a foe. This is not the shadow of a rival or hated villain. No, this shadow belongs to the soul I love and cherish most on this unforgiving earth. My head spews hatred and jealousy at her feet. My head screams of injustice and desires nothing more than her failure at least once in her life. But my heart—alas, my heart is stronger still. My heart longs for her success and swells with pride to see it come true. My heart wants her life to be infamous and fawned over, sometimes more than it wants that for itself. And that is a harder truth to accept than any. She is everything I always wanted to be myself. She is everything I desire to be. And so, I want her to flourish. For the both of us. How will I ever defeat that shadow and break into the sunlight when I cannot put aside a desire for my opponent and challenger to always remain high on the rungs of the ladder of success? No one ever beat a foe while wanting them to win. No, I will never beat her because truly I don’t want to. And that is love. Still, I want my moment, however fleeting it may be, where I am not compared to the victories of a younger and better sister. Just a second of the blissfulness of praise, just enough to remember when I am low and dark again in the earth, scrambling for air. Maybe one day, I’ll find another ladder to climb, one that won’t allow me to compete with a force I cannot best. I thought I had found it once, but was sadly and painfully mistaken. I took the wheel of a ship that sailed in the eye of a hurricane. I steered the ship with all my force, forgetting for a while that I was forgotten, and it felt so good. It felt so free to have that wind and rain whip my face and yet manage to keep my ship on course. But then, I turned from my battle to find my crew had given up and turned against me, and turned back to find my course leading me not to the beaches of triumph but to the edge of the earth. It was all a hallucination. None of it was real. Just a malicious crew plotting and conspiring behind me instead of assuring our safe travel. Just a dream too big to fulfill. I tumbled over the edge, hitting my body on every rock on the way down. I tumble still sometimes, broken and bruised. But in my tumble, I have found some peace. I know that when I hit the pool at the bottom, there will not be more storm to fight, but a peace and tranquility. I have not given up; no, instead I have bowed out because if I do not I will drown and there will be nothing left of me. And that is love. Not for anything or one, but for myself. I used to think that surrendering was cowardly, but I am not surrendering. I am passing on the baton because it has grown too heavy for me to bear. I don’t give it up because I have given up. I have not given up on myself and that is why I let go. I will not drown, not yet. I will float along in this shadow. Because in truth, this shadow is not as cold as I first believed. It is not as endless and dark as I thought. No, there is something else in this shadow sometimes, something warm and peaceful. I found it the other day, when I was driving home with my sister sitting beside me. It was dark and quiet and we let the silence grow heavy and soft like a blanket on a cold night. I had been dealt painful news earlier and was fighting to control the rage of emotion that burned my eyes and stole my breath. Eventually, I couldn’t bear another moment and my quivering chin gave way to sniffles and loose tears. My sister noticed my unease and begged that I tell her what was wrong. She put her hand on my shoulder and petted me gently, pleading for me to say something. It was a strange moment for me. My sister had never showed affection quite like that to me before. Our affections were limited to silly texts, goofy behavior, and simple company in silence. I always felt like she meant more to me than I did to her, but in that moment, after I told her my troubles, she assuaged them fiercely with kind words and simple dismissal of my fears, I knew that my assumption was wrong. I marveled at the thought, my little sister fiercely taking up arms to defend me. And that is love. My heart swelled with pride. Perhaps I meant more than I thought. Life will always hand me troubles and injustices. I will never be short of troubles and toil. But there, in that second, that shadow grew a little lighter and a little smaller, and I knew love and I knew that I’d never have to face those shadows alone again. And that is love.