"So you can keep me

Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer 'til our eyes meet
You won't ever be alone

And if you hurt me
That's okay baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won't ever let you go
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home
Wait for me to come home"

Read more: Ed Sheeran - Photograph Lyrics | MetroLyrics

What is love?

When I think of love — like all of us do — I am awash in a sea of images, sounds, touches, smells. The scent of my mother's skin, the sound of her voice. My father's cologne. The smiling faces of my sisters.

My best friend's laugh. Warm oak and musk. Curly black hair and brown skin. The gentle pressure of my hand hidden in a rougher, larger one.

With one of these universal and universally unsolvable questions of life, I'm only ever going to be able to scratch the surface, hard and long as I may try. And like a lot of those other "big questions," my answer is going to vary wildly from the answer that comes from the lips of anyone else.

So I'm not going to claim any big feats or even try to answer the big question itself, I'm just going to tackle my own little angle, and that's the way we keep love.

This morning I woke up with the chorus of Ed Sheeran's "Photograph" floating through my head, and with Ed's gentle, hushed voice came a rush of feelings and memories.

Why and how is it that little things like this can really just "take us back"? I hadn't heard it in at least a couple years, but the song had the power to project past images of my first love right back onto the screen of my mind.

My chest knotting in that bittersweet, at-once-painful-and-pleasant way that nostalgia always has, I swallowed the lump building in my throat and found the original music video on YouTube. Contrary to my expectation, I was greeted not by pictures of young couples staring into each other's eyes or teens holding hands, but by what appeared to be photographs and videos of baby Ed Sheeran. My heart jumped as my body registered something remembered, something very sweet.

Oh, but of course. "Wait for me to come home." The lyric I had assumed was some sort of a wistful appeal for a lover's real or imagined return was indeed not restricted to the context of romantic love, but also effortlessly could be applied to the ardent love a parent feels for their child.

"Love can hurt sometimes." The words that transported me back to my first "real," non-elementary-school break-up also conjured up countless memories that live in the memory hard drive held between my parents and me.

Because, truly, who have we hurt more and loved more than our parents, and vice versa? Someone wise once said that we hurt the ones whom we love the most, and nowhere does this resonate more than with our very first attachments in life, our mom and dad. Psychologists have long known that the relationship we have with Mom and Pops can shape not only the course of our personality development, but also our patterns of attachment to others we grow close with throughout our lives.

Thinking back to my first love and the way I bonded with him like he was my mama for my adult life, and the way that the mama’s boy he was easily slid into that role, provides real-life evidence. And a sweet, sweet connection that’s still sore to recall a year later.

So, back to the big question and my small, personal-life-experience-specific answer, What is love? To me, love is giving someone your most vital and guarded possession — your heart, your soul, your spirit — and trusting that they will guard it like their own.

And having them trust you to do the same for them. I believe that this is nowhere more true than in the context of parent-child relationships, as well as in family relationships between siblings. Being the oldest sister, I have had the most years out of my two little sisters and me to make mistakes, and to reflect upon those mistakes.

And those mistakes, the times I treated my sisters in ways that I am not proud of, the times I did not teach them what to do but rather what not to do, cause me some of the deepest pain and regret I have felt in my life, and I continue to feel it long after the event.

When it comes to my parents, the feeling is a little different because I feel dependent upon them versus feeling a special sort of responsibility for my sisters, whom I imagine are somewhat dependent upon me in learning this game called life; but to describe the feeling I have for my parents, let’s multiply the intensity of pain and love I have for my sisters times two.

My parents, who I until my early college years and first “real” relationship I thought were up there with God, are pretty much the heart of my world, the little voices I come back to in times of trouble and just in everyday life (don’t worry, we’re working on finding my voice somewhere in between theirs).

The times I perceive that I have let them down (because honestly they insist that those times are few and far between) are like boulders compared to the rocks that weigh down my heart when I think of how I’ve hurt my sisters. They’re my parents, I was made to please them and to make them proud.

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly my life purpose, but it sure has felt that way a lot of my life, being the oldest child. And I don’t think that’s really a bad thing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that love feels really great sometimes, but it also hurts the worst sometimes, and not just in the context of romantic love. Having been the boy-crazy girl and recipient of unrequited love for most of my formative years, I know this quite well.

But what I’d rather focus on here rather than the wounds of romantic love are the perhaps even deeper scars of the love we hold for our first families. Because even if we aren’t close to them anymore, that love and its legacy never really goes away; and if it’s a sad story, it becomes our job to take up the pieces and to rearrange them, to eventually write a new one for ourselves.

As per Maslow’s hierarchy, love and belonging is one of our basic human needs. Just as ingrained in us as the desire to go forth upon the earth and multiply is the desire to bond with others on a secure emotional level, whether that be our first family, our friends, or our partner.

Loving and feeling connected to others is a scientific and fundamental human need. No wonder so many songs and stories are written about it. No wonder it’s so important that we try our best to get it right, especially in a world where relationships and things in general often easily go very wrong.

This is all to say that, no matter how much or how little I may know at the ripe old age of 21, I know deep in my heart that love is what powers human existence, and not just in the sense of the birds and the bees.

It’s what inspires us to smile at the stranger we meet on the street, to pay for the next car’s morning coffee at Starbucks, to ask the driver of the car stuck on the side of the road if they need help.

Because in this life we may all be going somewhere at the speed of light — and often like we’re chickens with our heads cut off — but it takes moments like these to slow us down and to remember what we’re really all here for. And that’s to love one another, whether that other lives close or farther away from our heart.

Because we’re all human, and we all need it, just as we need air to breathe and a roof above our heads. So let’s make it a goal to be our loved ones’ — and anyone else's who may need it, even in the smallest of ways — shelter. Let us love and keep one another, if even for the briefest of moments.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

-1 John 4:7, NIV

“’The Lord bless you and keep you,’”

-Numbers 6:24, ESV