The first knot

“There are four things that lead to wisdom. You ready for them?”

She nodded, wondering when the police work would begin.

“They are four sentences we learn to say, and mean.” Gamache held up his hand as a fist and raised a finger with each point.

“I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Still Life by Louise Penny

The quote above—those four sentences—felt familiar when I read them but I couldn’t place why and didn’t bother thinking much about it.

Today I remembered—or was reminded.

A journal entry from a few months into separation. We were still in marriage counseling. Nothing was decided, but nothing was hopeful.

Written on a page beneath a few paragraphs of feeling all the feels were these four phrases:

I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.

And I remembered. I remembered stumbling over this little set of phrases, obstensibly called the Ho’oponopono prayer. (Seems like this phrase is a mantra somewhat co-opted from the actual tradition. See this article, last paragraph.)

I read it or heard it somewhere, and I grabbed it because I was deep deep deep deep deep


so deep

in this pit of anger and hurt and confusion.

And those four little phrases looked like something. Not a ladder, exactly. Maybe a rope. Maybe a rope with four sturdy knots I could grab. Maybe a way to slowly start pulling myself up.

The first one was easy. I love you.

Yeah, that’s the whole problem, isn’t it? The absence of love would make it all easier—letting go, relinquishing claim. But love. Oh. Love makes it difficult. Love is not neutral. Love is not detached.

In fact, I say the opposite of love isn’t hate at all but indifference.

If only I could be indifferent. I love you didn’t feel helpful. It felt like a knot around my neck. But I said it, I sobbed it, I screamed it, and I realized that it didn’t change anything.

Love is patient and kind.

Love never fails.

But love doesn’t make everything work out. Love doesn’t fix the mess.

Love isn’t a fairy godmother.

It doesn’t swoop in to change what you want changed, but it helps you to be a little more patient and kind through the things you wish you could change.

Love helps you to rejoice with the truth, even when the truth is not what you want to hear.

Love reminds you there is value in pain, and there is honor in commitment, and there is beauty in sacrificing yourself for another.

Then love gives you a little shake and reminds you there is value in joy, and honor starts with self-respect, and there is beauty in learning to live for your own sake.

What love requires will change.

Different times, different situations. But the first requirement is honesty, in some form. A willingness to step into the uncomfortable acknowledgement that love is magic, but not the kind of magic that makes everything pretty. It’s the kind of magic that undoes the errors, unspools the thread, and works things back to the bone.

Love will come to you with a quilt and a bowl of soup.

But first love will ask you to be patient while you lay shivering on a cold tile floor.

Love will ask you to be kind, to disarm yourself, to lay down the daggers of blame and quit drinking the poison of guilt.

Love will ask you not to take into account the past or the future, the memories or the dreams, the fears or the hopes, but to look only at now.

Right now.


Love will take a deep breath and ask you to be brave. Love will turn you toward the mirror and ask you to look. Really look. Look until the dimness fades. Look until the fogginess clears. Look until you see clearly, until you see yourself face-to-face.

And then love, which does not fail, will ask you not to fail yourself.