A Guide on How to Love

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a historical novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows that was published in 2008. Set in 1946, the plot of this novel revolves around a London-based writer, Juliet Ashton, who begins exchanging letters with residents on the island of Guernsey, which was German-occupied during the second world war. Feeling compelled to visit the island, Juliet Ashton takes leave to Guernsey, where she gets a picture of what it was like during the German occupation. 

Elizabeth McKenna one of the central characters in this novel, and the one who initiates the Guernsey Literary Society. The following piece is a poem written for Elizabeth McKenna, inspired by her unwavering ability to love. 

To Elizabeth McKenna, for teaching me what it is to love. 

A Guide on How to Love

By Vaishnavi Radhakrishnan

To love someone


you don’t need to climb the everest and bring home wildflowers,

or rip your heart open and spill all its contents raw,

or travel to the ends of the world to prove your sanctity 

or embody this “I’ll give you my life” phrase…

To love someone 

is much simpler.

To love someone 

is to show up-


When you meet death for the first time at your best friend’s funeral,

hold your tears in, sew them to the top of your eyelids. 

Tend to your best friend’s mother first, she needs you more.

Womb her frail heart within an embrace and 

allow her to weep till she feels like a child.

Become her mother, 

she is in the process of rebirthing 

from the life she just parted.  

When you spot a child cold on the cobbled pathway, stop. 

You might be too cold, too numb, but stop.   

Open your jacket and make space for this little one to come close

let your hearts beat against each other.

Then rub your palms and clasp them around those tiny palms. 

Share a smile. 

When you feel fear silently seeping into your community 

call your neighbors and your neighbors’ neighbors 

invite them all home,

even if you have nothing to offer.

Heat a pot of water with all the warmth you have to share,

start a conversation, let these words of cheer build a mosaic 

that you’ll then put up to become a reminder;

with love, you are never alone.


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