"Love that loves us, thank you." - Marina, "To The Wonder."
"There is some kiss we want with our whole lives, the touch of spirit on the body." - Rumi
In our hallway is one of those whiteboard calendars, with day boxes and space for the month, little magnets and dry erase markers in the corner. As I walked past this morning on the way to morning prayer, I caught a glimpse of my kid’s handwriting in the box for today: “Valentine’s day.” You know, in case we forgot.
I was too tired to roll my eyes, but if I’d been more awake, maybe I would have. I did shake my head and smile a little.
He is young, newborn at love, and at the beginning where this day holds hope of possibility and revelations. I’m a little older, of course, with a thirty some odd year bank of love memories. What love is and isn’t is becoming a bit more clear to me as time goes on. (Crucible. Consuming fire from the inside out. Doing the dishes.) Yet it still remains at least partly mystery.
It’s funny, because I used to be that kid.
Sometimes I’m still that kid, but in a quiet, cautious and guarded way. I have this pile of wool felt squares culled from old suits and outerwear, the scraps cascading in loose heaps on the shelf, and in the pile is this ridiculously rich red which speaks to me of roses, valentines, eros. All week I’ve been tempted to pick it up, make it into some such thing, but then I stop myself, thinking how silly it is, and generally pointless. I don’t think I’m a pessimist about love exactly. A realist maybe, or at least still open to being surprised by it, but without expectations.
What I was drawn to about this day as a child was the possibility of finding out that I was loved. I was in it for the revelations.
As a somewhat awkward child who wasn’t exactly prone to understanding herself as the object of anyone’s admiration, the revelations never quite came.
Or if they did, they were met with confusion: I remember being in middle school when a boy in my class told me one day that he had been walking in the mall with his mother, and had seen a doll in a window display with porcelain skin, blue eyes, and shiny auburn hair that looked like mine. “She was beautiful,” he said. I remember waiting for a punchline, and being perplexed when one didn’t come. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. After a long awkward silence with prolonged eye contact, I finally said, “Okay…” and walked away, bewildering us both.
Or there was the time in college when I apparently was having a “define the relationship” conversation with a friend, absolutely unbeknownst to me at the time. (I was very quietly in love with him but a lifetime of awkwardness and rejections had primed me to be convinced there was no chance in hell.) We were talking about relationships and the conversation was getting deeper, him asking me what I was hoping for in someone someday. I told him I didn’t want to marry a minister, just as a general statement; he took it personally and I guess moved on.
But a few years later, I ran into him with my then-husband, a minister, and after introductions were made, he turned to me and said, “So it looks like you married a minister after all,” smiled and turned to walk away. Only then did our prior conversations make any kind of (devastating) sense.
So you understand when I say this day for me for years has been riddled with confusion, and a general sense of discomfort and mild anxiety – even during the years I was with someone.
There’s a part of me that still hopes for revelations, and another part just waiting to shut that down.
I’m a romantic, an idealist, even in being a realist, and maybe some part of me knows that what my heart is running hard after is likely always out of reach, because it’s aimed ultimately at the divine and not the human – though I wholeheartedly believe the human can express the divine. Even if this capacity is limited, it can still be abundant.
Certainly the day has turned into something of a consumerist nightmare. Yes, of course.
But I still think that so many of us secretly long for it to be the pure youthful hopefulness we once knew – where red hearts meant something, and love could be easier, and we might find out we are loved.
I think we revel in the complexities of love too – that part of our rejection of the day (if you reject the day) is the knowledge that love is both deeper and more mundane than we were led to believe. This is probably a wise impulse on the one hand.
But on the other hand, the sometimes harsh realities of love (and loss) can leave a person jaded, and self-doubt can lead a person to question one’s own belovedness, worthiness, likeliness of being loved. I think it’s revealing that our primary means of communicating with the masses these days is a system of social media, with all platforms working in roughly the same way: we say things, and our peers react – usually with the “like” or “love” button. We’re still waiting always to find out that we are meaningful in the world – and not just in the world, but to someone. So we live on a steady starvation-level diet of tiny gestures affirming we did or said a good thing. But deep down, we want more.
I went through a mental health scare about seven years ago now which landed me in the rehab hospital, in the ward with addicts, depressives, and failed suicides. I heard a lot of stories sitting in that dayroom, trying to figure out together how we got there, but all of them came back to love and loss of love, and questions left unanswered about worthiness.
After that experience, it wasn’t a conscious decision exactly but was more a thing that began to happen: I began to realize how utterly important it is that we offer one another the gift of revelations of love.
I started a small practice of telling others when I saw them as beautiful, when I noticed something particular and gloried about them, or when they brought me delight somehow. It has at moments led to some awkwardness and is generally a pretty vulnerable thing, and I’m not skilled in the ways I want to be.
But it’s also begun to slowly change my posture toward others, from one of defensiveness, expectation of rejection, and over-criticism, to one of attention with an eye toward discovery, delight, and knowledge-with-kindness.
As my housemate left for work this morning, he looked back around the door before closing it and said, “be kind.”
It struck me as a little bit funny, a strange thing to say, but I also instantly loved it.
This day is one it’s easy to get swallowed up in self-pity or a sense of obligation, and delicious to grumble about the consumeristic co-optings of love. I can tend toward neurotic navel-gazing and woe-is-me-ing and get bound up in how pathetic my divorced nearly-40 something nearly empty-nesting existence is…
But around us are a slew of adults who used to be children and inside generally still are, who at moments feel unwanted and desperate in the silence, who are hoping secretly that love is real, that they are loved and known and wanted, and who are waiting, even if they don’t know it, to hear they are worthy and beloved.
If human love is a limited yet also abundant expression of the divine love all our hearts are tooled to want and move toward, then the actual power we have in one another’s lives is enormous. Very few of us will ever have mystical ecstatic experiences of the divine unmediated by human presence. Yet we hope still for revelations of love, and finding out that we are seen, known, or that someone wants to know us – that we are desired and wanted.
Be kind today. Get out the red construction paper, fold it in half and cut out an ear shape, unfold it into the heart you’ve just made. Pull out your Sharpie and write your love. Go for all the poetry you can muster, but don’t let poetry morph into some neurotic performance pressure that will keep you from saying what you mean.
And set aside questions of being romantic or anxieties that they’ll get the “wrong idea.” Let them rest, just for today. Just be real, honest. Who do you hold close? Name the beauty you see, say the gratitude for who they are to you, tell them they’re beloved, because they are.
No, for real. Go get your construction paper. Buy sparkly stickers, and cut lace out of typing paper. Get the glue. Be a kid making a valentine, and be kind.
Or go even bigger yet.
Love someone. Anyone. The one you think no one else will love today. And trust that in it, the divine is peeking through ready to be revealed.