Truth be told, I’m not quite sure how I feel about Valentine’s Day. Some part of me finds the exhibitionism a bit excessive. After all, true love does not need public expression to be real.
Then there’s the other part of me that believes that love is a miracle worth celebrating. Every day. Love should be right up there in our hierarchy of needs. It seems an overly sentimental notion but we are born hungering for love, just as we hunger for food. From the moment a newborn is able to focus clearly, her eyes peer into those of her mother, searching for the affirmation that comforts her. The affirmation that says, “Yes, I am loved. Yes, I am safe. Yes, I am OK.”
Of course the child doesn’t know it as clearly, but that deep primal hunger causes her to look for clues in the eyes of her caregivers. And when she finds the assurance she is seeking, she relaxes. Yet I have also seen another searching look in the eyes of children in distress, it is a distraught look in those too young to learn the bitter truth that there is no one out there for them.
They look around them, trying to figure out where danger might come from, while knowing they might be helpless to keep themselves safe. It’s a look that breaks my heart because it does not belong on the face of a child. A child who has already suffered her first heartbreak from missing love.
David Richo, author of How To Be an Adult In Relationships, writes, “To give and receive love is our primary need. We express love emotionally, spiritually, and physically. An affectionate touch or hug from someone who really loves us can penetrate our bodies and restore our souls. All our fears, no matter how deep, can be erased by a single loving stroke. Love cannot be defined in a universal way because our experience of love is ours alone.
Just as there is no single, universal signature but only unique, personal signatures, so there is no love in general, only unique love uniquely experienced by each unique person. I learn what love is when I first feel loved.”
Yet if love is our deepest need, and we can die from a lack of love, just as we can die from a lack of food, why do we deprive others and ourselves so often? Most of us will rush to respond to our loved one’s request for food, but delay days, sometimes years, to respond to a request for love. You see it in the son who sends his father money regularly but ignores his father’s request for a visit. He probably reasons, “I’ve sent him some cash for his needs. That should keep him going for a while.”
Yet money, although it can numb the longing for a short while, is such a poor substitute for love. Ask the woman who lives in a lovely mansion, has dozens of workers to attend to her needs, drives the newest cars and dresses in the latest fashions. Yet her heart dies daily from neglect, from love that is not returned.
In the end, love is our highest calling, love for God, self, others. We may call it humanitarianism but love is what compels someone to leave the comfort of their lifestyle to serve vulnerable and suffering people a continent away. Beyond the allure of financial reward, many who do difficult work are driven by something else. Something deeper. Something noble. Something we call love for mankind.
Similarly, great monuments have been built to love, epic films made about the subject, hit songs penned about it, wars have been fought over it. The subject drives billion dollar industries, and yet is discounted daily. How would our experience of living change if we were more intentional about really loving others every day? I wish I could say the path of love is easy. If it was, we would all practice it. Love is work, it means listening when you would rather not, being present when you have competing needs, giving when you are all burnt out. It means going after the one you love when they have wronged you instead of shutting them out.
Love is relentless, it believes all things, and hopes all things. We suffer many ailments, physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically because we missed out on love. Yet love, even if it comes late, can heal miraculously.