One of the more famous of the poems Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to her Robert as they fell in love begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” It has always been a favorite of mine. I even set it to music and played it on my guitar in the days I sang in coffee houses and for parties. Love can be given in many ways, and all of them are valid and special because each person has his or her own way of giving love. When I pay attention and see how love is given, it is a wonderful lesson to be cherished. Watch very small children; toddlers give us wonderful examples of the giving of unconditional love.
The gifts of love are so special. My home has loving presents from friends and family that come from their love and I cherish the giver as I see, wear, or use them. The kind words I hear, or receive in emails or cards and letters never fail to warm my heart. The love I have shared with my beloved husband for nearly forty years is an important part of my every day experience. I think of him as my always valentine. Love whether brotherly, romantic or spiritual nourishes my heart as well as the heart of us all.
Valentines’ day is an annual reminder that love is a vital part of our lives. I know that as I live with love and give it, I grow happier and more content. A wise teacher once told me, “You don’t have to like everyone but you must love everyone.” When I first heard this I thought a lot about what it meant. How do I love everyone? Especially how do I love those that annoy, irritate or even do awful things, whether to me or to others? In time I have taught myself to do this. I learned how as I grew more aware when I wasn’t loving and deliberately corrected myself, replacing criticism with unconditional love. I am still learning.
When I practice unconditional love, love without judgment and with compassion, even unlikable people can be loved. I don’t have to like them, or like how they act. Nor do I have to approve of anything about them. I can simply open my heart and see them as another human being, however troubled or awful, and envision them surrounded in the light of love. If I feel they ought to be punished I can say I hope they get what they deserve, without specifying.
When my children were small and had been naughty, I might not have liked their behavior yet though I might punish them, I loved them all the same. Often their bad behavior came from ignorance or was a test of boundaries. When I make an effort not to judge another person regardless how I might feel about them, I enhance my ability to give that kind of love. Unconditional love grows from practice. Just as I could punish my child’s bad behavior and love them still, I can give my unconditional love to anyone, and as to punishment, that’s not my job. I can have faith that eventually what goes around will come around, and sooner or later, so it will.