Love Has Many Forms and Faces

Stephen and Tasha by Kim 3          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.

The Many Kinds Of Love

Peace Village retreat 7eart cropped2Saint Valentine may or may not have actually existed. In fact, research reveals that there were not one but three Saint Valentines in all, with various details to their lives and deaths though all were martyred. The general information on the Internet indicates they were killed for performing marriages that had been forbidden by the Emperor Claudius the Cruel. It is also said that the Christian church took advantage of a popular pagan festival of that month, substituting the celebration of St. Valentine’s beheading.

Saint Valentine and Valentines’ Day aside, romantic love, while nice to have in one’s life is not necessarily the most satisfying. I recall how one day a dear friend was bemoaning his recent breakup with his former girlfriend. “Nobody loves me,” he mourned. “I love you,” I replied. “But you love everybody,” he retorted. I sighed and nodded. I had wanted to cheer him up. However he seemed determined to be sad. Many crave romantic love and are not comforted by the fact that they are loved in other ways

According to the Internet, the Sanskrit language has 96 words for love, ancient Persian has 80, Greek has three and we have only one. What a sad state of affairs! There are synonyms that express a loving feeling for someone or something: fondness, affection, adoration, and so on. Regardless, they do not adequately describe the love of a child for its parents, of the attachment many feel for their animal companions, or even of where they live. You probably would not say, “I am fond of my baby, my cat, or feel affection for my home,” you would usually say, “I love…”

The fact that we have no other word for it means that we apply the term “love” to many situations and individuals. We say we love this or that or them, yet we do not mean we have romantic feelings. Does this weaken the impact of the word? My friend’s dismay when I told him I loved him might indicate that the love I had for him was somehow not as desirable or as important as the love of his girlfriend. Yet my feelings for him were actually less tinged with judgment and more comprehensive than the ones he craved to hear from her.

Unconditional love or in Latin Caritas and in Greek Agape may be the most important of the kinds of love we can express for others or even for dwelling places or animals. That kind of love carries no criticism or parameters, no qualifiers or desire for any return. It is simply and purely love in its most beautiful form. When we are at our most loving is when we can give this love to others. It has the power to transform and to heal as well as to uplift. It is this love that the martyred St. Valentine back in the days of Rome portrays to us. Perhaps his love for others as he expressed it before he was executed might be seen as an example for us all.

 

My Always Valentine, by Tasha Halpert

Stephen and Flowers People who do not know us sometimes ask Stephen and I how long we have been together. I think this might be because we don’t act like an old married couple. We are often openly affectionate in public and might seem more like young lovers. Yet we have been together for many years now, so many that I am always a bit taken aback when I think of the total. To me there is something odd about how past years seem to accordion. It is as if they compress in some way so that they don’t seem to be nearly as much time as when I contemplate them stretching into the future.

Stephen is my always Valentine and I am his. What that means is that we treat one another with respect. We do not compete nor have we ever done so. We don’t need to. Instead, we cheer one another on, each wanting the best for the other. Neither do we put one another down or make fun of one another. While gentle teasing may be appropriate between couples, mean behavior is absolutely unkind. It is also true that no matter how long we may be together, in order for our relationship to stay strong it has to grow at the same rate we do.

I believe it is vital for individuals to keep growing; whatever does not grow normally begins to decay. For our love to grow along with us we must work to make it do so. In my experience, love grows with appreciation, with honesty, and with the expression of gratitude. We do our best never to take one another for granted. When he washes the dishes, I thank him. When I cook a meal or drive us somewhere, he thanks me. When he sees a book I might like at the library, he points it out. When I see something he might want to eat at the market, I purchase it.

These many small gestures add up. Along with the days of our lives they form a fragrant bouquet that surrounds us with loving kindness. Being kind to one another is an important ingredient in our marriage. Another is sharing feelings with honesty. If something is troubling one of us, we share it, even if it may feel painful to do so. This is something I insisted on when we began our relationship, and over the years it has helped us avoid many problems.

Our years together have gone by so quickly that it is difficult to understand how they could have accumulated the way they have. Yet like leaves piled under a tree in the forest, they have melded into a kind of fertilizer that feeds the ongoing growth of our relationship. I am enormously grateful to have Stephen in my life. He feels the same. We both feel blessed. It is most wonderful to have an always Valentine, and each of us does our best to make sure that as long as we both live, we always will.