Monday, February 16, 2009

In lieu of "Valentine's Day"...

I know many readers are waiting in rapt expectation for the annual Secret Thread Valentine's Day Celebration... what's that you say? You don't remember any in the past??

All right, I'll be honest here - I think Valentine's Day as we know it today is ridiculous, a total sham. I think this guy is absolutely right on the money when he says, essentially, that not only is it a bad idea all around, but it only exists to make retailers richer and actually weakens the concept of "true love" in people's minds.

I know that makes me sound like a crank and a curmudgeon... and yes, it also makes me unpopular at home around this time of year... but something about the idea of the Hallmark Corporation telling me that I MUST express my love for my wife on THIS day, in THIS way, just rubs me the wrong way.

Fortunately, I've come across two items that serve as great reminders/instructors of what real true love is all about... i.e. self-sacrifice, giving without counting the cost, and taking great personal risks to make yourself vulnerable to someone else.

These are the kinds of ideas you're not going to find expressed in pithy statements inside of those Hallmark cards...

A phrase that dawned on me when I first became a parent and has stayed with me ever since is this (and I don't claim it to be in any way original!): the greater the love, the greater the risk. Once I had a child and started the long and wondrous journey of watching and helping him grow (and subsequent other "hims" and one "her" since :) ), I began to realize what a 'great and terrible' thing is it to wholly invest yourself in someone else. Of course I had a sense of that once I met and fell in love with my wife, but with a child somehow it is even more apparent - the instant they are born you feel yourself "fully invested." It felt to me exactly like climbing a very high ladder, putting some powder on my hands and reaching out for that swinging trapeze - even though I had never swung on one before, and there was also that terrifying realization that there is no net underneath!!

Because there isn't. When you give yourself away in love to someone else, you are fully aware of the fact that you could lose them at any moment... and that realization intensifies your love for them like nothing else. Oh, I'm not saying for one second that I always treat my loved ones as I should because of that love... far from it, unfortunately, for I am a deeply flawed man like any other. But when I stop to think about how much I love them, or how much I love their mother... really think about it, and the implications of that... well, I think there is a healthy bit of fear mixed into the warmth of the love I feel. It's scary to deeply love someone, because of how vulnerable you become. Every parent has felt this.

Here are two items that caught my eye because they are expressions of this... in very different ways.

The first is a blog entry from a writer for The New York Times who is suffering from cancer. In this piece he offers a heart-felt tribute to his wife who has hung in there with him through a very physically and (importantly) emotionally/psychologically debilitating experience. It's so devoid of sentimentality that it actually describes things you'd never want to really know about (the man has prostate cancer, so you can imagine)... but that honesty is essential, because it serves to hammer home his point all the more. Which is nicely summed up when he writes:

Yes — lust is essential. But right now, sex seems quaint, old-fashioned. Oddly enough, it can’t compete with the depth and gravity of a light touch, a sly glance. I’m in the mood for the Beatles and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” not Grace Jones growling, “Pull up to my bumper, baby." Don’t get me wrong. I really, really like sex. But given a choice between the mere biology of lust and the deep soul of love, I’ll take love.

A wise man. Me too. Sex is important, sure, even vital - but it's not the be all end all, even though our culture tries to tell us it is. God bless Mr. Jennings in his fight to beat the cancer, and may he enjoy many more years of love - true love - with his wife.

Then there's this concise, poetic and heart-shaking from Donald Hall (especially when you realize the writer lost his beloved wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, several years back) description of the risk of love... which, if you truly mean it when you say those words "in sickness and in health," you're signing up for on the day the ship sets sail.

Love Poem

When you fall in love,
you jockey your horse
into the flaming barn.

You hire a cabin
on the shiny Titanic.
You tease the black bear.

Reading the Monitor,
you scan the obituaries
looking for your name.

May God give me, and all spouses everywhere, the strength and courage to see the journey through to its end... no matter how rough the waters become, no matter if the very ship itself goes down in the effort.

No comments: