Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thinking About Love

Valentine's Day is and its connection to romantic love is celebrated worldwide in February. It is not a particularly Egyptian tradition, and in fact November 4 is celebrated as well as the Egyptian holiday of love. Rather cynically, one could easily suggest that the cute stuffed animals, the roses, the chocolates, the cards, and the rush on intimate dining spots are all a ploy by the commercial interests to get us all spending more money after we've recovered from the giddy rush of the Christmas season, especially since there is no real historical evidence that either the day or the saint have anything to do with romantic love. But the ease with which many cultures have adopted the day of thinking of one's loved one suggests that this is something important to us all.

If you examine the day and the relationships that it celebrates, it is indeed important to us all, for without the bonds of friendship and love between partners it would truly be difficult for us to renew the human race...a fact any single parent will attest to. It is always a good thing to remind ourselves that we are not alone in our daily struggle to survive. As a widow for ten years, it's been rather a long time since I got a Valentine's Day bouquet or card, and I have friends who are just entering the long period of adjustment to this state. It's hard to lose a partner and Valentine's Day can be especially painful in the first years. Those of us who have survived that first traumatic year take care of our friends who are struggling through. We call, visit, email and try to be there to help keep their heads above the waters of loneliness.

So what is this love we are celebrating? Is it only the feelings of warmth engendered by the sight of a smile, the warmth of physical contact, the wish to spend more time together and perhaps marry? When thought of in this fashion, this love that we celebrate on Valentine's Day is not just romantic love ("Oh my, look at that gorgeous one! Wouldn't I love to be the number one for that!) but it is truly love in general.

We love many things and people. We love our husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and children. We love our pets, our gardens, our neighbours (hopefully), our friends and so on as well. Are they truly different kinds of love? From the vantage point of my early 60's, I'm not really sure that they are. Truly, I'm not interested in marrying my terrier who might wake me at night with his barking, nor most of my friends. At the same time, my husband was both loved by me and was my best friend. I knew I could count on him when the chips were down and we shared many secrets that were known only to us. But just as chocolate comes in many flavours that appeal to many sorts of people, or even to any one person at different times, love also comes in many flavours.

Too often we look for love as if it were a beacon or spotlight that might shine on us through the eyes of a loved one. We think of it as a gift that another person or being might bestow upon us if we are worthy, and far too many people feel that they have no hope of being worthy of such a gift. Does love sail out of the moonlit sky like a flying saucer, does it suddenly drench us like an unforseen rainstorm, or fall splat on our forehead like the gift of a passing bird? It certainly feels like that sometimes.

When my husband died, I was devastated, bereft, lost in a number of worlds that seemed completely unfriendly to me. I went through my days in a haze, expecting to see him walk through the door just returned from a business trip that took too long, listening for the sound of him sneezing as he got up in the morning. It was a terrible period for me. One evening, I went out to the farm where I was boarding my horses and took my old mare out for a walk in the summer night. We were alone in the darkness listening to sleepy birds, hearing snatches of music from distant village weddings, noting our time by the call to prayer in the night. My mare walked along the darkened paths calmly, responding to my random comments with a flick of her ear, and I thought to myself how good it was to be alone with someone who cared about me and not about my late husband's businesses. I realised just how much I loved this creature who trusted me to guide her and who offered to guide me when the way was too dark for my feeble human vision. With this realisation, an extraordinary sense flooded through me of the warmth of my mare, the beauty of the trees against the night sky, the softness of the air moving slowly across the fields.

With the loss of my husband, I thought that I had also lost the love that we had shared and that lit our world and warmed our children. Alone with my mare in the night, I realised that nothing outside of us can either take or give us love. The love is within us waiting to come out to touch other living things, whether human, animal, or vegetable. As I passed a village home, a woman called out to me inviting me to tea. I wasn't willing to stop or break the spell, but I found myself able to smile with real warmth at her to thank her. Her answering smile washed over me, leaving me comforted again to the center of my soul. That night, I knew that I would survive my loss and that I would in fact thrive.

When we think of the holiday of love, we must remember this fact. Love is not given to us; we give it and then receive the warmth of our gift. When we cook with love, the food is more delicious and nourishing; when we care for our plants with love, they flourish; when we spread our love and joy among our friends and family, it shines back at us as the sun is reflected in the moonlight. And the more you give, the more you get.

copyright 2010 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani


Cell Phone Camera Photos said...

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Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

I'd honestly forgotten that I'd written this post and arranged for it to be posted to my blog in time for Valentine's Day. After the extraordinary events of the past few weeks, I must add another aspect of love...the unstoppable love of one's country and one's countrymen that sustained the people of Egypt during the days of peaceful demonstrations that were often met with violence.

This morning the former revolutionaries convened again in Tahrir Square to clean the scene of the revolution. Not only did they peacefully topple a history of autocratic rule that was actually over five thousand years long (Did anyone ever elect the pharoah or king? Don't think so) but they are cleaning up after themselves. They will be leaving the city not only preparing to enjoy its first properly conducted election ever, but they were careful not to destroy the country to bring about their aims. That is a wonderful love.

Lisa Petrarca said...

Beautiful post. It is so true...we feel the most love when we share it with others.

You are a true inspiration! I'm so glad I found your blog, it's a treasure!

Anonymous said...

Good day..
I was here because Lisa Petrarca showed me the link to your blog saying that I might like what you write.

And I did. Did come here and like what I read. You're such inspiration for me. Thanks for writing such long and meaningful entry, which makes a good wake up call..

Star said...

Thank you so much for this post.

Jawara Kampung Site said...

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Connie said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing this. Happy Valentine's Day, to you and your love, who will always be in your heart, as well as your critters, family and friends who keep you loved every day.