The impending Valentine’s Day can usher in a wealth of emotions: longing, excitement, hurt, confusion, sorrow, hope — or some combination of all of these. For some of us, the holiday offers new opportunities to showcase affection toward our significant other; for others, it is a reminder that we don’t have an other to lavish affection upon.
But although love is what Valentine’s Day announces from candy store windows and card aisles, what the holiday has come to represent is a narrow understanding of the sentiment.
Love. It’s such a small word for such a large thing. One day could never do it justice because love, in its many forms, isn’t necessarily best seen between two lovers. Don’t get me wrong; I’m deeply in love with my husband and have been for a decade. Romantic love is something I cherish and am grateful for, but my life would be much less whole if this was the only love that I experienced. Love manifests in so many different ways, ways too numerous to count.
Love: the parent who calms the crying child in the night.
Love: the friend who brings the ice cream and sits with you in the tears.
Love: the boyfriend who speaks highly of you when you’re not around.
Love: the co-worker who picks up your slack on a project you’re too exhausted to finish.
Love: the barista who overlooks your demanding voice because she knows you’re tired.
Love: the spouse who chooses you over and over and over.
Love: the boss who praises you in front of others.
Love: the friend who texts just to make sure you’re ok.
Love: the child who wants to sit on your lap to read just one more book.
Love: the roommate who does the dishes. Again.
Love: the stranger who offers you a kind word on a difficult day.
While one day will never encompass the many sides of love, a day centered on love can — if we allow it to — be so much more than the exchange of gifts and candy, so much more than a nice dinner or a piece of jewelry. It can be a day that points us to a deeper reflection of all of the facets of love that we have in our lives. It can be a day, ultimately, for thankfulness.
Love. It’s such a small word for such a large thing.
We can thank those in our lives who have given love to us in any of its expressions. What might it mean to your coworker to receive a note of thanks from you? How might your relationship with your sibling change if you told her how thankful you were for the years you shared under the same roof? Perhaps making cookies for your grandmother and stopping by her home — or calling her — to thank her for how she’s impacted your life would not only make her day but her month. Maybe even her year.
A heart of thankfulness turns what we don’t have — whether that’s a romantic relationship or an exciting date or a healthy marriage — into the ability to see the love that we do have in our lives.
We can let the longing that bubbles up on Valentine’s Day point us toward becoming the thankful ones. And we can let that thankfulness lead us into being initiators of love. The 14th of February can lead us into a reflection, if we let it, on how we might love others better and more consistently, not just on this holiday but throughout the year. The ache for a significant other is true and, for many of us, deep. But when we choose to love others out of that ache — not due to neediness but due to a generosity of spirit — we may find that ache softened and a new type of love is experienced. That love, the love that flows from self-sacrifice and genuine care for others, can make our lives rich with meaning and purpose.
Every day of the year.
Who are you grateful for this Valentine’s Day? What capacity of love have they shown you?