Last year on Valentine’s Day we made a heart-shaped pizza. There were cookies with pink icing, stick-on tattoos, and red twirly straws in our drinks. Our hearts were full and well lit. We played outside even though it was cold. We always play outside in the cold.
But that was last year.
Not long ago, we woke up and the world was different. All of a sudden, we turned on the radio and I knew that we would no longer be perfectly insulated from the shadowy gullies of humanity. I knew that my boy, who has enjoyed a life of incredible freedom, safety, comfort, and so much love, was about to see something startling: his belief in the righteousness of the human heart under siege in his own backyard. I knew that he would change a little and so would I. Our nation is divided, our world is divided, and we are shaken.
Hate has risen up around us like a muggy heat. The kind that dampens your lungs and sends you back inside—musty and tired. We don’t like to stay inside around here. Not even on in the middle of February. So, this year on Valentine’s Day, my son and I are going to step outside and have a talk about love. Not the kind that puts pink-icing on cookies (although that love is great too). I mean the ferocious, tenacious, soul-mending love that our world is starving for.
So what are you supposed to tell a four year old about love? A child who, thus far, has professed his unending devotion to only two things: a judicious team of animated dogs and peanut butter cookies. (At least we can all agree on the virtues of those, right?) Thankfully, he will have questions. Four year olds always have questions: What is love for? Where do you put it and how did it get here? What does it look it like? Is it hairy?
And this is what I’m going to tell him:
Your love is for welcoming refugees. It is for pouring out over those who feel unloved. It is for your pregnant teacher, who enjoys no compensation or recognition for the extra work her body is doing every day. Your love is for the people that don’t know how to love as completely as you do. You may not change their minds, but you will surely challenge their hearts. They might challenge yours too. And that is a good thing.
You can put your love into words, and you can put it into action. March for something you believe in. Hug your friends—especially the friends who look different than you, who have different types of families than you, and who might be a walking around this new world a little more cautiously than they were last Valentine’s Day.
You can take good care of the earth with your love. And you should.
What does love look like?
It looks like your aunts living out their wonderful, fulfilled marriage together without that sticky, foggy hate getting anywhere near them.It looks like churches and synagogues and mosques and temples and the big walnut tree in the yard where we like to talk sometimes.
Love got here from people. It lives in all of us, but sometimes? It needs a little encouragement to do its best work. It isn’t doing its best work right now. But you can help with that.
And. yes. Sometimes love is, indeed, quite hairy.
Talk to your kids about love this year. Do it with cupcakes and sweet paper cards. Or do it with only the few words you can muster in this dark time. Let them know their love is powerful, that it can change the world. Let them know it is bigger and bolder and braver than bullies, and monsters. It would be easy to let the world slip away on this grand, glittery holiday, to shut your eyes and play a game of pretend, but this Valentine’s Day. I hope you’ll keep your eyes open and join us in remembering all of the miraculous things our love and our children’s love can do.