I used to be a hater — of Valentine’s Day. I saw it as a day brought upon us by the annoyingly love-blessed, the chocolate industrial complex, and the flower lobby. The whole day, and the weeks leading up to it, used to make me feel sad, anxious, angry, deprived, and cosmically missing out.
In response, I’d turn angry, bitter, and lash out at those who were blissfully in love and putting up nauseatingly sweet romantic pictures on social media.
But this year, something has changed. My sense of love has become more expansive, more inclusive, and more generous. And it has changed how I look at both those who cherish Valentine’s Day as well as those who are missing that “special someone” for this day.
There are a few who are celebrating this Valentine’s Day with that rare and beautiful partner who is a kindred spirit, a Layla to their Majnun, a mirror to their mirror. If that is you, alhamdulilah: Give thanks to God. May this love lead you deeper and higher to a beautiful sacredness.
Truth be told, as I look around, the above only fits a very small percentage of people. Then there is the rest of the planet, lovelorn and yearning, or having made themselves content.
There are those who are in a relationship that has been bereft of love for far too long. There are those who loved once, only to lose the love of their life. There are those who have never found a soul with whom to share all of their heart.
If any of the above sounds like you, this V-Day can feel like an assault, a war, an invasion. It can be painful, isolating, and may somehow seem as if it is your fault that the chocolate and flowers industry doesn’t fit the reality of your life. If the above sounds like you, may it be as Rumi says, “all desires, all loves, are truly a desire and a love for God.”
Look at who is around you. You may well find that you are in fact surrounded by love, but a love that is in a different guise than romantic love. It may well be that you are not loveless, but quite loved. Look around you and find the sentient beings that give you love and receive your love, be it an old friend, a parent, a child, a pet.
Love comes in all hues and fragrances: love for a friend, a stranger, a parent, a mentor, a lover, a teacher, a sibling, a child; a puppy, a kitten; a garden, a mountain, the woods. Love is love is love.
“We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
Cannot be killed or swept aside”
May these loves, any of them, all of them, lead you to a love that is pure sacredness. There is a gift that the mystics of yesteryears have to offer us: There is, ultimately, one love.
The old mystics had a discussion on the true nature of love, one that lasted a few centuries. They wondered what the relationship was between the love for humans and the love for God. For a while, the answer was clear and unanimous: The love for humans is elementary, the starter kit. It is merely the alphabet we have to master first before we can compose sonnets for God. We have to master the love of humans before we can truly learn to love God. In this reckoning, the love of God was set to be the “real love,” and human love was but a metaphor.
Then came a breakthrough. These mystics realized, as Bob Marley did, as we must, that there is but one love. Love is what brought us here. Love is what sustains us here, and it is love that will deliver us back home. There is one love (‘eshq, in Persian). Human love, when it is stripped of the traps of ego, is divine. To journey on this one love is what the mystics called the path of radical love. How liberating this can be, to know and realize that to participate in any love is to be a part of the divine unfolding, the cosmic unleashing.
May it be that we move towards a lovelier, more generous notion of Valentine’s Day. In as much as any love, pure and unselfish, leads one to God, to a connection with “the all,” let us celebrate Valentine’s Day. And because love is precious and dear and sacred, let us hold on to two reservations about Valentine’s Day:
The first reservation is that we have taken the full range of loves, love shared with parents, friends, children, animals, the cosmos, and ultimately, the sum total of all those loves — the divine — and collapsed them all into one type of love (the romantic one) that is to be celebrated. Second, that as is our tendency with anything that is precious, we have now commercialized this day to the tune of an 18-billion dollar industry. So yes, indeed, celebrate love, but may we cherish a love that is raw and gritty, and real.
Love is the water of life, for all of us parched-lipped souls who are standing knee-deep in the river. Let us drink it up with heart and soul.
Here we can turn to the bards of the East and the West. John Lennon famously said:
“It matters not whom you love,
where you love,
why you love,
when you love or how you love.
It matters only that you love.”
And the Bard of the East, the incomparable Rumi, gives all of us — the weary and love-fatigued and love-hopeful — a beacon of light to reach for. This could be God, this could be a beloved; this is love itself whirling across the cosmos:
“If you have lost heart in the Path of Love
Flee to me without delay
I am a fortress
Let us, all of us, friends, heart-lost friends, find shelter in this fortress of love.