As we approach another Valentine’s Day, our thoughts turn to love. We remember our younger days, our first loves, present loves, loves we have lost, and maybe even the loves yet to be. Our life experience has taught us that Valentine’s Day is about giving to show love, or getting to feel loved.

But when the first Valentine’s Day was commemorated, it had no romantic connotation. In the beginning, it was a day to honor sacrifice and was named for saints who were martyred in AD 496 and AD197.

And then Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the “Parliament of Fowls” a line that began our romantic fixation with February the 14th: “For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when all the birds of every kind that men can imagine come to choose their mates.”

Today, you can’t help but think about romance, and what you should give or get. Heart-shaped boxes of candy and the color red, seem to be everywhere to remind you. Retailers inform us that it is the time to show love with cards, flowers and candy.

You are no longer safe from these reminders in grocery stores. Gone are the days when you had to visit the five-and-dime or corner drug store to get a Valentine. The end caps at the beginnings of grocery aisles beckon to you; they seem to say, “show your love by spending some money here.”

But what is love, and how is it measured? As you quietly ponder this question, the headlines blare out all things harassing, all things violent and all things political. Too much repetition, too much negativity, too much hopelessness.

It makes you want to “turn off and tune out,” to borrow a phrase from the ‘60s.

Is love the memory of a first kiss? Is it crumpled dandelions in a toddler’s hand? Is it an old couple holding hands as they walk slowly and carefully along? Is it a new mother holding her baby? Is it the special handmade card you have saved, or the memory of an “I love you” from a tearful teenager? Is it sacrifice? Love can be difficult to define.

My friend Donna is thoughtful beyond belief. Wherever she goes, she is armed with a flower, a card, a kind word, a trinket, a smile or a hug. She exudes a joy for living and a love for others without saying a word.

Her giving activities belie the loneliness that sometimes creeps into her own life. She is ready to celebrate life’s achievements and adventures, no matter to whom they belong. Her caring is real and warm, comforting, and at times, contagious. Her life is an expression of love.

Geneva was another one of those people. Her love for others shone in her eyes. In 1947, after retirement, she took in her ailing mother, followed by her father-in-law. Both came to stay with her in their late-sixties and managed to live to 100 and beyond.

This was to be no short-term expression of love for Geneva. During those same years, she cared for her grandchildren on every day of every summer, as they grew up. She caught rain water for her wringer washer, tended chickens, ducks and a huge vegetable garden, and never seemed to mind all the extra laundry these long-term house guests brought her, nor all the extra meals she was left to prepare.

She cared for them all with palpable joy, and a genuine spirit of caring. She was my grandmother, and her home might be the warmest place I have ever been.

We all have stories; stories of friends, family members, neighbors; all of whom have shown us about loving; and we have our own memorable stories, too.

But now to The Beatles who formed much of the soundtrack of our lives. Their song “In The End” seems right for Valentine’s Day. Remember that last line, written by Paul McCartney? When you think of Donna, Geneva, or those in your own life, Paul McCartney may have said it best:

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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