“This spirit of love lives at the grocery store, where the lady at the self-checkout is never without a genuine smile.”
February: this itty-bitty month packs a punch with Valentine’s Day as the center of the target. It is the month of love. For weeks leading up to the so-called Hallmark holiday, little red hearts float over our heads in cafes and shops and schools, like we’re 3D versions of old-fashioned cartoons, consumed with emotion and any moment at risk of our eyes popping out of our heads should the object of our affection cross our path. Because that’s what love is. A romantic passion that takes over your physicality. (This is the sarcastic part. Serious part forthcoming.)
When I was in my twenties and about to complete my undergraduate studies, I begrudgingly walked into a night class and was immediately annoyed that this handsome boy had the nerve to be sitting there, right in the same room where I was expected to learn. (This is the cartoon bit, the heart-shaped lump pounding out of my chest part.) Seventeen years later, here is what I actually call love: A crumpled heart, torn from notebook paper and fluttered down through the sunroof of my car that’s lived in my jewelry box for nearly two decades. The spot on his shoulder where my head fits that always feels like home. Chopped firewood right by the fireplace, and the fire lit in the morning, without fail, like magical elves complete the task while I’m sleeping. Walking into rooms and knowing instantly at least one person is glad to see me.
Twelve years ago, the tiniest human I ever saw made me a mother, and when they set her in my arms, I worried that I might never be able to breathe again, stunned at the sight of her, taken over by a new, permanent lump in my throat. That still happens from time-to-time, I won’t lie. But it turns out, loving a daughter has also looked like: relinquishing any aversion to being covered in various bodily fluids. Giving up the last bite of cookie, even though cookies are my favorite. Learning to appreciate new folds in my body, telling her stretch marks are evidence of magic. Driving everywhere, at every minute of every day for probably the rest of my life. Miraculously doubling these efforts, and finding more than enough for another small human. Forgoing sleep and still being thrilled to see their smiles in the morning.
I am lucky enough to have some of my best friends right here in town. They are the sort of friends who, last summer, threw me a 2002-themed birthday party, which is the actual definition of my love language. They’re the sort of friends who, when my boiler was dead for a week, invited me to use their shower, complete with face masks, spa candles and towels still warm from the dryer. But they’re also the sort of friends who might text on a Sunday evening and say, “We have leftover soup if you want to come hang out,” and what they mean is, come as you are. And I wonder if you, like I, feel more loved in your sweatpants and cozy socks than you do in your wedge heels, butterfly clips and body glitter, aka, the peak of 2002 fashion.
This spirit of love lives at the grocery store, where the lady at the self-checkout is never without a genuine smile. Or at my yoga studio, where my favorite instructor remembers what I was feeling anxious about last week, even though we only chatted for 10 minutes before class. It’s in my girls wanting to run errands around town so they can say hello to this shop owner or pet this dog or push the little carts to the toy section because this is the sort of place where people look out for each other and let your kids be kids.
It seems to me that life’s biggest Loves show themselves most often in the minutia, in the boring, everyday parts of living. But these instances have the greatest impact. So I say, take a day. Take a day to tell your significant other that their little quirks are exactly what make them significant. Take a day to appreciate whatever stage your children are in, the wonder they generously teach us. Take a day to honor that neighbor or townsperson who always makes an effort toward Love. Take a day to bubble those little moments to the surface and make them The Most Important, deserving of roses and sparkly garland and a candlelit dinner or a note scribbled into a card. (Make it any day. Valentine’s Day. Today. Tomorrow. Just find a way to celebrate love.)