A Valentine for children and lovers

Why is the measure of love loss?

So begins one of my favorite late 20th century British postmodern novels, “Written on the Body” by Jeanette Winterson.

When I thought about writing a column on “love” for Valentine’s Day, it was the first quote that popped into my head.

I am, actually, quite the romantic. Winterson might be on to something there, especially when I am in my car with my children who are now teenagers and listening to rap music and I realize I’m the only one who remembers us riding along listening and humming to the theme song of “Thomas the Train.” Loss.

Valentine’s is a kids’ holiday, but I’m no longer begged to make cupcakes for a class or trudging out to the store for valentines. My son will give his girlfriend an exquisite collection of happy red and pink items he’s purchased. My daughter will roll her eyes a few times and be done with the day.

More than I miss most people or things I’ve loved, I miss the younger, innocent versions of my children. Teens are often a wretched replacement. For starters, they don’t hug you like a 5-year-old. Each year, I lose a child I have loved fiercely and will never see again. Each year, I have to get to know a stranger taking up residence in their bedrooms and the minute I get used to and love the new version of them, they morph into another stranger and look at me strangely because I can’t keep up. Sigh. Love. Loss.

Which brings me to another favorite quote — from Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez in “Love in the Time of Cholera:”

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

Ah yes. We can love them, but they are becoming themselves.  We shall lose our children to our children and then perhaps to their partners.

  Where’s a romantic to go, then? Not to motherly love, but inward into the love of soulmates. The Czech writer Milan Kundera brings back the quest that we had before we even had children. The first loss:

“He suddenly recalled from Plato’s Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split then in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.”

Like impractical romantics everywhere, I have been searching for that other half. Someone who feels like home (Sigh. I may have just accidentally quoted Madonna in “Like a Prayer”). My first type of writing I ever got into was poetry. Poets and Valentine’s are an unfortunate over the top mix.

Poets are the worst sort of creatures on Valentine’s Day because they do not settle or expect the mundane of every day living; they set their sights too high and demand that love mean something grand. We look at it on a spiritual plane. We insist and create an existence overwhelming for our partners. We are not satisfied with the box of chocolate you bought us. We don’t know quite what we are looking for, but we know we are looking for more and quite possibly demanding too much.

We require, like the great Chilean love poet Pablo Neruda, life itself:

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”

In my perfect world, that is exactly what I must have. It is also what I have found. Lucky me and my measure of love. That of course, is what I want for Valentine’s Day — to be submerged in love.

I cannot return teenage children to their former selves and love on them — and if I remember correctly and not nostalgically, they were probably squirming away from me much sooner than the tween years. Instead I celebrate and embrace, like Shuichi Yoshida in “Villain,” an over the top kind of love — new love.

“Until I met you,” she said, “I never realized how precious each day could be. When I was working, each day was over before I knew it, and then a week just flew by, and then a whole year … What have I been doing all this time? Why didn’t I meet you before? If I had to choose a whole year in the past, or a day with you – I’d choose a day with you …”

Sappy. I know it to be true and I am unapologetic. Love is vital. The measure of love really is loss.

All of us who heard of the tragic accident last week could not help but feel the sorrow of an engaged couple dying so early in their lives.

Headlines these days are almost too unbearable to face. I prefer to go inward. There’s too much loss around us.

We all need love. In any way it manifests. I’ll be reading words of love from favorite authors today. I have a bunch of love now. I give it away too. And I daresay even the teens I birthed over a decade ago could benefit from a box of chocolates and a forced hug and an “I love you” whispered in their ears.