Longtime readers of this blog know that I celebrate February 14th with a Valentines Day Poem Blitz. I try to post poems featuring every kind of love—romantic, platonic, familial, and whatever you call love of the earth. I’ll usually throw in a poem for the broken-hearted as well.
This year it’s going to be a little different. This year love seems at once so present (all the beautiful stories of people helping, nurturing, nursing, encouraging, connecting) and at the same time so absent. Pandemic isolation and political division have given love a good thrashing.
So I’m going back to basics. This year I’m only working with two “poems” instead of six or seven. They aren’t actually poems at all (although I’ve inserted line breaks for the sake of easy reading}, and they sure aren’t romantic. If you’re looking for romantic verse for your sweetie, this post will be a cold shower of harsh truth. (You’ll find more traditional Valentines Day fare if you search in the side bar on every month of February since 2011, like here for instance.)
If I didn’t lose you at “harsh truth,” read on. I had Poem Elf helpers all over the country—east coast, west coast, Midwest—post two quotes from Catholic mystic Thomas Merton. Yes, a celibate, monastic Catholic priest here to tell us all about love. Dr. Ruth he is not, but his words have implications for every kind of love. They inspire me to love better, more deeply, more authentically. I hope they’ll do the same for others.
Thanks so much to all the helpers! You are my special Valentines this year.
Let’s start with the first quote, posted in a flower shop in northern Michigan by my friend Lisa:
The beginning of love is the will
to let those we love be perfectly themselves,
the resolution not to twist them to fit
our own image. If in loving them
we do not love what they are,
but only their potential likeness
to ourselves, then we do not love them:
we only love the reflection
of ourselves we find in them.
[Note: I deleted a word in the first line because taken out of context, as this quote is, the word “this” is confusing. What Merton actually wrote: The beginning of this love is the will. . . ]
My nephew Beau lives in San Diego and taped the quote to a rail on San Elijo Beach in Cardiff, California.
Jumping across the country to Vermont, my grand-niece Emma Jane left Merton’s words in the parking lot of Sugarbush ski resort.
Heading south to Washington, D.C., my niece Charlotte taped the poem to a park bench in Logan Square:
And finally, back to the midwest, where my pal Becca left the poem on a lamppost in snowy Chicago:
One more from Becca—a very pretty presentation!
Two of my helpers tackled the second quote, which is even less Valentine-y than the first. Buckle up and love on.
Michigan Lisa found the perfect spot for this quote—at Walmart, positioned between “Love” and “The Hate U Give”—
As long as we are on earth,
the love that unites us will bring us suffering
by our very contact with one another,
because this love is the resetting
of a Body of broken bones. Even saints
cannot live with saints on this earth
without some anguish, without
some pain at the differences
that come between them.
There are two things
which men can do about the pain
of disunion with other men.
They can love or they can hate.
Charlotte also left this one amongst books. Look for it on the lower shelf tucked next to Dan Siva’s book. The books are in the wonderfully named “Miss Pixie’s Antique Store.”
Thanks again to Lisa, Beau, Emma Jane, Charlotte and Becca! I am so grateful for your time and creativity and willingness to be an elf.
To all my readers, Happy Valentines Day. Let’s love like dogs! . . . like dogs love, that is—purely, unconditionally, affectionately, sloppily.
Speaking of love, I love how every installment of the Poem Elf includes a taste of your smart and suitably wicked sense of humor and I laughed out loud at your line about Thomas Merton: “Dr. Ruth he is not!” The fact that both these experts, wise in their own fields, roamed the same earth finds me greatly amused. The two excerpts from Merton are profound and bracing. The placement of the second poem between “Love” and “Hate” on the shelves gave your presentation added punch. Finally, I feel great joy knowing Poem Elf Helpers are active across the country, including a delightful one in a neighborhood near me.
Thanks, Tom! Yes, Lisa made a very clever and meaningful placement….I feel as you do….it made me very happy to have Merton’s words spread across the country. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I think Thomas Merton’s words really speak about today’s world. People should be able to have different views without worry (especially from family and friends) that they will be judged as wrong.
Yes, or judged as unworthy of love altogether. Thanks for reading!