My wife and I started our Valentine’s Day this year not-so-romantically: by taking care of a sick kid. Not so glamorous, not so romantic, but oh-so-appropriate. We cleaned up for hours after multiple rounds of Andrew throwing up, scrubbing carpet and floors, doing loads of laundry, bathing Andrew after a couple of the really violent episodes… all the while, Maura and I relied on each other to take care of both Andrew and his brother, whose needs still needed to be met regardless of the other circumstances in our house. It was well past midnight before our heads finally hit our pillows for good, a couple wee hours away from our typical daily morning routine. Happy Valentine’s Day, right!? Despite the lack of sleep and the disruption to one of our few chances at relaxation, and even though I wish our son weren’t sick, I found myself grateful for it all and grateful for what I’ve learned about love over the years. And I truly mean that I’ve learned. Maybe you have too. While the ability to love is innate – something we are all capable of – it is often something that gets distorted in our lives, twisted by culture and fear, and we often have to relearn how to love fully.
Today will be a day where you see the famous Pedro Arrupe, SJ quote plastered across Twitter and Facebook and rightfully so… it’s a great quote. “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Falling in love can be a great feeling, a great sensation, one of the truly universal human experiences that make life worth living. Some fall in love multiple times in their life, with ideas, causes, or people. I’ve known it too, but I’ve also learned tough lessons about what else has to happen in order for committed love to blossom from this initial fall. I’ve learned that you have to love and accept yourself before that love of something external to you can really take root. Until then, that experience of falling in love will remain incomplete. When we stop being ashamed of our humanity and own all of our flaws and our great gifts, only then can we be authentic in relationship, opening all of ourselves to a partner or cause.
While “falling in love” with something or someone conjures up dreamy fairy-tale scenarios of finding the perfect companion, or dedicating your total self to a social cause, or pursuing a mystical spiritual life, the next part of the quote is often missed: stay in love. And “staying in love” takes work, “staying in love” is a choice, “staying in love” demands sacrifice. The Jesuits love to talk about solidarity, forming men and women for and with others. We often reference that in terms of building solidarity with the strangers or neighbors in our lives. How often do we consider building solidarity in our most intimate interpersonal relationships? I have learned that staying in love has a lot to do with solidarity: weaving my fate with the fate of my partner, with the fates of my children. Not a day goes by where this isn’t put to the test. Each day brings an opportunity to put “us” over “me.” Each day brings an opportunity to be a better man, partner, father, and to be a more loving version of myself in all those roles.
And it has decided everything. Over the years of my education in love I have failed. I have disappointed myself and others. I have worked hard. I have been selfish. I have sacrificed. I have felt empty and I have felt the fullness of love. But no matter how much I have failed or succeeded, I do know that it has decided everything. For that I am grateful. I am grateful for staying in love with my partner, because there is something very gratifying at letting our heads hit the pillows knowing we just intuitively worked together to care for our boys. I am grateful for staying in love with my family because there is no better way to understand unconditional love than to sacrifice some relaxation time in order to clean up after a sick kid and then feel his heavy head upon my shoulder. I am grateful for staying in love with a career in ministry because there is nothing more fulfilling than to slug away working nights and weekends and early mornings and then at the end of each year to hear our graduating seniors talk about how our work has helped transform them into people ready to serve in the world. These are my everythings that were decided by falling in love and staying love. These are the everythings that I choose to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. So no matter if you’re in college or just out, no matter if you’re romantically involved or single, no matter if you’re searching for a vocation or years into a career, take this Valentine’s Day to celebrate what you have learned about love in your life in all its forms. And maybe consider these questions: How can I love myself more fully, all of myself? How can I soften my heart and let others in? How can I be more empathetic? How can I pursue more fully that which stirs my soul? When we live those questions, we will know a sense of love each day of the year that dwarfs any fleeting emotion that one Valentine’s Day can conjure. When we live those questions, our everythings will take care of themselves.
Greg Carpinello serves as the Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University. His greatest wish for Valentine’s Day is a house full of restored health! Read more from Greg on this blog.