The Decision to Love

My childhood education was a bit different from that of other people in my generation. I went to Catholic school. On the one hand, I had advantages that kids who attended public school in my area didn’t have, like a grade school science lab and self-paced lessons in other courses. On the other hand, most every lesson seemed to be somehow tied to a story about a saint.

My fourth grade teacher, Sr. Damien Joseph, always had colorful anecdotes. Of them all, I remember her telling the story of St. Valentine.

As I recall, the whole school was particularly excited that day. Each of us brought a box of Valentines and treats to share in class for the afternoon. Being taught that we were to love everyone, it was expected that we would have a Valentine to give to each member of the class. Before the fun began, Sr. Damien Joseph told us the story of St. Valentine. Legend had it that this third century saint was sent to his death as a martyr for performing marriages for couples that had not been sanctioned by the Roman government. Going on, she explained that all love comes from God and that God loves us more than we could ever love another. As if this were not peculiar enough for our fourth grade minds, she went on to explain that love was not an emotion, even though it sometimes had feelings attached to it. Instead, love was based on a decision, a commitment to another person to hold the other in love even when it didn’t feel good. After the story about the saint, then the party began as we shared cards and chocolate treats.

What she said made little sense to me at that time, but her message has stayed with me over the years. While I have no fear of martyrdom, like Valentine, I have performed many wedding ceremonies that were not sanctioned by the state, for gay and lesbian couples as well as for seniors who risked the loss of pension benefits if they were legally married. More importantly, I have learned that love is a decision and a commitment and not an emotion.

My partner and I have been together for nearly nine years. We’ve experienced many stresses. Some of them have been the usual kinds couples face and other stresses have reflected the uniqueness of our relationship as a bi-national couple. Through it, we’ve continued to grow together and have grown as a couple longer than more than 50% of married couples in the United States. It’s not because it’s easy or because every day Cupid is shooting arrows round-about us. Instead, it is our mutual decision and commitment to continue to be and grow together through whatever obstacles come our way.

I’ve also been blessed to have several close friends whom I’ve known for 15, 20, or 25 years. Through geographic moves and many personal changes, we have remained close and supportive of each other. As part of a culture in which people are often transient, moving in and out of our lives, it requires effort and commitment to maintain close friends through all the changes we experience.

On this Valentine’s Day, I’m excited for those who share romance and excitement of young love. But I prefer to remember the childhood lesson taught on a Valentine’s Day long ago: that love is a decision to care for another person even when it doesn’t feel good. That’s because I’ve learned that when I continue in relationships and move beyond the challenges there’s a depth of intimacy that’s like nothing else in the world. Perhaps it was that knowledge that inspired Valentine the third century priest to give his life for the sake of those who loved.

© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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