The supermarkets have been stocked for weeks with red hearts, sugar-laden chocolate-coated chocolate sweets, cards, balloons, florals and other Valentine-themed merchandise. I have found myself reassessing my own personal definition of the word and the emotion, as no doubt humans have done for a very long time.
So what exactly is this crazy mixed-up rush of hormones and sentiments, stewing in our veins and seemingly everready to burst through the surface? It is easy enough I suppose to include those intoxicating sentiments (sometimes mixed with the spice of lust, or even overwhelmed by them) directed towards one particular special person, who might not even be the same person who those sorts of feelings were directed at last month. Since taking so much time off the road these past few months to move into our new house, I have been home with now nearly 3-year old Madeleine a lot, and any parent will tell you that that is a form of love like no other.
But what I wonder is this - is empathy a form of love? The way our hearts are stirred to help the suffering millions in the wake of the Haitian earthquake or Indonesian Christmas tsunami - we are clearly moved, but what are those feelings? I read an amazing story in the Washington Post last month about how we humans are better able to feel deep empathy for a lost dog than far off masses suffering from genocide or famine and how our brain processes those sensory inputs.
What of the two different neighbors here in these last 24 hours, seeing our home and driveway hopelessly buried under nearly 3 feet of snow? They turned their big machines in and dug us out, acknowledged our heartfelt thanks with a wave and moved on. Certainly for the parents and child standing on the porch watching in amazement and gratitude, it was a huge kindness at the least. What motivates kindness then - love, or some other ephemeral human trait that simply bubbles to the surface now and again?
I'm not an expert in psychology, biochemistry, physiology or any other discipline that might answer the questions more scientifically. But I do know this. I am encouraged that there might be a lot more love in the world than one might see on the surface. I am a lucky man - I get frequent acknowledgements of love from family, and a great many kind words and heartfelt sentiments from people touched by music both in person and from afar. I'll keep wondering about the questions no doubt, but I take great comfort in mystery too. I don't need to know how it works, just content and grateful to know that it does. And I'll do my best to keep "paying it forward". After all, I'm pretty sure there never can be too much love in the world. The need is always so great.
Happy Valentine's Day!