Illuminating History’s Shadows Through Fiction
Illuminating History’s Shadows Through Fiction

Counting the Ways

February 14, 2024

What is love anyway?

Over centuries, artist, writers, musicians, philosophers, scientists and basically every human being have sought to answer that question, to craft their own definition. Still, after so many attempts over so much time, the emotion we experience in its various forms over our lives is elusive enough that
we humans continue to find new ways to comprehend and express it.

Valentine’s Day is a case in point. Most of us think candy, flowers, a romantic dinner and a ‘perfect day’ expressing our most intimate and personal feelings all condensed into that single 24-hours of commemoration. Romantic is what that day is ‘supposed to be’.

As a condensed expression of romantic love, Valentine’s can be traced back to the 14th century. The annual celebration may have been formalised in the days of courtly love; in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia makes note of the day. Some of the first ‘commercial’ ventures of Valentine’s Day came in the later part of the 18th Century with the creation of sentimental verses and printed cards  with drawings. By the early 19 th Century, decorated paper Valentine’s had become so popular, amorous suiters were willing to spend significant money mailing them to impress the object of their affections.

It’s all very well to submit to our expectations on days such as Valentine’s (or other commemorative holidays), set by paradigms and traditions that imbue expectations we askew questioning, but in creating those social constructs, much of great substance falls through the cracks. We may find
ourselves anticipating the fulfilment of a romantic love that can be unrealistic or superficial. Or, we may feel the unpleasant void of love’s absence.

Expectations can be a slippery slope; assumptions often lead to erroneous conclusions or disappointments. Conversely, fortune (or clear-sightedness) may see our expectations fulfilled.

If learning is its own reward, writing Red Clay, Running Waters taught me a great deal about assumptions and expectations. It also taught me a great deal about Love, and how many forms this core human emotion can take.

Over the course of telling John and Sarah Ridge’s story I came to realize how much of their lives were driven by love. I cannot speak to their own awareness of this, but actions, you will accept, speak louder than words. From the love of a parent for a child (and visa versa), to love of learning, another person, or for a community, country or a concept, the catalyst for their choice became obvious to me in retrospect. Yes, they experienced romantic love, but it was Intermingled with a compelling sense of purpose and deep personal connection. Love sent John on his journey to Cornwall, into Sarah’s arms, back to his homeland, and ultimately to the choices they both made.

The sentimentality and romance of Valentine’s – nice as it is – are not the same as sympathy and sacrifice by a long shot, yet are they not also a form of love?

Certainly, a single day cannot possibly capture the multilayered complexity of what we think of as love, yet contemplation may ultimately lead to the realization that a great many of our feelings and actions, at their core, are rooted in that emotion.

On this day for lovers, marked with symbols of romantic love, even if no flowers or chocolates happen to come your way, I hope you will also be reminded that love can be so much more than the icons we have gathered to represent it. Love can be found everywhere, at any time, in many, many forms, if we allow our hearts to speak. How many forms of love can you put a name to?

Recent stories