When the Call to Love Your Enemies is a Call to Love Yourself
It’s Valentine’s season again, and like every holiday, it brings its own complexities. As a holiday that celebrates love, some people look forward to the opportunity to nurture their own relationships, while others mourn the loss or absence of love. I’ve found that while I’ve mostly tolerated the day, I do appreciate its significance. I’m lucky to have someone who has always honored the tradition of extending an act of love to me on this day, my mother. Every year my mother gives me a gift on Valentine’s Day, and I’m delighted to admit that it is usually Girl Scout cookies. Perhaps that is why I do appreciate this day; my mother always reminds me that love can be found in many areas of our lives. And I think that’s the question I find myself asking myself each Valentine's Day, what love in our lives are we choosing to celebrate?
I was deeply infatuated by the idea of love as a teenager. When we were asked in my junior year English class to write an essay defining a word of our choice, I chose “love.” I got a terrible grade on the paper. Honestly, I wasn’t a good student at this point in my life. I was in an abusive relationship that nobody knew about, and my definition of love was entangled in what I was experiencing. When we are dealt a cruel hand, those cards become the blinders that obscure the love trying to meet us where we are. Oftentimes we are barricaded from that love because grief covers the ground like a fog, causing you to doubt the reality of what lies beyond it.
“But I say to you who listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” While we all struggle in our own way to love those who have harmed us, my struggle also lies in the reality that grief, loss, and rejection can cause me to be quite unkind to myself. There have been times in my life when an effort to extend the regard I held for myself to another person would have been an act of cruelty. But how else do we learn how to love ourselves other than by the example of love in our lives?
bell hooks wrote in her book All About Love that we might begin to think about love “as an action rather than a feeling,” so that “anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.” Therefore, Valentine’s Day is just as much a celebration of love as it is a reminder that we are responsible for each other, and for ourselves. And for those who struggle on that day, on any day, to recognize that love, hooks reminds us that there is still hope. “The light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame. It is always present, waiting for the spark to ignite, waiting for the heart to awaken and call us back to the first memory of being the life force inside a dark place waiting to be born — waiting to see the light.”