valentine days

photo of my daughter by lynn 2015

photo by lynn 2015

I received an email from a counselor/researcher in Kenya last week. He was researching what makes for flourishing marriages. And it reminded me of a study in the Science of Compassionate Love book that reported predictors of good marriages many years on. When people began their relationships with both a global adoration of the other, and an accurate picture of their flaws, they had a better chance of the relationship still being strong and good years later. Being loved by someone who knows our flaws, our weaknesses, and still thinks we are wonderful, ‘the bee’s knees,’  is so great. I think it has a divine source, a source that is ‘more than’. Some of us do not experience this kind of love in romantic relationships, but taste it in other human relationships and/or our relationship with God. To receive this kind of love requires vulnerability on our part.

In my Perspectives: Art, Science, and Spirituality class, one assignment is to select a piece of art — film, poetry, visual art, fiction — that represents compassionate love. One young man brought this one in. When he read it to the class, this poem gave most of us a taste of a kind of love that is truly nourishing. It transcends the romantic, helping us to inhabit eternal love.

Gate C22 by Ellen Bass

At gate C22 in the Portland airport

a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed

a woman arriving from Orange County.

They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after


the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons

and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,

the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other

like satin ribbons tying up a gift. And kissing.


Like she’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,

like she’d been released from ICU, snapped

out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down

from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.


Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.

She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine

she kept saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish

kisses like the ocean in the early morning


of a calm day at Big Sur, the way it gathers

and swells, taking each rock slowly

in its mouth, sucking it under, swallowing it

again and again. We were all watching–


the passengers waiting for the delayed flight to San Jose,

the stewardesses, the pilots, the aproned woman icing

Cinnabons, the guy selling sunglasses. We couldn’t

look away. We could taste the kisses, crushed


in our mouths like the liquid centers of chocolate cordials.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back

and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost

as though he were a mother still


opened from giving birth, like your mother

must have looked at you,

no matter what happened after–

if she beat your, or left you, or you’re lonely now–


you once lay there, the vernix

not yet wiped off and someone gazing at you

like you were the first sunrise seen from the earth.

The whole wing of the airport hushed,


each of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,

her plaid bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse,

little gold hoop earrings, glasses,

all of us, tilting our heads up.


From Mules of Love, by Ellen Bass, BOA Editions Ltd., 2002.