Inspired by many great writers, I want to offer you a different kind of love story for Valentine’s Day 2022.
Amanda Gorman – the youngest U.S. Poet Laureate who recited “The hill we climb” at Biden’s inauguration — also wrote “Call us what we carry,” ending in these words:
We are not me—
We are we.
What we carry.
I was meditating on this poem as I thought about how Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, and not just romantic love. I’m talking about the love that exists in all kinds of relationships, all of which needs to be celebrated and contemplated. Dr. Sue Johnson’s keynote at the 2019 Psychotherapy Networker, titled “The Best Love Story Ever,” also inspired me to think about these safe haven that human connection and love offers to everyone.
Picture 3 images: a newborn, held safely in the arms of a parent; a steep hill you are about to climb; an image of beloved community.
First, a tender image of a newborn – held in safely in another’s loving hands.
This infant is loved and wanted. They have someone to depend on and to believe in their growing strengths and capabilities. This is the picture of love as secure. Attachment science shows that we are all born with a need to be safely held, cared for – to know we have one or two others to count on. That need endures from the cradle to the grave. There is no such thing as self-reliance. Effective dependency is necessary for survival. John Bowlby wrote, “There is no such thing as over-dependency or true independence; there is only effective or ineffective dependence.”
Said another way, “We need the eyes of others to form and hold ourselves together” for a lifetime. (Daniel Stern, The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life, 2004)
We need others whom we can risk reaching to for support, and we need to respond to others reaches for support. In fact, it is in loving and in being loved that we are shaped and that we survive. Secure connections confirm who we are.
Second, imagine standing at the bottom of a steep hill, that you are about to climb.
A study done in 2011 had participants standing at the bottom of a hill, wearing a heavy backpack. They were asked to judge the steepness of the hill they were about to climb. They estimated it to be less steep when they stood next to a friend than when they stood alone. Additionally, the longer the friendship, the less steep the hill appeared (Beckes & Coan, 2011; Coan & Maresh, 2014). This study confirms that we are wired for connection. Having someone next to me changes my perception. Being in relationship with trusted others reduces the enormity and threat of every task and lightens the load of every burden. The hills we must climb or choose to climb are less difficult in relationship, in community. Connections with trusted others gives us courage, resilience, and strength.
The third image I’d like you to have is that of beloved community.
This includes your ancestors, your loved ones, departed or alive today, your closest friends and colleagues, the vulnerable and weak (those you know and those you have not met). Picture them walking towards you, offering support to you and reaching out for your support.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1957 said, “The creation of the beloved community …is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of aesthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of all.”
Being the beloved community we can strive to create what bell hooks called an ethic of love. Perhaps Dr. Sue Johnson’s resounding attachment question, “ARE you there for me?” can be expanded to creating beloved community:
A.R.E. we here for one another?
As an acronym, ARE represents:
A – for accessible – Are you there? Are you reachable? Can others depend on you?
R – for responsive – when another calls will you respond? Will you hear? Will you be present?
E – Emotionally engaged? – Will you step into relationship with your heart and soul – and full emotional presence?
Accessible, responsive and emotionally engaged: this is the beloved community we can help to create. As we embrace differences – and we must embrace differences to build community – we must face the differences of race, of political views, of gender orientations, of neurological differences and all the discomforts of difference.
While shaping this beloved community, we will make mistakes. “It’s ok. Lean into the correction and know that while your mistakes will have consequences, no matter what is required for repair, a few things remain: your inherent worth, your Belovedness, and your capacity to grow and do better next time.” (p. 192, Osheeta Moore in Beloved White Peacemakers)
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Budddhist monk, exiled from his home country of Vietnam because of his pacific views wrote, ”We have different roots, traditions, and ways of seeing, but we share the common qualities of love, understanding, and acceptance. For our dialogue to be open, we need to open our hearts, set aside our prejudices, listen deeply, and represent truthfully what we know and understand.”
This Valentine’s Day, may we embrace an ethic of love to uproot injustice, to tear down discrimination. To build beloved community.
The ethic of love offered by bell hooks in her book All about love (2001) challenges us. “The choice to love is a choice to connect — to find ourselves in the other” (p. 93).” An ethic of love tasks us with a mission to uproot and teardown the comforts of our complacency, of our positions of privilege or advantage. We should aim to uproot the violence of white supremacy, and to plant inclusion, equality, and connectedness between all.
“To live our lives based on the principles of a love ethic (showing care, respect, knowledge, integrity, and the world to cooperate), we have to be courageous learning how to face our fears is one way we embrace love. Our fear may not go away but it will not stand in the way. Those of us who have already chosen to embrace a love ethic, allowing it to govern and inform how we think and act, know that when we let our light shine, we draw to us and are drawn to other bearers of light. We are not alone.” (bell hooks, p. 101).
Like Leonard Cohen once sang, may we create beloved community where we dance with many through their panic, til they are safely gathered in.
For today’s post, I drew on several authors for inspiration. What was your favourite? Do you have another you’d like to share?