As a writer with a huge soft spot for romance, the word love tends to summon forth images of kisses and soft whispers in the dark, gentle fingers trailing down a naked back, a giggle that ends with a gasp as someone nibbles a sensitive earlobe.
Love, of course, is much more than that.
Now, some would argue that to truly love others, you need to love yourself. Think “The Greatest Love of All“. I can’t say I love myself all that much, but with advancing years I am better at forgiving myself for my failings. But despite not being head over heels with myself, I definitely know how to love. A lot.
The first time I held a child of mine in my arms, I thought that this was the pinnacle of love. Never again would I experience a surge of such protective emotions. Never again would I marvel at the perfection of the little being in my arms, never would my heart crack so wide open to welcome this totally unknown individual. I meet baby Maria’s unfathomable gaze and fell helplessly in love.
The love a parent feels for a child—especially the love a recently delivered woman, still high on hormones, feels—is very protective. You try to hurt my baby and I will RIP you to shreds! It is also, at least initially, an unrequited love. The infant needs you. It depends on you, it craves your warmth and nurturing. It does not necessarily love you, but as the infant becomes more cognisant, as he or she begins to take in the world, recognise people, even smile, I am sure something akin to love takes root in their little hearts.
Small children love unreservedly—they have no expectations on you, beyond you being there. Which, of course, is why a parent who abuses or mistreats a child leaves permanent and very deep scars behind.
Anyway: some years after our daughter, we were expecting a new child. I couldn’t quite fathom how I would be able to love a new little person as much as his or her toddling sister. Would there be enough love to go round? One day as I sat drinking tea with my mother, I voiced my concern. She leaned across the table, covered my hand with hers and said; “the heart isn’t a loaf of bread. There is nothing finite about our capacity to love—our hearts just expand to allow all the people we come to love to fit.”
Baby number two was born. Once again, I was certain that never again would I experience a surge of such protective emotions. Never again would I marvel at the perfection of the little being in my arms, never would my heart crack so wide open to welcome this totally unknown individual. Baby Erik sighed in his sleep and I was in love.
Baby number three and four were pretty much the same. An exhausted and weeping mother, infants that smelled of blood, their little bodies streaked with fetal fat. A surge of euphoria, of love, and David and Adam joined the somewhat crowded place in my heart.
On my fridge I have a magnet which says “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves”. My BFF gave me that many years ago. I love her madly. I know if I called her at whatever time in day or night and needed her, she’d come for me. As would I for her. I trust her with all my secrets and weaknesses, knowing she’ll keep them safe for me.
I have a sister I adore. There’s something very special about the relationship with a sibling, because they’ve known you for ever. Obviously, as I’m the eldest, there are a couple of years when Sofia wasn’t part of the picture, but essentially, she’s been at my side throughout our formative years. We share parents, backgrounds, experiences—and are still quite different. But when the going gets tough, we’re there for each other. God help anyone who hurts MY baby sister!
Come to think of it, God help anyone trying to hurt anyone I love—which, it turns out, is quite a long list. I am blessed by all these people in my heart: other than hubby—my rock, my other half, the man who can still make me giggle (and gasp) in the dark—there are (Duh!) my children. And my sister, my parents, my parents-in-law, nieces and nephews, BFF, other friends. There’s, Stephen, the curly-haired boy I was so in love with when I was fourteen and have never forgotten. There’s my former boss, now turned very close friend. There’s Al, a man with a fondness for Hawaiian shirts, a huge, lovely family and a quiet certainty that God exists and is both kind and just. And, as of some weeks ago, this roomy heart of mine has a new inhabitant.
He is so small, this new love of mine. Not quite three weeks old, he mostly sleeps and eats. He lives too far away for me to see him every day, but I love him anyway. My mother-in-law once said that grandchildren are the greatest gifts in life. “They’re like dessert,” she said with a smile.
I (discreetly) rolled my eyes. My arms were full with one of my babies, and no way would I ever feel anything similar to this.
Turns out I was wrong. I have a grandson, a small miracle. I have a miraculous daughter who went through the excruciating birthing process to guide little August out into the world. I will have the privilege of cherishing a new child, of watching him grow, maybe even help him along the way. I’ll kiss and cuddle, make him pancakes and chocolate muffins. I’ll whisper stories of ancient heroes to him, sing songs to lull him into sleep. There is a new love in my life: I can’t wait for our journey together to begin!
And with all that off my chest, I shall now return to my thirteenth century WIP, to Robert and Noor and the things he says to her in a hushed voice as they lie close, so close together in their bed. He strokes her cheek. She draws a finger across his lips. “I love you,” she whispers and then she looks at me and winks. Because Noor also has many people in her heart—and is wise enough to cherish each and every one of them as the precious gifts they are!