It’s Valentines Day—on a Friday of a long holiday weekend, no less—and my feed is overflowing with pictures of happy, beautiful couples celebrating love. Some even seem to be professionally styled, bringing a magical, ideal quality to these portraits of love, in keeping with the romantic theme of the occasion. Many of these posts—especially of my happily married young nieces, nephews, cousins, mentees and others adults I first knew as children—are both heartwarming and encouraging.

However, my understanding of the meaning of true love changed forever for me on April 12, 2012. On that morning I saw the sweetest, saddest thing on my way to work.

A bird, I think a robin, lay dead or dying on the bench at my bus stop. On the ground beneath the bench, a second robin (the mate?) sat, as if faithfully standing guard, keeping a promise not to allow the other to die alone. It was such a sacred moment to me that I never thought to pull out my phone to take a pic. To do so would have been—well, disrespectful.

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I see another example of that kind of devotion at least three or four days a week at my gym, including today, on Valentines Day. A couple who I’m guessing are in their late 60s/early 70s come in together. He is very fit; he looks like he’s been that way most of his life, still carrying lean muscle and very little fat. His companion seems frail; she walks slowly, with him close at her side, as if afflicted or recovering from an illness, injury or other debilitating condition. Whatever the case, it doesn’t stop her from doing 20-30 minutes on a recline bike, followed by a session of like duration on a rowing machine, while he works out elsewhere in the gym. While they don’t work out together, he always sees to her comfort even as he does his own training, without a hint of resentment or impatience, only smiling tenderness and kindness. Then, when they are done, he escorts her out of the gym, in the same way they came in. I have never seen him come to the gym without her.

The following was inspired by my witnessing the birds at that bus stop almost eight years ago, and brought to memory by this couple during my workout today:

You want to know what real love is? Imagine yourself lying sick & powerless. Who sits faithfully by your side? Kind of makes those “love” songs about what someone can buy for you or do to you in bed sound kind of silly, doesn’t it?

Candy, flowers, love quotes and cute-couple social media posts are fine, and to be expected on Valentines Day. However, I pray to God that I one day experience—and am capable of—the kind of devotion I saw in those birds at the bus stop, and see in that couple at my gym a few days each week.

I pray the same for you.


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