I think it was either Crazy Horse or the Oglala chief Low Dog who said, “Today is a good day to die.” The story we have about this may be apocryphal, but we say whoever said it was facing the battle of the Little Big Horn. Everything of importance was on the line that day and this was his way of surrendering to what his life stood for and to the place that life had brought him.
Now, it’s not like we’re preparing for battle, but I think we’re in circumstances very much like the ones they faced 150 years ago. Today, everything we hold dear is on the line. And the outcome we hope for is by no means certain. Much that’s irreplaceable is at risk and, no matter which way things go, much will be lost.
Because, let’s face it, this is the month of Valentine’s Day. And if we push past the superficialities of the little heart-shaped candies and the Hallmark sentimentality, this is a day about love. And when we speak of love, it’s a good day to die.
Anyone who’s really committed themselves to a loving relationship will understand me when I say that love is not as much about feeling good as it is about what’s been called love’s harsh need to change us. This kind of change means a part of us dies so something else, something greater, lives.
What we often have in mind when we say love is the experience of being ‘in love’. But if we pay careful attention to what’s happening when we’re in it, we’ll see that ‘in love’ has more to do with us than it has to do with the other. You see, there’s a reason ‘in-love’ is an early-in-the-relationship experience.
When we’re in it, we’re generally making up a story about the other person, one we believe in completely. They’re a perfect fit with whatever we think is ideal or what we think we want.
Or they’re almost perfect.
And whenever we’re with them, everything feels so right.
Until it doesn’t.
That perfect partner turns out to be the kind of man who doesn’t think to pick up after himself. While he may say yes to almost anything, it’s really hard to tell what he’s feeling. And even though it seemed so great spending all that time together when we were dating, now that we live together it seems like there’s just no space.
It’s somewhere around this point in relationships that we usually get started on The Project. This is the project of making the one we’re ‘in love’ with act like someone else, someone we want them to be. When you think about it, the arc of “in-love” traces a movement from naive acceptance to total intolerance.
Of course, this is just another way of describing what happens as we become intimate. We start seeing—and showing—more and more of how we actually are. Including, of course, our limitations and distortions. And as projection gives way to reality, especially in our culture, it seems like we can’t stop wondering whether or not this partner is actually the right one.
But what if… What if it’s not about finding the right one? What if it’s about being the right one?
What if being ‘in-love’ is merely the threshold of being love? After all, when our projections won’t fit, isn’t that the beginning of seeing, with real precision, this other being? What if it’s this precision—I see you, and I’m not asking you to be something else—that is actually love?
And what if being love is, among other things, better understood as a spiritual practice? The slow diminishment of me, me, me and its replacement with Thou, Thou, Thou? What demands, what requirements of ours have to die for that to take place?
What if the aim here isn’t safety or comfort, but sanctuary; if instead of trying to make relationship be a refuge from things that are difficult or painful, we made it a place to bow down, with our partner, to what’s bigger than us?
Here, then, is what Valentine’s day could be: a good day to die.