Love is a many-splintered thing

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on February 14, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Today is Valentine’s Day and the media is flooded once again with images of red hearts, passionate kisses and pitches for extravagant gifts, such as sexy lingerie, diamond jewelry, gourmet chocolates, lavish floral bouquets and even fleece pajamas. Men are being advised to give their women all these material gifts (“What she really wants …”) so that they can receive in exchange … well, you know: the one thing stereotypical virile men in advertising ever seem to really want besides tools, beer and a championship win for their favorite sports team.

But … what does any of this have to do with love? Giving unnecessary gifts in hopes of getting sex in return is more like a primal bartering system than a sharing of genuine love. St. Valentine’s Day was historically a day for honoring romance by writing little notes and poems for one’s beloved. I venture to say that the last time most of us wrote a poem for anyone on Valentine’s Day was in grade school. What has happened to love in our society? Can we even recognize genuine love if it isn’t marked by a little red heart?

Many years ago when I was a child I was enchanted with a song I heard on the radio entitled “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,” though I understood it to say “love is a many-splintered thing.” I had no idea what that actually meant but in my imagination I saw love as a beam of light that splintered into many colors, like a rainbow.

For some reason this image fascinated me: love separating into every possible color and traveling to various people who needed that particular color of love. And I still find that description of love appealing. Even now I can see the many splinters of love in places that are never depicted in advertising:


  • a nurse touching the hand of a comatose patient and whispering a little prayer as she checks the IV line
  • a teenager patiently pushing the wheelchair of an elderly relative through the shopping mall so she can look in the store windows 
  • a homeless man sharing a blanket with his shivering neighbor 
  • an exhausted caregiver carefully spoon-feeding a seriously ill spouse 


You see, all of these splinters of love have in common that they are inspired solely by the desire to give to another – there is no concern with what might be received in return. That is the hallmark of true, many-splintered love: it radiates out toward others and lights up their lives with just the right color.

Though today’s holiday specifically honors the romantic version of love, the other truth about true love is that it requires effort and sometimes results in hard and painful work. Love is not easy and not for the weak or faintheated.

What if, for this Valentine’s Day, we left behind the glittery and extravagant presents and gave instead genuine heartfelt love to everyone in our lives? Truly that would make this day a many-splintered thing to celebrate.

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Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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