The simple meaning of love

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

For the past 34 years, Valentine’s Day has had a special meaning to me. It was on Valentine’s Day in 1987 that Debbie and I first met.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I guess it was sort of a blind date.

Our mutual friends, John and Judy, loved to play bridge. Debbie was (and still is) an excellent player. She is in a bridge club that plays at least once a month. John and Judy knew I played a little. I didn’t play very well, but I knew most of the rules.

They asked me if I might want to stop over the following weekend to play. Before giving it much thought, I almost said, “No.” Then I explained that I was going to be skiing in Colorado the week before and didn’t think I would be home until late Saturday evening.

I also explained that on Sunday afternoon we were having the grand opening of our new Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at the hospital. We had worked for months getting this new department organized and set up. It was an expansion of my existing departments. I couldn’t miss our grand opening.

Because of those two commitments, I would not be available for bridge until after 6 p.m.

“No problem,” they said, “We’ll throw a few logs in the fireplace, have a pizza on order. The beer will be cold, and we’ll open a bottle of wine as soon as you get there.”

I knew I was going to be tired, but I also knew it was always fun to hang out with John and Judy. So, I said, “Yes.”

I’m really glad I made it. That evening became a life-changer.

The fourth person playing bridge that evening was a lovely dark-haired young lady named Debbie. Eight months later, we stood in front of John and Judy’s fireplace and, instead of playing bridge … got married.

Between that Valentine’s evening 34 years ago and this Sunday evening, as I sit here and type, I have been taught what love is really all about. Debbie has taught me that love is about maintaining good humor at all times. It’s about maintaining friendship regardless of whatever storms life might toss at us.

I saw an article recently that was written by a professional in childcare and child psychology. Children between the ages of 4 to 8 years old were simply asked, “What does love mean?” Some of the answers they received back were thoughtful, deep and beautiful.

Here are some of my favorite examples.

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So, my grandfather does it for her. Even when his hands got arthritis, he still did it. That’s love.” — Rebecca, age 8

Billy, age 4, said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

Chrissy said, “Love is when you go out to eat and you give somebody most of your French fries without asking for any of theirs.” Chrissy gets it, and she’s only six years old.

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of your eyes.” That is according to Karen, who has a pretty good grasp on defining love. She’s only seven years old.

Four-year-old Terri has probably seen this from her Dad. “Love is what makes you smile when you come home and you’re really tired, but you still smile.”

One of the final examples — and one of the best — came from a little preschool child. It was apparently submitted by his Mom.

Her little one had just come from their elderly neighbor’s house. The neighbor’s wife had recently died.

That morning, a few days after the funeral, the old man had been sitting alone on his front porch. The little boy walked over and climbed into the old man’s lap. When the little boy came home, his mom asked what he had said to the old man.

The little boy said, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.”

Eight-year-old Jessica said, “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People sometimes forget.”

I heard a heartbreaking story about a married couple who had a spat and the wife drove away mad. Shortly afterward she was in a horrible crash and died. The husband grieved terribly. His greatest regret was that their final words were not, “I love you.” Instead, they were angry words.

Our family has started a new tradition. Whenever the kids visit, as they leave, Debbie and I stand on the porch and yell, “Bye. I love you. I love you, bye. Bye, I love you …”

The kids roll down all of their windows and yell the same back to us. This continues until they are out of hearing range.

They will always remember that. Debbie and I love them.

The other day, one of our neighbors said, “That is so cool.” Which is a good thing, because I don’t think we’re ever going to stop.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist