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You’ll likely be surprised by this thought…this year I think you should make your anniversary about you.

Granted, that might feel a little less anniversary-ish and a little more narcissistic-ish. But hear me out.

I read a letter recently that stuck with me. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck authored the classic books Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, but he was also a prolific letter writer. This letter was written in response to his son, Thom, who had written for advice after falling in love for the first time. Steinbeck shared with him some profound fatherly wisdom that has knocked around in my mind ever since.

This part in particular:

“There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”

Steinbeck didn’t start with a comment or question about Thom’s girl. Not right then, anyway. He began with Thom.

Who knows what Steinbeck had experienced in his own life. What was in the back of his mind as he wrote his reply. But he had, apparently, over the years, learned that love is a fire that starts in our own hearts and must be tended with care. How well we do that shows in how we treat, and even how we perceive, the ones we love.

Essentially Thom had a choice with what he would do with that flame…share love in a way that gave life to himself and to the one he loved, or to burn and to use and to blind.

Love adds passion and intensity to us. And what that intensity brings out from us says a whole lot more about us than it does about the ones we love.

Do we love in a way that sees and speaks the value of the ones we love? When the relationships get hard, do we rise up with the strength, the courage, the goodness, the wisdom that Steinbeck knew love could inspire?

Maybe not, but this is the amazing thing about love. While it brings out what is in us, it also changes us. It inspires what we didn’t know was in us. We can do the hard thing and kind thing and sacrificial thing because we hold this flame in us.

Now think about your significant other. What do YOU see?

Making the question personal to us turns our gazes inward to what we perceive about the ones we love. It is, as Steinbeck wrote to his son, our “recognition of another person as unique and valuable.”

We’ve all seen those soldier homecoming clips (and, oddly enough, simultaneously gotten dust in our eyes). The dad, mom, husband, wife, child looks up, and for a moment, their faces are blank. And then…recognition. The seeing of someone who has significance to you.

And sometimes it’s something even more. Recognition can also assign value that is all our own to a person or idea that we’re observing. We look up and “see” them in a way we haven’t before. Or maybe haven’t for a long time because life just got busy.

Recognizing, in this sense, is one of the most loving things we can do in our relationships. So, stop. Really look at them. And really think about what you love about THEM, the qualities they possess in a way that is uniquely them. And then celebrate! This crazy, wonderful, deep, eccentric, and/or loving human chose you on that special date so many years (or year) ago. You lucky guy.

This anniversary you may be planning dinner out, the perfect gift, or even a trip. All great things. But possibly the most important thing that you can do is allow love to bring out the very best parts of you, and then to share those thoughts. And, like Steinbeck, put pen to paper.

“The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.”

I think Papa Steinbeck knew a thing or two.


Writing prompts

When I think about this day___many years ago, I think about the look in your eyes when…

You make me want to be stronger and kinder when you…

I like that you love…

Remember when our perfect day had a few imperfect moments…

There are many things that make us perfect for each other, but I might love____about us most.


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