It just occurred to me (yesterday) that Valentine’s Day is today. I blame my poor memory on my sore ribs (gonna milk this as long as I can…).

Of course I realize how over-the-top Valentine’s Day is so I try not to play to the hype. Yes it’s an important day in our society but honestly, does the world need so many red and pink gifts year after year? How many heart-shaped, over packaged, over priced, over marketed cards, trinkets and gadgets can you gush over, temporarily display, then hide forever?

And why is it typically men who are expected to shop at a 20% premium for flowers, jewelry, clothing, candy, etc. for every February 14? Have we really been that insensitive, annoying and self-centred that we need to buy our wives or girlfriend’s good graces with expensive gifts?

Let me move on.

And another thing. Is romance not a two-way relationship? Do men not matter in February? Do we not feel pain when we are taken for granted? Do we not need gifts to feel appreciated; to feel loved? Can women not also buy expensive toys for us? Big, new, noisy toys that don’t have any roses, hearts, glitter, lace or pinkness at all? Do I not have an up to date Amazon Wish List that you can easily access on my behalf?  Do we not also have Amazon Prime so any such pre-selected items could be on my doorstep by tomorrow?

I have the good fortune to be married to a generous, loving woman who asks only for my heart and affection. Gifts are nice but not required and I’m under no pressure to buy something for her just because I should. And it’s not even a trap to test how romantic I am … as far as I know.

To be perfectly honest, there is a gift coming on Valentine’s for both of us – something we’ve been wanting for a long time. It’s a mutual gift that symbolizes our unity and fidelity. You may have already guessed what it is but I will tell you anyway: a four slice toaster.

I may get her something else but if I don’t get around to it, I’m covered.

The last few days I have been working on a blog about endosymbiosis which comes from the word symbiosis meaning a circumstance where different organisms live together. Endosymbiosis is a new(ish) chapter in research that takes evolution beyond the classic, bloody ‘survival of the strongest’ to a more nuanced cooperation between species. It has been observed that gene carriers share pieces of their genetics in a ‘symbiotic’ relationship with various hosts which can be quite different from themselves. Each generation acts in a newer way with other hosts, not to destroy or outperform its hosts, but to cooperate to create increasingly more complex, nuanced organisms.

Yeah, I get it, my mind wandered quite a bit just writing that paragraph. Science seems interesting when I’m watching Star Trek but I will admit to glazing over and thinking about Doritos when I read the real stuff.

But think about it: hosting, cooperation, sharing of self to make something new, better. That so describes human relationships. Some see a relationship as a ‘me only’ event but soon discover that it is not that simple. There is great depth and purpose when relationship is less about winning and more sharing and creating something better. I have witnessed that principle in the people in my life; in my own life.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I have been to have had women in my life who exemplified strength, depth and beauty. My mother and grandmothers were independent and strong even before Gloria Steinem and the women’s movement became mainstream, yet they were also mothers and housewives who cared sacrificially for their husbands and families and influenced a generation for the better.

My mother was a quiet, gentle person who worked outside the home on a few occasions but mostly her outside roles were as pastor’s wife, volunteer in her church, confidant to many, and friend to many more. She was very bright and could have chosen any career path but chose to be a wife, mother, grandmother and saint who cooked, cleaned, decorated and loved. That’s how she wanted it.

Yesterday, February 13, was the second anniversary of my mother’s passing. This soft-spoken, unassuming and kind woman influenced every circumstance and every person she came into contact with, and left them better than before.

I recall visiting privately with her in the hospital during her last hours. She couldn’t speak but was able to respond otherwise and so I said many of those things to her that we rarely say in our busy lives but should say often. As I looked at her I was overcome by one thing in particular and I said it immediately.

‘You’re beautiful.’

Through the oxygen mask and tubes and medical tape I could see her familiar self-effacing grimace – the one that said, Come on, don’t exaggerate, I’m not very beautiful right now.

‘Yes you are,’ I said. ‘Believe me, you are very beautiful to me.’

She smiled.

‘I love you so much.’

Her mouth silently returned the words, ‘I love you.’

That’s the thing about love. Real love. It is self-giving to the point where it can’t help but change and beautify all it touches. Kind of endosymbiotic.