Love from the Heart of Wood— A Valentine to Passion, Boundlessness, and Resilience!

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Here’s a classic romantic love poem stanza I’d like to share for Valentine’s Day! What I get from it is that love is boundless, passionate, and enduring. Elizabeth Barrett Browning grew up in London in the 19th century, an invalid under the restrictive oversight of her Victorian father. She freed herself through expressing her soul through her poetry (for which she was famous). This ultimately led to her meeting, falling in love with, and marrying the poet Robert Browning, who literally helped her liberate herself from her father’s home— leading her to a new life in Florence, Italy, where she blossomed, as a person and a writer.

A different sort of valentine, but one that shares Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s feeling for the passion, boundlessness, and endurance of love are the words below of George Pocock— the migrant English builder of state-of-the-art crewing shells (boats) in the first half of the 20th century. Pocock was also the soul partner of the varsity crewing coach, Al Ulbrickson, at the University of Washington, brilliantly detailed in the book, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.

As mentor to Joe Rantz— a member of the crewing team that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Pocock would meet with Joe to talk with him and help him find his inner core as an athlete and a person:

Joe crouched next to the older man and studied the wood and listened intently. Pocock said the rings told more than a tree’s age; they told the whole story of the tree’s life over as much as two thousand years. Their thickness and thinness spoke of hard years of bitter struggle intermingled with rich years of sudden growth….

As Pocock talked, Joe grew mesmerized. It wasn’t just what the Englishman was saying, or the soft, earthy cadence of his voice, it was the calm reverence with which he talked about the wood— as if there was something holy and sacred about it— that drew Joe in. The wood, Pocock murmured, taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here….

Pocock paused and stepped back from the frame of the shell . . . carefully studying the work he had so far done. He said . . . it wasn’t enough to master the technical details of it. You had to give yourself up to it spiritually . . . When you were done and walked away from the boat, you had to feel that you had left a piece of yourself behind in it forever, a bit of your heart.

What is love? From these special "valentines," I believe that feeling and sharing love is the foundation of all the well-being and success in our lives-- because love endures in the heart of the wood, is resilient, has infinite beauty and undying grace, and is, finally, larger than ourselves and who or what we love.