2woman_holdinglittleboyLove is in the air, or so the people who sell products based on February 14th would have us believe.

That cupid and his little arrow will strike if you supply enough chocolate, nasty underwear, diamonds, candy hearts or folded sheets of cardstock with “Be Mine” italicised in Arial script. Valentine’s Day has never seemed like a big deal to me. I got my first period on Valentine’s Day. The association stuck, despite thirty-two years to get over it.

Love, however, is a big deal to me in whatever form: familial, romantic, maternal, gastronomic, you name it.

Love for a baby is a tsunami of emotion, mowing down everything in its path. The smell of your baby hits you like a ton of pheromonal bricks, making you willing to lose sleep with a smile, breastfeed with mastitis or fight off a cougar with a ketchup bottle. Love for a child, likewise, can make you Tiger-like, the desire to pluck the playground bully-off his feet and toss him like a limp rag to the asphalt after he calls your offspring a lousy name, too many times all too tempting.

If socially inappropriate.

Even your teenager can bring that panting, tortured, desperate parental love back to the surface when they have a moment of vulnerability, on a first date, or goes off to college.

Last spring, I learned how close to the surface a life-changing kind of love can be and that precipices bring it to a boil for me.

Being a Pacific Northwest family, naturally, we went camping last spring break. We watched movies in the tent trailer on a portable DVD player, walked on the beach, collected rocks, ate tortilla chips and guac’ and made mad dashes to the heated restroom between storms. We also, at my instigation, took a two-and-a-half-mile hike around a lighthouse set in a breathtakingly beautiful forest edged by terrifying precipices.

I should have thought to check the elevation.

I’ve always been nervous about heights, but the lack of railings between my loved ones and a hundred-foot drop onto rocks made me a wreck. Add on a teenage boy (with the typical urge to push the boundaries) stepping close to the edge, again and again, bringing his six-year-old brother (low on common sense but strong on survival, thank goodness) along with him, and I was sobbing and unable to stop.

To clarify—I was terrified. I didn’t vow never to hike again. I wouldn’t even deny our teenagers the right to roam near precipices—they have excellent coordination and good judgment (for the most part); I can’t be there when it happens. Like an epiphany, it also showed me how vulnerable loving anyone is.

I was behind my wife and our three kids, watching them and realising how my heart was sliced into pieces and sewn into them all, carried wherever they went. I loved them so much that it took my breath away, and the thought of one of them stumbling and falling just about crippled me.

I was never so happy for a hike to be over.

Loving is a freefall, a jump without a parachute into a lifetime rush, never knowing when the ground will rise and meet you. But looking at my family (sobbing silently and trying to keep a stiff upper lip for the six-year-old’s sake), the gasping irrevocability of that love was worth it.