“Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.”

That’s what George Eliot said. That’s what I know to be true.

On this Valentine’s Day, humor me. I want to talk about love.

I’ve given it. I’ve taken it. I’ve longed for it. I’ve found it. I’ve lost it. But the kind of love my mama gave me, the kind of love she taught me, it deserves a Valentine’s honorable mention at least.

It’s not the kind of love that spans the world. It’s smaller, and bigger, than that. The lesson that rises to the top of the pot of my mom’s love is this:

Start with one person. Take that one by the hand, look into their eyes and say, “Right now, the thing I love about you is …” Tomorrow, maybe, speak that message, in those words or in others, to another person you love. The next day another. And another. Don’t try to love the whole world all at once. One by one. That’s the way.

My mama took me by the hand and looked into my eyes and told me what she loved about me. (And she took me by the hand and went sliding down the big slide with me – that’s us in the photo.)

With me, she had no walls, no difficulty showing her unadulterated affection. I experienced all of her. It’s how she taught me to experience all of life. And how her mother taught her. If we were ever to forget this lesson, well, we only have to look at the little card propped up in my mama’s kitchen window that says, “To Mary.”

My grandmother, her mother, wrote this poem on that card during her final years on earth:

I walked rapidly, reaching out

To grasp everything life would have to offer.

In my haste I found that I had

Reached the end of the journey

Without seeing the wonders that

Surrounded me on either side.

Oh! To retrace my steps,

Smell every fragrance,

Hear the splendorous concerto,

And feel the softness of a

Tiny baby’s hand.

Then contemplating what I thought I had missed,

I realized that I had experienced

It all – otherwise,

I would have been ignorant

Of the knowledge of bliss.

She experienced it all. One tiny baby’s hand. One fragrant lilac. One by one.

What I love about you right now is …


Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.