Making real the hopes that love promises

To what ends will we go to let love take root in our hearts?

With the parade of Valentine's Day roses and chocolates upon us, such a question may seem sappy and trite. But strip from your mind the sensory overload of the holiday's marketing machine for a moment to contemplate the query's core.

For me, the answer to this question comes in the form of a personal anecdote that transformed into a powerful touchstone.

The second week of February in 1993 saw winter holding a mild grip on Missoula, and my two-mile walks to class at the University of Montana became pleasant.

Even if the weather had turned icy, as was common at that time of year in the Northern Rockies, I wouldn't have been bothered much, for an energizing emotional high had engulfed me after meeting Jennifer.

A group of mutual friends introduced us after a Suzanne Vega concert while we walked to a birthday party.

Finishing their slices of chocolate-chip cheesecake, Jennifer and our birthday-girl friend took off with some others to a nearby bar, inviting me and a friend to come along. They left, and we hesitated, briefly.

A half-hour later, I found myself sitting at a pub table, chatting with Jen. After two hours of talk, we parted, with the notion of going out for coffee soon.

We had coffee on the eve of Valentine's Day. As the evening wound down, I promised to come by her dorm, where she was a resident assistant, during her office shift the next day to pay a visit with my burly malamute-shepherd.

Soon after dawn, the worst blizzard of the year roared into the Missoula valley. The temperature plummeted, and thick flakes of snow fell slanting from the sky. Deep drifts began collecting throughout town, with visibility dropping to 10 feet at times when the wind really howled.

I pulled on my heavy winter clothes, including a wool coat layered over a fleece jacket, clicked the leash on Meadow and stepped into the whiteout.

The promised visit solidified the resolve in my smitten heart to see Jennifer.

I passed over an old railroad bridge and dropped to the riverbank trail running along the Clark Fork. With no one in sight, I unclicked Meadow's leash and plodded on with my head down.

In an opening between two stands of trees, we were startled by a couple and their large Doberman appearing out of the blinding storm a few feet ahead of us.

While the dogs did the old sniff-and-turn, the Doberman placed her front paws on Meadow's back. Feeling as submissive as a cornered wolf, Meadow quickly had the Doberman on its back and by the throat, pushing the poor beast down the trail like a plow.

The wind-driven snow scattered my yelled commands, with only the Doberman's panicked yelps cutting through the storm's din. Thinking she was on the verge of a kill, I jumped into the fight by tackling my 90-pound companion.

While calmly pinning Meadow with the weight of my torso, I forgot about the Doberman, until its front claws hit my back and its jaws dug into my right shoulder. I felt my wool coat tear and my skin crush beneath the dog's teeth before it jumped away, disappearing into the storm along with its silent owners.

We got up and assessed the damage: nothing broken, nothing bleeding. While going home to lick our wounds would have been appropriate, we were halfway there and turning back didn't feel right. My heart was committed.

We finished our walk and had a great visit with Jennifer, which included the promise of another date.

While I would have hesitated to describe what I did as an act of courageous love, looking back, I know it could be nothing else. The proof lies in the laughs and smiling headshakes Jennifer and I shared when I recently retold the story while we played with our baby boys in the living room.

Acting on love takes true grit, for the journey is often difficult at best: There's nothing easy about transformation. We need more tales where courage takes a promise forged by love and carries it to completion, before our not-so-humble race strangles itself.

Whether you feel Valentine's Day is over-commercialized, there's everything right with a day celebrating love. In fact, one isn't enough; we need be ever-ready to risk taking action, face the unknown and make real the hopes love promises.

Erik Hansen now lives in Phinney Ridge.[[In-content Ad]]