A Valentine's Day Reflection on Love Lost and Damaged

Nivedita Joshi
February 14, 2024
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On the morning of February 14th, Valentine’s Day, I received a lovely bouquet of lilies, carnations and roses —a gesture that typically brings a smile to my face year after year. Yet this year, the deep red of the roses —or maybe it was the blazing scarlet of the carnations that ignited something deep within me. And just like that, every single picture of loss and destruction I’d ever seen, unfurled before my eyes like a never-ending macabre film reel. My heart sank and I wanted to silence every last one of these images. But instead, I decided to reflect on the day of love about love, lost and found.

“Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.” - Bryan Stevenson

As I pondered on, my reflections inevitably gravitated towards the COVID-19 pandemic, a stark reminder of our fragile existence. For far too long, we humans have recklessly stretched the limits of our planet, heedless of her finite resources and precarious balance. Scientists have identified nine planetary boundaries, crucial systems that regulate the Earth’s stability and ability to support life. Worryingly, recent research shows that we have exceeded six of nine of these boundaries, pushing vital systems into overdrive and risking unpredictable, catastrophic consequences.

Inevitably, fate had to turn its cogs. The human species was exposed to a mysterious illness that humbled one and all in its wake. In those challenging times, when the world collectively faced an invisible adversary, a shared vulnerability ushered in a unique unity — a gentle reminder of our interconnectedness. We were forced to slow down, surrendering our frenetic existences to hushed stillness that took root within us. In the quietude of lockdowns, we unearthed the simple joys of life, finding solace in a shared vulnerability that had eluded us in our pre-pandemic rush. Countless storiesemerged of individuals and communities banding together despite physical distance —of valiant volunteers delivering groceries to the elderly and immunocompromised, of online communities holding space for the isolated, and of neighbours checking in. Each one in their own respect, a beacon illuminating the unwavering spirit of humanity in adversity.

“I realised that no matter how much time we think we have; at the end of the day, what I came to appreciate was that we simply don’t spend enough quality time with our families,” - Tomislav Georgiev

Reflecting back on the months of lockdown, I am filled with gratitude for time, connections and conversations. Playing board games online, catching up on reading, strolling, cooking together, laughing with a whole heart —are all things that remind me of long balmy summer days. Even as we remained physically apart, families reconnected, communities supported one another, and the relentless noise of our lives momentarily dimmed — a collective pause that allowed us to reflect on what truly matters—love, compassion, and the web of humanity. As restrictions eased, we lunged back to our former frenzy, reverting back to our old ways, forgetting to take forward all the lessons we learnt. The societal cul-de-sac we find ourselves in now is marked by a lack of sustained reflection, as if the fleeting moments of stillness were only meant for the peak of the crisis.

Cut to 2024, where ongoing humanitarian and climate crises have replaced the pandemic. We, once a collective, now stand fractured.

“I see humans but no humanity.”- Jason Donahue

February’s love song felt muted this year, drowned out by the discordant cacophony of global strife as I scrolled through my Instagram feed. Valentine's Day posts clashed with the stark realities of war and climate crises, stories of communities grappling with the loss of home, identity and hope. As I sat cosy in my room looking at the lovely flowers I had received, I couldn’t shake the image of people fleeing their homes, clutching their meagre belongings and their loved ones. Their dreams, plans, hopes and aspirations are all replaced by the chilling reality of displacement and desolation. How could they celebrate love amidst the incessant reminder of their precarious reality? Even for those fortunate to be immediately spared, it was only a matter of time as the shadow of war hung over them.

Over the past two years, we have witnessed a world tapestry tainted with conflict, despair and ego —deeply devoid of love. A heartbreaking testament to the depths of human discord. In Ukraine, Russia's relentless invasion has brought devastation upon cities and countless lives. The ceaseless violence in Yemen fuels one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. Decades of tension in the Israeli-Palestinianconflict continue to flare, leaving a train of suffering and utter disregard for human dignity. Oxfam reports that the daily death toll is the highest of any major conflict in the 21st Century, surpassing even other devastating wars. This war is a horrific event with an unprecedented scale of civilian casualties. Several human rights groups call it a collective punishment of the Palestinian population, with some even saying it constitutes genocide. The haunting plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmarexposes the horrific realities of persecution and displacement. These are just a handful of real-world glimpses where the erosion of human rights seem to drown out the sound of love, compassion and empathy. In quiet moments of contemplation, it is crucial to remember the human lives caught in the crossfire. These are not content pegs and statistics. These are living and breathing humans, with dreams, families and a yearning for a more humane world.

2023 was the hottest year on record, marking another grim milestone for our planet. Climate scientists warnthat places in the Global South, like India, will bear the brunt of this unforgiving heat, generating losses and damages with significant material and non-material impacts. The IPCC Special Report lays down the truth: every tenth degree of temperature increase above 1.5°C will multiply climate risks non-linearly and every half-degree difference will have catastrophic consequences for the planet. We are unequivocally in the throes of climate-induced loss and damage. This poses a grave and direct threat to human societies, livelihoods, ecosystems and global economies. For vulnerable countries in the Global South, climate change is no longer a looming threat, but a lived reality. It encompasses lost lives, livelihoods, ecosystems, and cultural heritage. Rising seas, extreme weather, and environmental degradation leave lasting scars, displacing communities and eroding traditions. The IPCC AR6 report lays out how unprecedented human-induced global warming has led to observed changes in extremes including heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones.

Climate change's devastation evokes urgency and despair, but within this harsh reality, a powerful force emerges: love. Love motivates individuals and communities to address these challenges with compassion and determination, calling for a paradigm shift towards a more empathetic approach. It manifests in our commitment to advocacy for climate-positive policies, and active participation in mitigating climate losses. It fosters a sense of community, encouraging collaboration, resource sharing, and innovative solutions.The operationalisation of the loss and damage fund at COP28, a hard-won victory after a 30-year struggle by developing countries, stands as a stark reminder not only of the vast financial gap that remains. This limited progress highlights a crucial gap in global commitment, where self-interest appears to outweigh a collective responsibility for the well-being of the planet and its most vulnerable populations.

On one hand, there is a staggering shortfall in meeting the needs of these suffering countries where finance falls woefully short of estimated needs . By 2030, over $400 billion annually will be required for loss and damage. On the other hand, there is the Global North’s insatiable appetite for military spending. The vast contrast between the colossal sums spent on fueling wars and the meagre contributions made to address climate change paints an alarming picture for humanity —a picture that we cannot turn away from.

Amidst all of this, a different kind of love deserves our attention —a love that transcends borders and fleeting sentimentality. A love that really asks us to embrace the quiet moments of contemplation, fostering empathy for those suffering and a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of humanity. It resonates with the resounding calls for  “no climate justice without human rights” I witnessed at the recent COP28 in Dubai, in the UAE. The symbolism was further amplified when the controversial ‘Fossil of the Day’, was bestowed upon Israel on December 10th “For the intent of genocide we are awarding Israel the Fossil of the Day. The conflict has already taken the lives of more than 7000 Palestinian children and over 17,500 Palestinian people. In the last two days Israel bombed two hospitals, and burned the surrounding refugee tents, including the people inside them.", perfectly coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

Within all these paradoxical juxtapositions, though, the virtue of love finds itself eclipsed by the shadows of war and environmental degradation. It also leads us to ponder the profound consequences of our collective actions on a planet in need of healing. While these were my reflections on Valentine’s Day, I hope it serves as a bridge, urging us all to introspect. Let us remember the value of love, as a force that extends beyond personal relationships. Love that can lead us back to a path of understanding and empathy. Just as we found strength in unity during the pandemic, we can harness that collective spirit to address the conflicts tearing our world apart.

Musicians, Don Henley and Stanley Lynch gently remind us that even in the face of turmoil, we possess the capacity to "learn to be still”. Let us reignite the flame of love that guided us through the pandemic, embracing stillness as a conscious choice rather than a consequence of crisis. As we celebrate love on Valentine's Day, may we carry forward the profound lessons of the pandemic, weaving the threads of compassion and stillness into the fabric of our daily lives, and, in doing so, illuminate a path towards a brighter, more harmonious world.So I leave you with their words…

Though the world is torn and shaken

Even if your heart is breakin'

It's waiting for you to awaken

Someday you will

Learn to be still

Nivedita Joshi is an environmental social scientist and her research so far has explored the linkages between climate change and livelihoods, in the Global South. Within this, she examines the questions of what makes communities vulnerable to climate change and what are the barriers and enablers for people to adapt to climate change and why. She has worked in dynamic climate change hotspots across Africa and South Asia, especially in semi-arid regions. Her research is currently focused on exploring the academic discourse on Loss and Damage in India.

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