Valentine’s Day brings up all kinds of emotions besides love. It’s as if focusing on love releases a pent-up hive of fears about its absence. If there’s true love in this world—and I believe there is—there must also be false love, although that seems like a contradiction in terms. Fears that love might not be true have sunk many a relationship.

I don’t think love is an emotion, though it’s certainly something you feel and hopefully something you do. But more and more I think it’s something to tap into, like a free-flowing, invisible river without limits, without possibility of exhaustion (although active loving can make a person feel exhausted at times.) I think this is what is meant in the Hebrew Bible by God’s hesed, which sometimes is translated as “lovingkindness.” And here’s where I get to tell you about Peter Pan.

I heard about him Sunday on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and the story made me cry. Peter Pan is one of many search-and-rescue dogs currently on duty in Turkey helping to find people still breathing under piles of concrete rubble and steel rebar. He is part of an American urban search-and-rescue team from the U.S. Agency for International Development now in the city of Adiyaman, assisting local rescue efforts from last week’s tremendous earthquake. They arrived on a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane with sophisticated listening devices, specialized cameras, concrete-cutting equipment and the highly trained “sniffer” dogs, a name which minimizes their actual work. The team’s purpose is to find people alive and help get them out.

Where to start? Local people are scrambling over massive piles that once were buildings, trying to move material away, removing dead bodies, looking and listening for signs of life. You’ve likely seen the images, I don’t have to tell you. A Turkish man comes to the American team and says he’s heard a voice. They set up high-tech listening devices that can detect even the tiniest tapping sound, yelling to everyone to be quiet. Nothing. So they bring in Peter Pan.

“Do you feel safe sending him down that hole?” the chief asks the dog handler. The handler lets Peter decide for himself, and down he goes between giant blocks of unstable debris. He comes back silently, then suddenly turns around and starts barking. He goes to another crevice and barks there as well, and at that point the chief decides there’s a live person somewhere below and begins the process of removing material. Later that night they find a woman and one of her children alive, though not down the crevice Peter Pan had explored. But without him they wouldn’t have started digging. They trusted his senses over their electronics.

I think what makes us stand in awe, watching the rescue efforts from a distance, is not just the heroic efforts people will go to in these situations. I think we feel the current of the river of lovingkindness fueling these efforts, and also feel it tugging at our own pantlegs, the surge increasing the pulse of our own hearts. And it’s both inspiring and frightening. Could that river actually be there all the time to tap into? Might I get pulled in? What if I wanted to?

What made me cry, though, after hearing about Peter Pan was hearing the answer to my question about the river’s existence. The Turkish man, hearing the voice an American ear might not detect because he was closer by desperate love to find his neighbors, was validated by an animal who could hear what he heard and what the high-tech listening device could not. They both heard the pulse of life the river carried to their ears. And the rescuers knew to believe them.

It’s a horrendous natural disaster caused by tectonic plates having a wrestling match, no holds barred, below the earth’s surface, amplified by collapsed layers of high-rise housing unable to withstand the shocks. But the river of lovingkindness flows even there, perhaps especially there. We can tap into it if we wish. Those rescuers are.

Trudy Wischemann is the daughter of a once-volunteer fireman who writes. Send her your sightings of lovingkindness c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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