One of the earliest comics that I remember seeing in the newspapers alongside Garfield, Peanuts, Hagar the Horrible and Phantom was an innocuous single panel strip called 'Love is'. It always started the same way : The words 'Love is' would be written on the top corner followed by a drawing of a sweet childish couple in the centre and the end of the phrase at the bottom. I'm sure many of you have seen it too.
Seems like a one-trick pony, doesn't it ? I mean, how long could you possibly keep 'filling' the phrase 'Love is', right ?
Well, a lot more than you can imagine. You see, the 'Love is' strip has in fact been running in print since January 1970.
But do you know the love story behind these cartoon strips is just as inspiring as it's sweet words ?
As a teenager, New Zealand born Kim Grove used to draw these cartoon figures based on love letters she had written... to a husband she had not even met ! When she did meet the love of her life in '67, Italian Robert Casali, he proved to be the perfect inspiration, encouraging her to consider a wider audience for the cute cartoons she drew at the end of their love letters. The comic strip was well received right from the start and achieved almost instant international success, thanks in no small measure to the release of the 1970 iconic movie, Love Story, at roughly the same time. Though there was no relation between the comic and the movie, the theme of love and it's many hues was felt across hearts in love, worldwide.
Now, here's where fate played it's hand, seeking it's own cruel inspiration from the above mentioned movie. When the artist Kim did marry Robert in 1971, he asked her what she wanted. With the memory of her late father in her mind, she told him 'Whatever you do, don't die on me.'
Four years later, Robert was diagnosed with late stage testicular cancer. Less than a year later, at the age of 31 years old, he passed away.
But even death is not the end of this love story.
In December 1975, four months before his death, Robert Casali would ask her what she wanted for Christmas. Kim told him that she didn't want diamonds, she just wanted a baby ( they had two children already). In July 1977, sixteen months after he passed away, the 'miracle' child, Milo Roberto was born to her.
Knowing that they had very little time left, the couple had stored his sperm in a sperm bank before he died. With the aid of artificial insemination, Robert Casali had become a father more than a year after his death.
Kim's actions were met with anger by those in power, with even the Vatican condemning her act of having the man's child after he was dead. Lawyers and barristers screamed foul, claiming that her child had no right to her husband's inheritance and actually demanded that Parliament decide the future of her baby.
With both religion and the law cursing her, this single mother of three would find courage not just from within, but from a source she perhaps didn't count on - the thousands of letters of support from people she had never met but who had been inspired to love via her comic. Eventually, the church and the lawyers had no other option than to leave her alone as they, the final authorities in all matters, simply couldn't compete with the power of love, both within her and the public.
Kim never married again, devoting her life to looking after her family till she passed away in 1997. Her comic, 'Love is...' continues to this day in more than two dozen languages across thousands of newspapers, spreading a message of love that originated from a young girl's love letters in 1967.
"Milo is here because of the love of his mother and father.
If that is judged wrong, the world has lost its sense of proportion. "
- Kim Casali
Today, artificial insemination is considered routine. But back in her day, Kim had to go against the government and religious heads for what she did. She stood her ground against tremendous odds and fought for the one thing she believed in - her love for her husband and their dream of having another child. There is an obvious lesson in there for us too.
You and I, we live in a world that has seen nearly 38 summers since Kim asked her husband for another child. We live in a country that wants to be a super power and knows to fly rockets into space but doesn't know how to respect people in love.
We find endless reasons to prevent that emotion from developing - caste, creed, bank balance, western influence, too young, too old, eating habits, height, weight, astrology.
None of this will matter unless there is love and respect in the relationship... it's not a western thought... it's just logic.
In that one word, even without me having to say anything more, you have already revisited memories of your life. They maybe sweet or bitter, bring a smile to your face or place a weight on your heart, depending on the final outcome. But as I always believe, it isn't the destination that matters but the journey... not whether there was a happily ever after, but whether your heart has lived and experienced the magic of love.
Celebrate your love this year rather than sitting in fear of what the world or fanatics think. If your past experiences have been bitter, take it as a lesson learned and open your heart once more. Someone, somewhere is waiting to fall in love with you.
Couples in love, take the time out to think of how you'll surprise your loved one and make him/her feel special... at least for the 24 hours of Valentines, if not the whole year !
Because when the journey is over, you will find that the moments you were happiest were when you were truly in love. Be remembered for the love you inspire, both in your own heart and in those who care for you.
Happy Valentines Week, everyone.