Saturday, February 13, 2016

From the Heart

I haven't been a fan of Valentine's Day since I was 11 years old, the last year of elementary school Valentine's Day parties. The world turned red and white and pink for a few days, as I decorated my shoebox with hearts and curlicues in preparation for the flood of little valentines that would find their way inside at the party. And maybe, just maybe, Mother had bought or made me a special red and white dress for the occasion - perhaps velvet or taffeta, with little flocked hearts. Maybe.

When it came time for the party, we set all the decorated shoeboxes around the room, and with our little sweaty fists full of punch-out valentine cards, make the rounds, stuffing a card in each box. The room mothers set out pink and red cupcakes, cookies, or little cups of candy hearts. And then, time for the opening of the festooned boxes, followed by lots of giggling over silly cards, who gave who what, trying to decipher any secret meanings. Ah, Valentine's Day.

That was when I was 11. Since then, meh. Some good, some bad, most not worth remembering. Like New Year's Eve, a lot is expected, and it never quite lives up to whatever has been built up in your head. But I'm all for love. If this is the one day of the year to express it - it's not, by the way - then I'm happy to jump right in.

The first box I stuff my silly valentine into is the one marked FAMILY, decorated over the years with hearts and hurts, wild crazy celebrations and somber sad remembrances, hugs, recipes, stories, and old photographs. I love my family. With all my heart. I'm blessed with a large one that includes branches shooting off in all directions - cousins, second- third- fourth-removed ones, in-laws, ex-in-laws, ex-in-laws families, a mess of old folks, young families, teenagers, and little ones. I love 'em all. Even the bat-shit-crazy ones. Even the rascally ones. Even the ones I don't see very often,  Happy Valentine's Day, Family!

Here's a big old crazy one for the box marked FRIENDS - old friends who've known me since the days of those school parties, new ones who have no idea what they've gotten themselves into, and all those true friends in between. You know who you are. You've put up with a lot over the years. Believe me, it's only going to get harder from here on out. I hope you appreciate the jokes, puns, and innuendos on this friend-valentine. Valentine hugs and kisses to you, Dear Friends.

My biggest valentine is for the battered box labeled HURTING ONES. Those who are grieving, invisible, too visible, on the move, stuck, angry, sick, scared, scarred, hopeless, helpless. A fancy card and loving thoughts aren't enough, I know. You need action. You need answers. You need just a little light at the end of the tunnel. And I don't even know where to start because that starting line keeps shifting.

For hurting family and friends, here I am. Let me know what you need me to do or not do. But for the hurting ones I don't know, you who are all over the face of the planet, living - or barely living - a life so different from my own that I can't pretend to walk a mile, an inch, in your shoes, my valentine for you is pretty weak.

My valentine to the hurting ones contains promises to think, remember, pray, and act. To refrain from and stand up to thoughtless comments laced with unfounded bias, bigotry, fear of the other, and hatred. To open my ears, heart, and mind to what you have to say, to really listen to how you need me to build relationship bridges, how to help, or at least do no harm. My valentine is an extended hand. Teach me.

To family, friends, and hurting ones, I fling out my valentines in the hope that you feel the love attached. I just wish I had enough pink-and-red frosted cupcakes for everyone of you.

Happy Valentine's Day. From the heart.