february is a dreaded month for many. on the heels of multiple holiday and new years celebrations, people who move through life “un-partnered” turn the calendar to february and sigh. or roll their eyes. or feel suicidal. i’m not kidding. even those who are in romantic relationships or committed loving communities often feel a sense of heaviness when doilies and lace and hearts show up on the supermarket shelves. here’s my response to the upcoming holiday, however. i want to take the month back. i want to stand on top of parking garages downtown in big cities and yell, at the top of my lungs, “february is not just for lovers!” as soon as i write this, however, i realize that, perhaps it actually it is, but not in the way we might think.
i don’t know about you, but i love a whole lot of people in a whole lot of ways and these people are every bit as in need of february love as the daily loves of my life are.
my dentist and his support staff recently welcomed me so warmly that i realized my strong feelings of gratitude for them. i love the familiarity i have developed with the members of my weekly dance class and have come to look forward to intersecting with a planning team i meet with each week. i frequent the lanes of certain checkers at the market and my feelings for the person who has cut my hair for the past 20 years goes well beyond love. we have genuinely shared life. i have decided that these are all varieties of love that i want to celebrate this month.
it is so much easier to do this when i drop the traditional february expectations. while i would be thrilled to make valentines for every person i encounter that matters to me, it wouldn’t be possible or wise to attempt this feat. half way through the making process i’d be burnt out and resentful having spent more of my time than i could realistically afford. what i can do, however, is commit myself to truly seeing the people i interact with, respecting their uniqueness and personhood. as brene brown says about her exercise options, “the 10 minute walk i take is better than the 5 mile run i don’t take” so is the fumbling, on the fly loving gesture i can make better than the perfectly crafted one i don’t have time or energy or resources to make.
and so, i can leave a simple thank you note, scribbled on scratch paper for the person who clears my plate at a restaurant, in the mailbox for the postal carrier, or the person who will eventually clean the bathroom at target. i can take 3 minutes to fill out a comment card and praise the sales associate or server or can ask to be transferred to a manager after a customer service call to praise the rep who has assisted me. i can blot my lipstick on my friends’ rear view mirror or scribble traits i admire about my office mates on our shared white board. i can text affirmations to people (e.g: “you are smart.” “i’ve noticed the way that you go out of your way to...” “you are a gifted teacher/parent/writer/snowboarder/student/cook/social networker/friend/etc.”). i can speak first and with focus to all the children present before i get too involved with their parents. i can get down on their level. i can drop off a plate of cookies (even store bought ones) at the dentist and tell my fellow dancers that i truly notice them and enjoy seeing them each week.
i was recently loved like this and it was a profound experience. knowing i’d faced a very challenging week, a young adult friend left me a message, in the middle of a week day, stating that she had decided to play hooky from a class and wanted, along with her fiance, to take me bowling. right then. immediately. how soon could i get to a bowling alley? the reason this was so meaningful to me was that i have a secret love of bowling that not many people know about and that i am not a person who typically receives spur of the moment offers for silly fun in the middle of the week. this opportunity to be loved so spontaneously and specifically spoke deeply to me. it made me realize how my efforts to love might accomplish this for others.
so, this month, i am committed to the ways in which february can be for lovers of all kinds. i can take relational risks big and small and do so boldly, being willing to handle the awkwardness (and rejection) that might (but often doesn’t) result. will it always work out well? no. will i attain perfect consistency? absolutely not. might i sometimes end up feeling like a fool. sure. even still, i want to take back the month (and the year) and love as often and as fully as i can afford to. not with the kind of love or gestures that leave me resentful or overspent but, instead, with the kind of small do-able intentions and actions that make small dents in the hard hearts around me. like my dear friend tanner (age 14) said at his last swim meet, “i’m learning how to pace myself and i want to get it so that i don’t have anything left in me at the end of the race.” i want to love at the level that my capacity lasts to the end but doesn’t have much left when i get there. finding that balance can be tricky. and oh-so-worth-it.