reclaiming valentine's day
it’s that time of year again when people dread the mail. the season when people migrate from their feelings of inferiority brought on by the onslaught of holiday family letters to a sense of dread regarding what they won’t receive on valentine’s day. stores assault our senses with garish displays of scratchy lace, cheap chocolate, and tacky stuffed animals. hallmark ads provoke tears (or swearing) and everyone feels a general sense of disappointment and malaise. partnered folks feel let down by cards bought as an afterthought on the way home from work and people not in romantic relationships often experience the season as a sort of slow flow of salt poured into a large and gaping wound. or not. sometimes it isn’t pain that results from the anticipation of february 14th. sometimes it is anger, or loneliness, or panic. sometimes it’s all of the above.
whatever your emotional reaction to the upcoming “day of love” is, i am wondering if you might consider joining me in taking the day back. valentine’s day need not be owned by card companies and florists. neither does it need to be boycotted or avoided. it can, instead, be transformed by simple acts of love performed with bold intention toward everyone in your life. not just your “lovers.”
i recently commented to an assembled group that while i am not a person who takes huge physical risks, i am someone who tends to take drastic relational ones. for some reason i don’t worry much about how an act of kindness will be received. i don’t fear looking silly (usually) when it comes to attempting to honor and love others. but i know that this is rare. just as i’d rather be poked in the eye than attempt a physical feat that i haven’t mastered, others of you would rather suffer many ill fates than reach out to someone and have that effort fall flat. or be passed over. or met with rejection. i get it. i don’t take anyone up on offers to go snowboarding or try an especially difficult rock climbing problem or play golf (or any other organized sport for that matter). there are certain ways in which i just don’t want to be exposed. or risk being exposed.
for me, valentine’s day offers the perfect opportunity for taking new relational risks in counter cultural and inspiring ways. to illuminate my point, let me offer you a glimpse into my outgoing mail today. there you would find envelopes of all shapes and sizes containing the least fancy valentines imaginable. they aren’t for my husband or kids but are rather simple tokens meant to honor the every day people in my life. one envelope is on it’s way to my friend (and if you’re my friend and your name is jen you should stop reading now and come back to this after thursday) who loves diet coke. when i emptied my last 12 pack of said beverage i cut a heart right out of the cardboard container, scribbled a quick note of gratitude for who jen is in my life and stuffed it into an envelope. today i put it in the mailbox. when she receives it i hope she feels a moment of warmth and connection and a sense of how much i deeply appreciate her. the other envelopes i’ll hand off to people on thursday are similarly crafted. none of them are particularly fancy. i didn’t spend a dime on supplies. i didn’t write rough drafts of my declarations of love and appreciation in order to get them just right. i just wrote.
an acquaintance of mine brings a rose with her to every doctor’s appointment. she gives it to the receptionist when she checks in. a friend fills his wallet with mc donald’s money to distribute to folks who ask for cash downtown. someone else brings small gifts to all the people she sees on her regular weekly errands (the grocery checker, the favorite barista, the librarian, etc) on her own birthday as an act of gratitude. all of these expressions, however, require resources of time, planning ahead, and money.
my wish is that we could move past all the expectations we place on ourselves and others regarding HOW we express our love and feelings of friendship and simply START EXPRESSING them.
so today, while you still have one sleep left before the big “v” day, how about joining me in a day of radical relational risk taking (and by radical i don’t mean jumping out of a plane in a cupid costume). i mean, instead, being radically simple. bravely resourceful. wildly affirming toward those to whom you’re connected. being lavish with words or gestures that speak the specific language of the other rather than your own native tongue. focusing on the message more than the medium. risking looking foolish in order to make another look (and feel and be) loved.