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Hoping for a Letter from St. Valentine (Friday, February 11, 2011)

July 22, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hoping for a Letter from St. Valentine

I used to hate Valentine’s Day. Did I say “hate?” How about quietly absorbing barbs of hostility? Maybe they were just misfired arrows of cupid that are as likely to be fired out of hate, missing their mark. They were not intended for me, but I was injured by the careless volley of arrows.

The one fortune cookie message I remember from all the cookies I have cracked said this: A good friend is a gift that one gives one’s self. I am not so sure the same can be said for falling in love, hence the cupid analogy, but it might be healthy to adopt that mental construct.

Regardless of the construct I choose, it can be said that I have spent many Valentine’s Days, and a good portion of other parts of my life, being neither a recipient nor giver of that gift. It was not that I did not have the desire, but, depending on your philosophy or construct, I was not sufficiently desired—by myself or anyone else. And I hated Valentine’s Day.

Many years past the trauma of grade school Valentines in the cereal box, the holiday became one of heightened loneliness. It was one thing not to be able to afford a lot of the goodies that conveyed the evolved meaning of Valentine’s Day and the kind of love that seemed to count. It was bad enough to not have anyone to whom to give them.

Yes, I used to HATE HATE HATE Valentine’s Day, for a lot of reasons. It has been a long journey to get to a place where it is a benign celebration of recognition and to let it give me a space where I can just get the designated space to acknowledge my relationships, with my son, at times a couple of healthy, unambiguous friendships, and maybe two or just one relationship I’ve had. I know my spin-off emotions from my bad experience was as damaging to the good spaces others have had around it. Even now, I can see that it is an institution that is charged with mutual and unmutual sexual exploitation, just plain exploitation. We still live with the expectation that people will measure the significance of love based on the amount of money they spend on their object of desire. Most persistently for me, it has been a reminder that so many people were into the day, had objects of at least manufactured desire, and that it was a game that I largely did not get to play. The first thing that happened that allowed me to at least participate in uttering the word “Valentine” was finding out that St. Valentine was a noted, prolific letter writer. When I was in graduate school and for a while after, I too was a prolific letter writer. I would celebrate that around the holiday rather than the other crap.

Many years later,one of the sweetest things that happened around Valentine’s Day was getting a ficus from Ginger. This was long before there was an inkling, in my mind, that anything romantic would ever happen between us. Her gift was a very kind gesture from a friend: it was so sweet.

The gesture was also profoundly symbolic of the fleeting hints of romance that visited our friendship in later days: not just the giving, but the vehicle of demonstrating affection. A ficus? A ficus is very, very hard to take care of. I have no green thumb. It started to fade. I tried keeping it up, but… well, it’s a ficus. It’s end came when I went away for a week and left my brother Michael to take care of it. When I came back, it was done for. It was a ficus. It should have been a sign to me of what she was capable of in love and relationship. And I did recognize that getting this ficus wasn’t much different than the common practices of the living institution. Flowers and chocolate—those are the currency of love too often. But flowers are dead. They are cut and are not sustainable expressions. They look fantastic for a while, but they whither and die. Die soon.

Chocolate does not provide nourishment. Sugar and caffeine. It won’t make us strong. It won’t do much if we have it in any quantity that will fill our stomachs that won’t wind us up being very unhealthy.

Flowers and chocolate just being two of the items along the continuum of more expensive items and some very unfortunate expectations that have taught us to believe that love is a function and measure of what we buy.So, I’ve been trying to build something different around the holiday. It has not been a good one for a lot of us. Honestly, for the past 30 years, with the exception of a couple, it has been a relief that I did not have anyone for whom to perform such obligations. Secretly, though, being left out dug into my heart.

I don’t know how this Valentine’s Day will turn out. It has to be a balance between my highfalutin moral objections and taking the excuse to express some joy. The day is arbitrary, but at the same time, my reaction against it is just as contrived and maybe I should not let it keep me from taking and benefiting from one of those social goods that is rightfully mine. I have some Valentines to write and some people who should get them. Time to pull out the cereal box.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara permalink
    February 14, 2012 10:09 am

    February 11, 2011 9:44 AM

    I was lucky enough to grow up with a Valentine’s Day sister – Valerie’s birthday is Februry 10, close enough to the holiday to have my Catholic family give her the name worthy of the date.

    Growing up in central Wisconsin one had a lot of time on one’s hands, especially during the winter, and one year I ended up mimicking a school craft project as a gift for her. Bearing resemblance to some of the cut paper botanical images from my Polish heritage, I found construction paper – red, black, pink, white – folded one piece in half and drew an intricate tree: black, with craggy, bare, pointed winter branches. Cutting this tree took a deep concentration, and time, who knows how long, and anyway I’ve forgotten – but I found pleasure in the results when this black form opened up and was placed against the background of snowy landscape. On the tree were pasted cut-paper hearts – a blizzard of them, in varying sizes and shapes, carefully placed, with wishes from all our family members lovingly written in them.

    This gift became a family tradition over the years, in varying color schemes, sometimes the tree was white against red snow, sometimes gray against black –

    The college and young adult years brought me away from this tradition, and my sister halfway across the country to California, far away from the snowy landcape of our youth.

    But the tree has appeared again at times – one year a similar tree was drawn by my mother on tagboard with 30 silver dollars glued to it in honor of her thirtieth birthday, and last year my son was brought into the fold in helping cut the hearts from silver foil.

    This year my sister wanted different things – a digital scale and digital food weigher, in honor of the heroic deed she is making in transforming that part of her life, and her travels will soon take her back to the land of the sun.

    But part of Valentine’s Day for me will always be a thought of her. And hearts filled with well wishes on the cut paper tree pasted on the snow.

  2. Valerie P. permalink
    February 14, 2012 10:11 am

    February 11, 2011 10:59 AM

    I hardly remembered the trees, except in the abstract… a faint memory. What I remember about Valentine’s Day was the frustration of watching everyone else get flowers or balloons from their loved ones and wondering where mine was. Where was the love and attention that I should be having? Wasn’t I special enough to get one more flower, one more note to say that they cared?

    I have a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. The date night with that special someone on my birthday is just one more night out with Valentine Day specials floating around. People asking why that day was special when Valentine’s Day was only a couple days away.

    Understanding that the gifts from the heart meant so much more to me than yet another candy treat. The heart shaped sugar candies with the sayings on it were more special to read than they were to eat. Why say “I love you.” when you can eat them instead.

    The thoughts of days of old and turning my head towards how am I going to celebrate my birthday is not through sugar candies, or chocolate – but through the gift of praise and love.

    This year I got treated from friends with balloons and heart shaped sayings on my front door long before Valentine’s Day or my birthday was thought of by me. One of those sayings this year is “Think happy thoughts” and another one says “We *heart* (love) you.”

    Just that they thought of me without asking or wanting such a gift meant more to me than all the flowers, chocolate or candy could ever do.

    Valentines’ Day has always had a special place in my heart because of my birthday. My birthday wishes this year are for others to smile and to know that I love you too.

  3. February 14, 2012 10:14 am

    February 11, 2011 11:59 AM

    There is one other important Valentine memory that I left out–and maybe should edit in.

    One year, in high school, the student council was selling roses that people could buy for another student to express their feelings with wither a white, pink or red rose.

    My dear sister, who new that neither of us were going to get a rose from anyone, bought one for me. I think it was $2–that’s in 1979 dollars. For her, that meant one day without hot lunch. It was so powerfully dear. It speaks to the connection we have that shows why she is still my best friend.

    Of course, I was too big of a kid (boy) to cry–and we had enough other stuff to cry about in those days, hidden tears, but it strikes me with that emotion, today.

    Thanks Barbara and Valerie P. for sharing your thoughts and reminding me. And Valerie: watching the parade of hearts and flowers and chocolate: I know what you mean.

  4. Lucienne Schreopfer permalink
    February 14, 2012 10:15 am

    Also a favorite holiday of mine. My mother would make red dinners (The only night she served spaghetti and meatballs each year) and I would have an excuse for a long art project in anticipation. This is a holiday that remains special due to the above– but also learning more about St. Valentine. How incredible someone stepped up to the plate and married people in secret. How awful would so many lives have been– not being allowed to marry– going off to war– alone.

    Billy sings to me each year-(a prepared solo of My Funny Valentine)and I am very fortunate to have a very special Valentine–

    but more important–

    Valentines Day is a day that reminds me to LOVE…Love ourselves..Show Love to people who don’t seem to have it.. Love the people around us that don’t always get as much love from us as they should. Love God and by doing so– remind ourselves we aren’t the be all end all.

    Happy Valentines Day Clarence. Both you and Sid are special to all of us Schroepfers. You are both very loved by me.

    February 11, 2011 1:00 PM

  5. Anne F. permalink
    February 14, 2012 10:16 am

    February 12, 2011 7:41 AM
    One of my most memorable Valentines Day was when Clarence carved a pink heart out of construction paper and hung it on my apt door. At least I remember he hung it on the door. It was from the heart and Clarence has a big heart. I appreciated it because it took courage, thought, time and talent. But , most of all it was from the heart of God. Thank you Clarence for touching me. Happy Valentines Day my friend. Anne F

  6. Anne F. permalink
    February 14, 2012 10:18 am

    One of my most memorable Valentines Day was when Clarence carved a pink heart out of construction paper and hung it on my apt door. At least I remember he hung it on the door. It was from the heart and Clarence has a big heart. I appreciated it because it took courage, thought, time and talent. But , most of all it was from the heart of God. Thank you Clarence for touching me. Happy Valentines Day my friend. Anne F
    February 12, 2011 7:41 AM

    • February 16, 2012 8:21 pm

      Anne, you are a rare exception, one that I mentioned in the post. Not so sure it took talent. What it really took was a forgiving pair of scissors. 🙂
      February 15, 2011 11:06 AM

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