The rules of time-out state that one should remain there one minute for each year of life. I must be 11,520 years old.
Valentine's Day is my anniversary. It is also my favorite holiday. For many years I have obstinately thumbed my nose at those who would call it Singles Awareness Day out of sensitivity for those who are not paired romantically, because in my mind this has never been a day about romance. While I have no argument with those who wish to celebrate with their significant others, Valentine's Day, to me, is simply about love--all kinds of love.
I believe I was fifteen when I decided I needed to celebrate this day. I'd been listening for three years to the drama of high school and junior high romances...would that special someone send flowers? would there be a card or a gift? would they kiss for the first time? or go out to dinner and a movie? It seemed completely silly to me. If you're in love with someone, why should a particular day make a difference?
I wasn't immune to teen hormones. I had people with whom I was in love. We made special plans to spend time together or wrote love notes or exchanges gifts/chocolate/flowers, but it always seemed strange that one must make some sort of statement on Valentine's Day. I did those "Valentine" things often. If I was in love with someone--they knew it and I never apologized for showing how I felt.
Valentine's Day was special to me for other reasons, though. It was the one day in the year when my mother made it a point to give me a love token. Cards were important to her. She spent hours finding the one she thought would "fit" the person for whom it was chosen. The words didn't mean as much as the illustrations. Mine always had cutesy little girls with dark eyes and curly hair, and she always signed the cards, "Lots of love, Mom and Dad." There was never a message. She never said, "I love you Sam." But I pretended she did. Even when I was older and I hated her with every fiber of my being and wished she would die, I still wanted to be loved by her.
I saved every card she gave me and I cried each year as I opened and read the cards. It's the only time I remember crying as a teen. I remember vowing that every person in my life whom I loved would know how I felt, and I would never be embarrassed or ashamed for loving them.
And so, every year on Valentine's Day I gave cards and cookies and hugs to the people I loved. I had some friends who suggested friend Valentines were for elementary school kids. My response was to say, "I make really great cookies--you should try them--and by the way, I love you!" Eventually they got used to my celebration and by the time I was a high school senior, they joined me.
We made large, gaudy, elementary-school-style envelopes and put them on our lockers the week before Valentine's Day. We bought the campy cartoon character Valentines and left them in each other's envelopes. I expected that by the time Valentine's Day came, the envelopes would be torn from the lockers and all the cards scattered down the hall. To my surprise, not only did they remain intact, but others appeared on lockers of people outside my circle of friends. I added Valentine cards to those, as well.
On the day of love, we had a large Valentine's Day party in the school hallway. The administrators had said we could set up tables for goodies and everyone brought something. My friends and I opened our envelopes, laughed at the funny Valentines, rolled our eyes at the innocently suggestive ones, and exchanged hugs with those who had written heartfelt notes on their flimsy cardboard Valentines. We had all had gotten a few from people we knew from class associations, but who were not close friends, so I was glad I had randomly distributed cards to all the locker envelopes that popped up during the week. We ate cookies and cupcakes and chocolate until we were sick, and we made a vow to never make this day about getting stupid romantic gestures from our girlfriends or boyfriends.
Probably I'm the only person who kept that vow.
To this day, I celebrate Valentine's Day by sending cards, or making phone calls, or giving chocolate to my friends. My children always receive a gaudy pink heart filled with chocolate truffles, as does my dear friend, Darrin. I've stopped broadcasting my love quite so widely in recent years because several of my single friends made it known that on the day I celebrate love, they mourn the fact that they don't have a significant other, and nothing that expresses love from me can put a dent in their sorrow. That's okay--I'll take my love elsewhere--but not until I've let them know how unfortunate it is that they've spurned my enthusiastic offering. After all, I have always said that people should consider themselves blessed to be loved by someone like me, and no, I don't really care how egotistical that sounds. I believe it.
I believe it because all kinds of love are special. I believe it because it took me years to acknowledge that regardless of how I had been treated and no matter what had been done to me, my love was valuable and I was entitled to give and receive love. I believe it because even when my love is not reciprocated, or even when I may love someone more than I'm loved in return, love makes people "better." It heals hurts and builds strength and reaches out and protects the hidden, vulnerable places people long to share but fear to reveal.
"How do I love thee?"
If you are someone I love, this is a question you might be able to answer yourself, because I will have told you many, many times, and hopefully, I will also have shown you in many, many ways. And I will continue to do so, not just on Valentine's Day, but on many, many days in the years to come.