Friday, February 12, 2010
My Funny Valentine
I have a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. And considering this is a day set aside for expressing love, I’m sorry to admit that many years have been heavy on the hate.
Maybe it’s because of society-imposed expectations of what this day represents and how it should be celebrated. In a world that often seems divided into the Haves and Have-nots, on February 14 it can seem these categories have been renamed Loved and Unloved. But I was lucky to learn an important Valentine’s lesson early in life.
I must preface my story by letting you know that as a ninth grader I was two feet taller than any boy in my class and weighed less than a small domestic dog--and most of those pounds belonged to my hair. (It was the 80’s and I grew up in a city known for its humidity--you do the math.) I had taken terms like “awkward phase,” “really bad perm,” and “self-esteem issues” to new levels. That was the year someone suggested that by spray-painting myself green, I could trick-or-treat as a stalk of broccoli. But it wasn’t until that fateful February day that I felt like a character from a Judy Blume novel.
The student government at my high school had an annual fundraiser. They would take orders for carnations in white, pink, and red and on V-day deliver them to the fortunate recipients during morning classes. I didn’t think much of it when the first flowers arrived and ignored the giggles of the girls reading the attached construction paper cards from their prince charmings and “best buds 4 ever.” But soon I realized that I was the only girl in the class who hadn’t gotten a flower. (Even some boys had gotten them!)
Like listening to kernels of popcorn in a microwave, I knew that as the flurry of flower delivery slowed down they had almost finished distribution. In ten minutes the bell would ring and I would have to navigate the halls of flower laden girls empty-handed.
But then the classroom door opened and a delivery girl walked in. It seemed she was coming toward me, although I wasn’t sure because--thanks to the hair--I had very little peripheral vision. My heart raced as inside I was praying, “Please, God, let it be for me.” And then . . . prayers were answered, angels sang, and all was right with the world as she tapped my shoulder and handed me the most beautiful pink carnation a dollar ever bought.
I slowly looked down at the attached card--dying to know who had sent it--yet not wanting to look like I cared. And then I read simple words that I’ve carried with me for the rest of my life: “Thanks for being my little sister. I love you.”
It was quite a shock, because the sentiment usually coming from my sister’s mouth was along the lines of, “Get out of my room!” She was a senior that year and perhaps she remembered what it was like to be a freshman of my make and model. But I doubt when she wrote that card she knew how much those words would make me feel valued or how “I love you” could erase insecurity. And it wasn’t because I had joined the ranks of those who had flowers, but because I had joined the ranks of those she loved. And I must say that my dear big sis is one of God's greatest blessings in my life today.
So what’s the moral of the story? That flowers have always been overpriced or that a woman nearing 40 should really let go of things that happened in high school? Although, yes, these are valid answers, I think the real lesson is that sweethearts come in a number of varieties and that Valentine’s Day not only celebrates love between lovers, but also love between friends.
Over the years I’ve tasted a Whitman’s Sampler of Valentine’s Days. Thanks to my husband, I’ve had my share of candlelit dinners, sweet-smelling bouquets, and love letters that make me forget I was ever in the ninth grade. And, thanks to my children, I’ve gotten handmade cards, sticky hugs and kisses and living examples of unconditional love. But, thanks to family and friends, I’ve learned that the love of a friend can get you through the semi-sweet years and make the good years even sweeter.
So this year if you find yourself the “older sister” to a little girl with big hair (or a big boy who is losing his), send a card, make a phone call, or give a hug and say, “Thanks for being my . . . sister, brother, mother, father, grandchild, daughter, son, neighbor, friend. I love you.” Because on Valentine’s Day there should be only one category of people. And that is Loved.