I could be wrong, but I rather suspect that Valentine’s Day is the most widely despised holiday in the country. Really, unless you’re in the small minority of people who are in the throes of romantic passion, what’s to like? You don’t get a day off of work, there’s no religious ceremony or significance, and for weeks ahead of time the stores are filled with a boatload of pink and red crap that nobody needs, and hardly anybody actually wants. Jewelry store commercials aside, the number of lives that would be improved by the gift of a heart-shaped diamond is, I suspect, shockingly small.
Worse than that, for many people the holiday is an affront. If you are single, it’s a reminder that society expects people to pair up, and a suggestion that you are probably a loser because you’re alone. If you’re in a long-term relationship that has become more centered on helping with homework and making sure that there is milk in the frig than on lust and making googly eyes at one another, it’s a reminder that popular culture is obsessed with passion and falling in love, and no one will ever make a blockbuster movie that looks anything like your life. If you’re gay or lesbian or in any kind of non-traditional relationship you know that there probably isn’t going to be a card in the drugstore that is in any way designed with your kind of love in mind. And if you’ve recently been through a break-up, or your relationship is going through a rocky period from which it may or may not recover, or your spouse has died, well, then Valentine’s Day is pretty much designed for your own personal torture.
So here’s my suggestion: Maybe a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by buying candy and flowers would be to embrace the fact that love is often difficult. Rather than a day about romance, why not a day for concentrating on loving something or someone that makes you uncomfortable?
You might want to start by loving your crooked toe, or your stretch marks, or the flabby skin on the back of your arms. Anoint them with lotion, and a long, loving look, and consider the possibility that they really don’t need to be any different than exactly what they are.
You could try loving your neighbor who plays loud music and leaves his RV parked so that you can hardly get in your driveway. Maybe the music is his only stress reducer after caring for elderly people all day; maybe the RV is the only place his son has to live; maybe he’s so busy trying to hold his life together that he forgot to consider what would be most convenient for you.
You could work on loving your daughter’s crappy fourth-grade teacher who doesn’t appreciate your child’s unique gifts and has failed to teach her the structure of a paragraph. Chances are good that there are too many kids in the classroom to give each their due and the teacher is exhausted simply from trying to maintain some semblance of civilization until the bell rings.
You could try to love the person ahead of you in the line at the grocery store who has 27 items in the express lane, or the punk who cut you off on the freeway, or the customer service representative from the cable company who does not appear to have the slightest idea what “service” might mean. Just for today, since it’s a holiday.
You might even go all out, and work on loving your ex, or the person they left you for. Not necessarily forgiving, and certainly not forgetting, but just a little warmth, a little bit of an open heart for someone who, like everyone else in the world, is trying to find happiness in the best way they know how. Which isn’t necessarily a good way, but there you have it.
Just for this one day you could practice love not so much as a feeling but as a choice, a discipline, a practice. You could start with the conviction that everyone certainly needs love, and the possibility that everyone deserves it. Not because they have earned it, not because they are loveable, but because each of us is capable of being an instrument of grace, which is another name for the love that we don’t have to earn or deserve.
Happy Valentine’s Day. And good luck.