When I walked into school this morning, I saw hundreds of red-foil-wrapped chocolate hearts strewn across the main hall floor. Every radio ad and television show beats with the pulse of romantic love (and the hope of instilling the sudden urge to buy diamonds/roses/expensive gifts in everyone within earshot). Hell, even Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is having a romantic marathon tonight.
Oh gad, it’s Valentine’s Day.
However, if you are expecting a rant about the horrors of Valentine’s Day and how bitter I feel that I don’t have someone taking me out for a candlelit dinner or giving me gifts — well, you’re going to have to read another site tonight.
It’s true that I’ve never been fond of this holiday, but not because I twist with impatience that no one else is in the room with me now. I don’t decry it, then go home and cry. Even when I’ve been in love, and had lavish bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolate truffles sent to my door on the 14th of February, I’m still not fond of this holiday.
As my friend Francoise said this morning, when I asked if she and her dear husband were doing anything for the night, she pushed out her lips and said, “No,” in her clipped French accent. “For us, every day is Valentine’s Day. Why make a big deal of it now?”
You see, if I ever do get married, I don’t want a diamond. I certainly don’t want a Hollywood proposal (and if he does it on tv, then he doesn’t know me well enough to marry me!). And chocolate? I give myself that every day.
It is true, however, that I don’t have a particular love this Valentine’s Day. I’m not married. I’m not even dating anyone at the moment. Everything in this culture — and frankly a number of the blogs I’ve seen today — seems to suggest that I should be feeling sorry for myself right now. Or at least not talking about this. But I refuse to be silent, ashamed. I would love to meet someone who makes me laugh, has a kind mind, and loves to eat my cooking. (And if anyone out there reading knows someone for me, send him along.) But I just refuse to believe that hackneyed idea that I’m a ragged half perpetually searching for my other ragged half, waiting for that union to make us both feel smooth and whole. Why put my life on hold? Especially when I never know when that life might just disappear?
“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
Instead, I believe in love itself. Satyagraha, as Gandhi referred to it — the force that is born of love. Each of us, connected together. Transitory moments, ephemerally aflame with love. Talking on the phone, late into the night, with my friend whom I have known since I was sixteen. Laughter with a new friend because I tripped over the curb on the way back from buying coffee. Listening to the stories of everyone I meet. Hugging my nephew when he smiles at me and lifts up his arms. Demanding that my students write clear drafts, even when they think it’s too hard. Cooking for friends on a Sunday afternoon, talking over my shoulder as I pat down the chicken with olive oil and garlic before I put it into the oven to roast. Giggling at the bus driver’s jokes in the morning. Smiling at the woman checking out my groceries.
And for me, love is really gratitude. If I think of everything for which I’m grateful, I’m going to fill up pages and pages with nouns and verbs. So I’ll restrain myself. Instead, I’ll just say:
the smell of fresh-cut ginger
the soft flesh of a mango slithering under the paring knife
the initial bitterness yielding to dark release of the first cup of coffee
the low, insistent sizzle of thin slices of leeks sauteeing in salted butter
the lurid red of a wide-open dahlia in August
I love those reassuring moments of being grounded in my senses. I’m alive.
What else is there, in the end?
And so, to all of you reading, I’m sending you chocolates and flowers. I hope you feel loved today, free from expectations and bitterness. If you don’t have a valentine, don’t feel bad. I’ll be your valentine any time.