Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some Random Thoughts on Valentine's Day

Love. Four little letters with so much baggage...
My day began with a fast stop at Wal-mart to pick up some inexpensive roses for the day. Now, I don't usually start my Thursdays out by trading a couple of hard earned sawbacks for flowers, but today was special. Today is the day that love crass commercialism abounds. On Valentine's day, we have been conditioned (or coerced) by society to spend money to demonstrate the love that we have for others. Today is a day when bachelors everywhere sigh with relief that they don't have to fork over their dough on some sentimental hogwash and bachelorettes sigh because they don't have a guy who'll fork out some of his cash to "show" how much he loves you. And the odd thing is, it isn't even really about getting something on Valentine's day... it is about other people seeing you getting something on Valentine's day. If the gift is thoughful enough or complicated enough that it shows effort, a guy can get away with something really cheap. Ok, I think it is safe to say that the Valentine's day experience, while it may vary from person to person, is mostly superficial.

I had a conversation with the mother of my son's kindergarten classmate about a flyer that was sent home two weeks ago. It was from the PTO regarding a fund raiser they were advertising. For about $2 each, parents could have the PTO deliver to their child's classroom on Valentine's day: A) a helium balloon and a love note from Mommy/Daddy B) A small stuffed animal or C) a small bag of Valentine-themed candy or any combination of those three . The mother said, "So, if I don't do this for my kid, I'm some sort of bad parent, right? 'Cause you know that other kid's parents are going to do this and so if I don't do it, my kid is going to think we don't love him! Sheesh." The power of crass Valentine's commercialism at work... even in such an innocent venue.

I had a conversation with a friend who is in a long-distance relationship about Valentine's day this afternoon. I asked how she and her fiancee were going about doing the holiday "thing" considering they were hundreds of miles apart. She told me, "He really objects to the whole Valentine's day idea. He doesn't feel right being 'forced' to do something artificial to somehow prove that he loves me on any certain day just because. " >insert pregnant pause< "But I told him that although I understood and I didn't expect him to spend lots of money... he'd better do something today."

I must admit that I have lived at both ends of the spectrum. I have righteously raled at the injustice of a superficial holiday and it's negative effect on my slim income and I have gone overboard with an obsequious display of romantic verisimilitude. This year, I kind of made do with what I had. The wife and I went out earlier in the week because I had to work tonight. I picked up a dozen roses at the supermarket to deliver to special people today. I took roses to my daughters and gift to my son, a rose to my wife, mother, mother-in-law, some other key people and even gave a couple of roses to a buddy who needed a quick gift for his wife but couldn't pull together the cash to get her some on his own.

But none of what I did today was about love. It was about crass commercialism. Love is when I tell my wife to go on to bed because she's had rough day and I offer to bathe the kids and put them to bed. I was loving when I offer to go out of my way to help a friend with a difficult chore. I was loving when I held my tongue instead of criticizing someone when they made an honest mistake. I think that we demonstrate love when, out of genuine concern for someone else's well being above our own, we give... our selves, our time, our energy, our effort, our concern, our encouragement.

So, here's a bright idea for us to try: Let's strike a blow at crass commercialism every day for the next year by being intentional about how we choose to go about our day. Look for opportunities to show love to someone tomorrow when they least expect it. It may be a pre-meditated show of love, or it could be a target-of-opportunity kind of thing where it just kind of happens. Let's turn every day into a day that we can love and appreciate each other and see what kind of world it can become.

/idealism off

Whew.. was getting kind of sappy there for a minute. Seriously, for four measly letters, love is a pretty misused word. The English language use of the word: Love covers so much ground, you almost need qualifiers to give it context. The notion of love that we focus on for Valentine's day is a commercialized romanticism. Being off the market, so to speak, has helped me shift my focus to a more filial definition. I want my kids to know a definition of love that isn't defined by the marketplace or mass media. Despite the best intentions of the PTO, I don't think they are doing anyone any favors in the self-esteem department by offering this service for valentine's day. Remember high school? Yeah... I hope your experience was better than mine. Not only did I not ever get any of the "pre-packaged" love from anyone, I was also too poor to manage to scrape up enough to let that girl know that I liked her... ANYHOW, now that I'm a daddy, I want my kids to know that they are loved, but not by the world's standards, but by God's standards... unconditionally. So I took the time to do Valentine's day my way... by not doing the PTO thing, but by hand delivering a special gift to them and reminding them that I don't just love them with roses and gifts, but with every thing I do for them. Did I succumb to Mass Marketing? Yeah, kinda, but I did it on my own terms.

One more story before I leave you. On Sunday, I was paged to the ER by a patient who requested a visit from the chaplain. When I got there, I met a guy who seemed to be perfectly healthy. He spun me a story about how he had been down and out, bouncing from town to town and how because he was pretty sick (he listed about 5 things that are terminally ill diseases), and how he basically didn't have anything, if I could help him out. I expected him to ask me if I could give him some money or food or something, but I was caught off guard by his request. "So," he said, "I was wondering if you might could help me track down my mother." He told me that his mom lived here in Abilene and that the last time he saw her, he had done wrong by her. It involved him lying to her and taking money from her and using it poorly. "I know she may not ever want to see me again, but I just want to make things right with her." Still expecting some sort of shakedown, I agreed to help him make some calls of names from the phone book. Amazingly, after a few calls based on some sketchy memories of where she lived and what name it might be under, he reached his mom. She agreed to pick him up after he was discharged. He thanked me and told me again his plan to try and make things up to her. I wished him the best and went on about my business. ----> today, I started my shift at the hospital and I had a note that a patient had requested a visit from *me*. When I got to the room, I discovered it was the guy from Sunday. We visited for a few minutes and he told me that the ER had called him to tell him that they had cultured his blood and he had some bad stuff they needed to treat right away... so he ended up back in the hospital after all. I asked how things went with his Mom. He smiled and told me that it was like heaven. I asked, "What do you mean?" He told me, "When she picked me up, she told me that she was only going to say it once... I'd better not lie to her. That is it. That is all she said about what happened before. I know I have to earn her trust back, but it is like it never happened. She wants to help me out. She is helping me get on SSI, she set me up with a room in her apartment. I don't deserve this, man." He went on to tell me about the few days they'd spent together and how, for him, it was overwhelming to be loved by his mother after he'd spent all this time thinking that she was angry with him and hated him for what he'd done. "I don't really care now, if i kick off, Chaplain. All that matters is that things are right now." That was the icing on my Valentine's day cake.

Score one for God's love being channelled through a parent. Happy V-day everyone


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