I don’t consider myself much of a romantic, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Valentine’s Day. When I was younger, I enjoyed decorating a white paper bag with pink and red hearts, cut meticulously from construction paper, for the sole purpose of receiving valentines from my classmates. Later, I would carefully peruse the holiday aisle at K-Mart, weighing my options between Peanuts, Looney Toons, and Disney before finally choosing a package of valentines that expressed the essence of my love for all the kids in my class. I would thoughtfully match the valentine according to my rapport with that student. Therefore, my best friend, Kelly, received the coveted Donald Duck in the astronaut suit, while Sharon and her wrap-around retainer received a valentine with a B-List Disney character. Sometimes, if I felt so inspired, I might personalize the valentine with a message such as, “Stay cool.”
On February 14th, I would drop a valentine into each classmate’s decorated bag before gorging myself on cupcakes, cookies, and punch without a second thought for children starving in third world countries. Afterwards, flying high on a killer sugar buzz, we would empty our sacks on our desks and open our valentines. It all went so well until the 5th grade, when in the midst of an envelope-ripping frenzy, I realized that I had forgotten Randy Ferguson. Even though I had worked straight from my home room list, somehow, Randy had been passed over and I lost that loving feeling. I still think of Randy from time to time and wonder what he’s doing now. I wonder if he’s happily married with a family of his own, or whether, instead, he is sleeping on a park bench somewhere, sipping out of a brown paper bag. I question if, perhaps, I could have saved a life if I had only given another ten-year-old boy a piece of card with a portrait of Goofy asking him to be mine. Alas, I’ll never know.
Historically, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of a Catholic martyr who was beaten to death and beheaded because he secretly married couples during the reign of Claudius the Cruel. It seems Claudius had cancelled all marriages and engagements because he believed them to be the reason he had trouble finding soldiers for his army. No roses, candy, flowers, cupcakes, punch, or paper bags decorated with hearts were involved. Strangely enough, it’s sort of like celebrating Vegan Day by eating a sirloin steak or world peace with a boxing match.
Generally, men tend to receive the short end of the stick when it comes to choosing the perfect present to give on February 14th. Anything a woman says from January 1st until V-Day is a possible clue. Some men learn the hard way that when a woman says she really doesn’t expect anything or want him to go to a lot of trouble for Valentine’s Day, it’s basically a lie. Of course she wants him to do something to prove that he thinks she is a goddess on a mountaintop burning like a silver flame! The challenge is to decide whether to give lingerie, flowers, or a diamond, but I say you can never go wrong with chocolate. Even if she’s on a diet or a fitness fanatic, she’ll love chocolate–and if she’s bulimic, she’ll enjoy it twice as much! For men, on the other hand, there is only one obvious choice: sex. Beer can do in a pinch, but, ladies, wouldn’t you prefer to give him something where his attention is on you and not the contents of a bottle or can?
For some, valentine anxiety is not a symptom of the lack of the right gift, but rather Mr. or Miss Right. In their minds, to be single on February 14th is akin to walking around with the word LOSER stamped on their foreheads. They claim to be unhappy because they don’t have anyone in their life. I say to these people, “Adopt a homeless person!” However, they argue that they want someone special. “Adopt a mentally-challenged person!” I reply, but it seems, instead, that they want somebody to complete them. So they immediately look around for a desperate date for V.D.; anyone with a pulse is eligible. The date is typically a recipe for disaster and results in tears and someone hurling flaming shish kebob skewers while the other runs for his life–or at least that’s been my experience.
Somehow, it seems that we miss the whole point, no pun intended, of Valentine’s Day. Instead of thinking of romantic love, which generally focuses on our own desires and yearnings, we should expand our interpretation to include agape, a self-less and spiritual love that we can share with the whole world. Instead of buying your kids more candy they don’t need, suggest they give it to me, or make a donation to an organization that works toward eliminating world hunger. If you know a couple with children that never seem to have time for themselves, surprise them by offering for you and your significant other to baby-sit while they go out and trip the lights fantastic. Then after the kids go to sleep, mess around in the couple’s bed. If you find yourself without a date, take a homeless person to Dave & Busters; you’ll have someone to play air hockey with. But why stop there? Why not extend Valentine’s Day to 365 days a year by giving your time and energy to one of the many organizations that need volunteers? Help do maintenance at a local church, volunteer to mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn, or ask the four-star chef who lives on the corner if he needs anyone to sample his food to make sure it’s not poisoned? One can never be too sure these days …
I always wanted to read to children, so I volunteered to read to the second grade class of a local elementary school. However, it seems that my choice of material was not appropriate. Since children were mentioned in the title, I assumed, naturally that Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Kids would be a good choice, but it seems that unhooking a bra is not something that is covered in a second grade boy’s curriculum. Sadly, he will have to learn that later in the streets. Next, I thought I would draw attention to personal safety with Carolyn Harris Johnson’s Come With Daddy: Child Murder-Suicide After Family Breakdown, but this choice was nixed for reasons never fully explained to me. Finally, I asked the teacher for a recommendation, and she suggested a nature story with animals, one that presents a bold message which children can remember for the rest of their lives. I smiled smugly, knowing just the book for the job. As a result of our conversation, this week, I will be reading from Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Sigh … It feels good to give a gift that will keep on giving. This one’s for you, Randy!