The florist shop across the street is stuffed with Valentines day leftovers. Pink and red balloons keep each other warm, crammed together under the dimmed display lights. Pink and red maintaining the closed shop’s cheery façade despite the fading light; pink and red spilling onto the grey sidewalks of
February, the month of love. The shortest month, too. As I look back over a life of February 14th’s, I notice how this day presents us with a variety of options. We can abstain from this frivolous, needless consumer dictate altogether, we can choose more creative ways of expressing our affection, or we can buy into the "50 ways to Love your Lover" offered to us at every turn. I’ve hosted “platonic potlucks,” been out on hot dates, had Chinese food with my brother, and, of course, served countless couples champagne at countless restaurants!
Every time a holiday or other noteworthy day comes and goes, I think of how it is being experiencing so differently, simultaneously. In all the moments a February 14th holds, there are a thousand or more stories lived, a thousand or more secrets revealed. These days mark the passage of time in a communal sense. We live through them together, almost as if they are social rites of passage, moments that tie us to each other in mutual agreement. It is when we feel most like hobos on parade, solitary wanderers through this alienating world, these days unite us. They give us common interests, and at the very least, topics for conversations (and blog posts)! In certain cases, like Christmas and Easter, they connect us to the people and the traditions that have made it possible for us to learn this thing called faith.
Valentine's Day serves a variety of social functions, albeit less noble ones. There are as many reactions to February 14th as there are people. Unfortunately for some, (like the woman we witnessed screaming across the airwaves on her cell phone), the day is a downer. For others, like the couple on the couch across from us at “Awful Al’s Cigar Lounge,” the day is a playground for public affection. And there are hundreds of Valentines Day experiences that fall somewhere in between these extremes. For those lucky enough to tumble into Valentines Day shortly after tumbling into a relationship, the day is but an insignificant blip on the screen of new love—merely one more day amongst the unfolding bliss. In this context, the lovers can do no wrong--a knowing glance slipped across the dinner table is as passionate as the perfect kiss, and a few moments in the presence of the beloved are worth boxes full of chocolate and fingers full of diamonds.
Then there is the next level: V-Day as filter. I’ve noticed that in more settled relationships, the 14th serves as a catalyst for the “fight or flight” reaction. When a couple’s first Valentines Day rolls around, say, a few months after being together, the l0ve-sensors seem especially sensitive. I’m sure many a well-intentioned man is dumped for not coming up with spectacular ways to wow their women on this particular day in mid-February. Valentines Day here is like a test one must pass in order to proceed to the next level. And this is where the card shops kick in, serving as Band Aids and cupid-godmothers for failed and failing lovers.
There are Valentines Days spent indulging chocolate addictions and lonely hearts with single friends, there are sympathy dates and blind dates. There are men sitting alone in neighbourhood bars, there are gentle bartenders pouring the healing wine. There are tears in the eyes of eight-year-olds when their bakers-clay Valentines break in their bag on the way to school, there are hopes and dreams locked behind the doors of closed florist shops, there are curses broken by a voice you wished you’d heard much sooner. There is the 28th card and 378th rose sitting on the kitchen table. There is the David Gray song playing on the radio: “This year’s love had better last.” There are spells cast by eyes reflecting all the good in you. And there are a hundred more besides, a hundred versions of love on the day all lovers wait for in hopes of feeling the ball in their chests pump just a little faster.
The Innocence Mission’s song “When Mac was Swimming” is a song about a family preparing a birthday party for their little boy, who is oblivious to the goings-on around him. There is a line in it that has struck me over and over again: “Nobody knows how they are loved.” Maybe there are things going on around us, above us, inside of us, that we haven’t named as love, just yet.
Thanks to singer-songwriter Shannon Wright for the phrase “hobos on parade."
Thanks to Mark for the picture. And for other things, far too numerous to mention on this blog.