Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Reclaiming Valentine's

Do you remember when you were a kid and Valentine's day was just fun? First, you got to decorate a box or bag or something with red and pink crepe paper. Then on the big day the whole class would exchange those cheesy little cards, some of them complete with conversation hearts. You gave a card to everyone. And then you'd get a cupcake or something that someone's mom made. It was awesome!

Then we grew up and Valentine's day took on a whole different meaning. It wasn't about giving everyone a card any more. It wasn't even about getting a card from everyone. That wasn't good enough. You only wanted to get a card from that special someone, and not just a card -- no no. You dreamed about bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolate, and maybe even a stuffed animal. (OK, at least that what girls dream about, I won't venture into what boys fantasize about that day.) The day was ruined -- a least for most of us. For those of you who always managed to have a Valentine is was still awesome, I'm guess. I wouldn't know. It seems like I spent the bulk of holiday feeling rather glum, and alone.

At least until one day while in college, inspired by Charlie Brown (as in "Well, Charlie Brown how many Valentine's did you give away?), a chum and I decided to reclaim Valentine's day and go back to the cheesy little cards. We made one for everyone we thought we might see that day, complete with conversation hearts, and spent the day passing them all out.

It changed everything. The day was fun again. Getting those silly little cards seem to make everyone's day a little brighter, but none more than my own. Although I gave out far more cards than I received that day, I felt supremely happy. I learned an important thing, not just about Valentine's that day, but about life. The quickest path to happiness and the best antidote for a glum mood is doing something for others.

I don't know why it is. It doesn't make any logical sense. You'd think if you just focus on yourself all the time you'd be sure to get everything you want and you'd be happy, but it just doesn't work that way. Giving to others brings a joy to our lives that can not be acquired through any other means. Truly happy people know this. Adolescents haven't learned this yet, and really is there a more miserable lot in this world than 13 year olds? Only through serving others can we forget our own insecurities and frustrations. And it is only through this forgetting, or losing of ourselves that we find ourselves again. I think someone else said something like that. (Matthew 16:25).

I eventually did find an "Eternal Valentine" and this morning I dropped our 9 year old daughter off to school, excited for the Valentine's card exchange today. I've tried to teach her that she will find joy through giving, but I realized this morning as I watched her toting two dozen cupcakes (with really yummy chocolate frosting I might add), presents for her teachers, and a card for each and every classmate, she already knows that. I just have to make sure she doesn't forget.