Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Blank (Heart)Slate

My good friends who know how I feel about the interconnectedness of big identity issues in America today (feminism, activism, materialism, etc.) tend to cock an eyebrow at my unshakable respect for Valentine's Day. But once I tell them my story--how one of my grandmothers doesn't give gifts for Christmas but sends out letters and gifties to her grandkids for Feb 14 instead, and how female mentors have literally saved my life, one belly laugh and snail-mail letter and girls' night out at a time--they start to get it.

This time of year, I often hear, "Why do we need a day to remind us to love?" or some form of that question in the air. And here's my answer: "How can we not need a day to remind us to love in today's world?" Now, my V-Day isn't filled with chocolates or flowers (though I ADORE the local chocolate and florists in my town, along with the amazing women behind them). My Valentine's Day is fueled by mindful connection.

I generally send out about 30-40 handwritten Valentines/year, and mostly to either the most important women in my life, or the friends I don't often get to see in person. It's a time to be intentional about actually reaching out to people who have made me stronger/wiser/grateful in the last year. We live in a society that now tells us that if we want to "know" someone, to feel connected with their lives, we only need a texting plan, or just need to show them we care by "liking their posts" (I sometimes wonder what American pioneers would say to this odd phrase/action!) But friends (Self, are you listening too?): I'm writing to say this is not enough! There's more than this.

When I send off a Valentine or call someone up on Feb 14, I'm thanking the Universe that this woman is here--here now--in my life and the life of others. And to be completely honest, it's also one week of the year when I can celebrate the fact that I am still here, too, that I am a woman with many privileges and blessings, and that I have the opportunity to reach out to my best self--with the help of friends, and with the help of self-compassion. I can, as a local nonprofit signs its emails, "make love a verb," starting with learning to love my present self.

I deliberately plan activities in my week that make me--yes, make me--acknowledge my strength and beauty as an individual. Yoga, writing, and morning devotions (usually a prayer or poem or song) makes me slow down and nod to who I've been in the past--and who I want to become before the day blasts into any to-do list.

So if I was handing out candy hearts today, at age 32, they might offer, "Forgive yourself," "Let it go," "Renew," "See the beauty in the next stranger you meet," and "You're here now."

I remember putting candy hearts on the desks of boys I liked in 2nd grade, when I was literally about a head taller than all of them. It was before recess ended, and I recall the fiery rush of adrenaline and hope as I carefully chose which hearts went on what desks--before the bell!

And friends, I've been repeating this action ever since, decades later. I'm still that girl asking to be noticed for her worth, and I'm still the person wanting to exclaim to those around her, "I see you. You're lovely. You're OK." It just took me about 25 years to figure out that the person I needed to love in public--more than any man, or partner, or friend--was myself. And what a challenging Valentine invitation that's become every year..."Self, I accept you. Self, how will you define beauty today?"

May you eat something sweet today, whether it's chocolate or a true compliment someone gives you. May you smile at the college boys selling roses. And may you take a deep breath and walk out into the world with greater self-compassion. Our hearts are blank slates. Let's be mindful of what we've written there.


  1. This post has inspired me to change my lesson plan today. In my writing and leadership class we were going to talk about symbols of our vision for the world and then make paper shields with them on it. But now we're making Valentine's to our past, present, and future selves. Thanks for a beautiful blog post!