I’m sorry to be a Valentine’s Day cliche, but I find myself thinking about love. I imagine this is what you are thinking… Ohhhhh, love as a topic in February, how VERY original, ughhhhh Jenny, c’mon… but before you think I’m high on sugar from chocolate hearts, let me say… today I’m not thinking about the romantic, “I want to run off into the sunset” kind of love. I’m thinking instead of the Namaste “the divine in me honors the divine in you” unconditional kind of love. The love that lets us recognize the soul connection we have with all others. This love is the love that transforms, that invents us, that sets us free… and we don’t need a greeting card or chocolate to give or receive it.
A student gave me these last year on Valentine’s Day; heart shaped glasses made of construction paper and red saran wrap. I’m not embarrassed to say they are one of my most prized possessions; worth more to me than any expensive gifts I’ve received, because as I look at them, I remember how much I learned about love from that class of 4th graders. My heart grew about 40 sizes bigger during the time I worked with the youth in East Dayton; every moment was an opportunity to understand what it meant to live in my heart.
Don’t get me wrong… last year the week before Valentine’s day, I think my internal dialogue went something like this; “Oh NOOOO, I’m single and it’s awful because I don’t get flowers!!! WHO is going to buy me something made of chocolate? Waaaah, boohoo, I’m lonely, waaaaaahhhhh. ” And instead of wanting to give anyone sweets, I jealously listened to the person I had feelings for talk about his girlfriend and felt an almost uncontrollable urge to nail him in the eye with a candy heart. In other words, I was feeling neither loved nor loving.
But a funny thing happened when I walked in the classroom at work the afternoon of Valentine’s day; I watched as the kids exchanged cards not with one person but with everyone in the class, and then they started showering me with cards too. They filled each other’s desks with Sponge Bob valentines, Disney valentines, Justin Beiber valentines…cards, candy, stickers, and love. I was blissed out not only because they had filled my purse with the same tokens of affection and decorated my arms with some super stylish temporary tattoo hearts, but because watching them love each other had woke me up. My silly adult brain thought I needed to have a Valentine, and these brilliant kids reminded that love isn’t reserved for one person, it’s a way of being. Love isn’t a thing we do, or a word we share, it’s a fire that’s bright and alive in each one of our souls, and we are all here to fan each others flames.
When we were kids, we didn’t scramble to find a date on Valentine ’s Day, and we didn’t give a card to just one person. Instead, we bought a box of our favorite cartoon or TV show character themed cards, and we shared that thing we loved with every single person we knew. Whether it was a piece of chalk flavored candy that said “Call Me” in almost illegible red letters or a lopsided construction paper heart, we gave a token of our love to every kid in our class, we gave one to our teacher, we gave them to our parents… we showered everyone in our kid-sized universe with love. We realized that love wasn’t something we give in small amounts to a select few, but something that we can and should share with everyone.
Then we got older, and we started to only share that love with ‘special’ people, with the people we were most fond of. Eventually, maybe we started believing that we should probably only use the word love with our boyfriend or girlfriend and family. That love was something we could only share if it was returned, we certainly didn’t offer affection to people we didn’t know, nor did we share love with those who hurt us. We started believing a myth; that love is something we have a limited amount of to give, and that we should hold onto it until we found the right person to share our love with. We became love hoarders!
So when my student gave me these glasses, I think he was on to something. We used to see everyone through heart shaped glasses, and we gave our love freely. This morning, I went to a new spiritual center, in a new place, and I was that stranger, the lonely person who didn’t know anyone. Yet, at the end of service, we sang Love is All There Is, and as I looked to my left and my right, I realized that I wasn’t a stranger, nor were these new people beside me, but that we all had one thing in common; the ability to love. And in that moment, I loved those ‘strangers’ as much as I love my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. And all day I’ve been buzzing, nourished by the unrestricted love that allows us to look at a stranger a someone we know as ourselves, the love that allows us to not just know on a cognitive level, but to feel in our soul that separation is an illusion.
And not to discredit my lovely boyfriend, who I’m sure will do something creatively romantic for me on the 14th, but I think he’s going to have to share. Because, I’d like to be everyone’s Valentine, and while I can’t send over 7 billion cards (with adorable puppies on them- my 4th grade valentine of choice!), I can share my words and act each moment from my heart. As one of my dear friends reminded me today, infinite and unconditional love like that has to be shared, because the love that reminds us how connected we all are… that is love that will change the world.
To see myself in everybody, and everybody in myself, most certainly is love. – Nisargadatta Maharaj