I vividly remember sitting in that middle school classroom. It was Valentine’s Day and our teacher drew hearts on the chalkboard and placed pink streamers on the wall. A festive atmosphere swirled among the space and filled us with holiday frenzy.
Our teacher began lecturing on molecules and atoms. I tried to focus, but my mind drifted elsewhere. This was a day where academics took a backseat to romance. How could anyone be expected to focus on scientific particles when love was clearly in the air?
Minutes into our lesson, another teacher sauntered into our classroom clutching an armful of carnations. A hum of excitement buzzed among my classmates as we had all been waiting for this moment.
At my school, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with special deliveries. As a holiday surprise and school fundraiser, students could purchase carnations for other students. The flowers would be distributed to the lucky recipients during the course of the school day. We all eagerly anticipated receiving a carnation from a secret beau or special admirer.
Slowly, the teacher with the flowers made her way around the desks. One by one she handed students carnations to which the beneficiary responded with giggles and squeals. I wiggled in my seat barely able to contain my own excitement. I wondered whether I would be gifted a red or pink carnation.
However, my stomach began to drop as the teacher distributed more and more carnations to my fellow classmates and none to me. Finally, the teacher’s hands were empty. Most of my classmates proudly displayed a carnation or two on their desk while my desk lay bare.
I was humiliated, sad, and moreover engrossed in the feeling of being unwanted and unloved. I wondered how a holiday grounded in the perpetuation of love can have quite the opposite effect.
While I’d like to say this was the only Valentine’s Day that was painful, I have other adolescent and adult memories where the holiday bred hurt. I recall many years where I spent Valentine’s Day with a frozen dinner, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and a scowl.
That’s why it’s surprising that Valentine’s Day is now one of my favorite holidays.
You may think my change of perspective ties to the fact that I am now married. Having a lasting valentine certainly adds to the enjoyment of the holiday. However, married people can have disappointing Valentine’s Days too. Just ask the wife who yearns for Valentine’s flowers and chocolates and receives a toaster instead.
Hypothetically, of course.
I turned a corner on Valentine’s Day when I shifted my mindset on the holiday. For years, I looked at the day as how I could feel loved. Now, I see the day as how I can love others. That little switch has made all the difference. I’ve moved from a reactive to proactive approach to the holiday. I no longer take a wait-and-see attitude (Will someone make me happy?); now, I maintain an opportunity stance (Can I make someone else happy?).
Over the last few years, I’ve inspired my family on to the same mission: We will seek to love other people well on Valentine’s Day. We start with loving the people inside the walls of our own home. We send each other treats and enjoy a festive meal together. We offer encouraging words.
Then, we aspire to love those in our world well. Specifically, we look to spread love to those to whom Valentine’s Day may be a particularly lonely time. We send cards to widows. We bake cookies for friends facing divorce. We make goodie bags for elderly neighbors. We send cards to special teachers. We write notes to the grandparents.
Valentine’s Day now produces an abundance of joy.
I wish I could go back and chat with my younger self sitting in the middle school classroom without a carnation. I would offer a hug. Tell her she is loved. Then, I would encourage her to turn her focus around the room. I’m guessing others also sat flowerless. I would urge her to shift her energy from receiving a carnation to giving one to someone else. I would tell her that’s the very best way to experience love on Valentine’s Day.