An anti-romantic teen I know reminded me that St. Valentine's martyrdom involved plucking out the poor fellow's heart. This is fitting because a ripped-out heart is exactly what Valentine's Day feels like some years. Other times the holiday goes down fairly easy once you get started, kind of like a fresh oyster. And then there are those few golden springtimes of your life when the Fates have smiled upon you and you are in love. In those years, Valentine's Day is a Hallmark fantasy of pressed doilies and big red hearts bulging with chocolates and Cupids fluttering by. It's enough to make all your friends sick.
And they have every right to be. Pollsters report that 17% of people in love mistakenly believe that saying pet names like Babycakes or Ca-cute-ums in public is uplifting to others. Even youngsters having their first crush can be pretty alarming – an informant tells me that 26% of eighth grade boys think a knuckle to the ribs makes a good opening move. Of course some people abstain from the whole holiday spectacle. It has been found that 14% of adults planned to skip V-Day this year because, and I quote, "I am just so grateful to be free of that clown." Another 21% say they messed up their last romance but they're more than ready to try again. A happy 6% have recently figured out that you can keep weaving and slowly and imperfectly weaving that special someone deeper and irretrievably deeper into your heart, years after the first blush of romance has passed. Watch out for those folks – they have trouble with decorum in elevators and at dusk on summer evenings in their own back yard. Now these statistics may not add up to 100% due to rounding of decimal points, but you get the picture. Valentine's Day is one heck of a mixed blessing for many of us.
And of course there is someone listening right now whose beloved one passed away in the last year, and to this person perhaps V-Day brings an unconquerable surge of memory and loss. The stakes are high for anyone who takes a chance on love. One couple I know married in the 1950s never guessing, I'm sure, that thirty-five years later the wife would have to visit him in the hospital every day for eleven months before she could bring him back home at last. There were those weeks in the fall that year when she would lean close to his hospital bed and hold her finger over the breathing tube in his throat for a few seconds so he could speak. Imagine!
And here we are, the morning after Valentine's Day. Maybe a few of us have a little headache from the wine; maybe some are a little tired from having made a special night of it. Maybe the little gold-foil-wrapped box of chocolates is nearly empty, the special dinner just a memory, the flowers in the vase not yet decided which way to lean when they begin to wilt. Maybe there's an inch of champagne flattening in the bottom of a glass. We're back at work this morning. Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and today is like any other day, where we hope to nurture the spark and keep the love alive.
And how in the world do you do that? I have an image from a particular wedding that makes up my answer. The ceremony was proceeding nicely, the couple faced each other and their friend the minister was moving things along very sweetly, and then one of the two leaned a little close to the other. Nobody can remember any more who leaned, and there was no video made that day, but one of them leaned in, and between the two of them they crossed a line beyond which they could not go without a kiss. So even though this was not the place in the ceremony for the kiss, they kissed. The audience took no note of the mistake and applauded wildly, as they are supposed to do. The minister got things back on track, and a few minutes later, when it was time for the kiss, they did it all again.
So, whether you're with a friend or a new beau or you're the longest of couples, lean in. Talk, listen, lean in to listen closer, lean in to say something important, lean in to take care when care needs to be taken. That's what we promise to do in weddings and what we know we should do for our friends. Lean in. Take my advice, I should know, because during my wedding I got a second kiss.
Originally broadcast on 88.1 WVPE's Michiana Chronicles series on February 15, 2008.