Today is Valentine’s Day, that special time of the year when you wake up rested and in a good mood until you see a lovely card with your name on it — and perhaps a small, wrapped gift — next to the coffee pot. Then you slap your head in self-loathing, and whirl around to the smug look on your loved one’s face, victorious that once again she/he remembered, and you didn’t. Apologies spew forth from your lips, all of them so predictably verbatim from years past that they should be copyrighted. (Note to self: Write a cryptic note to Facebook for not reminding you the day BEFORE the day of, instead of those pointless same-day notifications you don’t see until you get to the office. I mean, who looks at Facebook on their own time?)
Humiliated, all you can do is turn, desperately searching the brain for what special occasion this could be, and meekly state, “Happy birthday, sweetheart.” Wrong.
Even if you had remembered, the gift possibilities this year were limited. You had looked forward to fulfilling both your romantic AND patriotic duties by purchasing something from the Trump line of fine merchandise, but they took them out of the stores too soon. And that new Mike Pence perfume you’ve been hearing about — “Heaven Scent: Where Three or More Are Gathered, Make Sure You’re the One Who Smells Like Self Righteousness” — still hasn’t shipped from its Chinese factories.
And who’s thinking about valentines these days anyway, you point out to your brooding loved one, your eyebrows lifted in indignation about the state of the world (and hoping to change the subject). “Until there is justice in this land, I refuse to give in to the empty promises of American commercialism!” a statement that would sound more powerful if you weren’t wearing your bathrobe, now gapping unromantically in front. So you tighten the cord around your waist, pour your coffee, and with a growing sense of defensiveness, you take a stand: “Does the pope stop whatever it is that he does to shop for flowers for his wife?! Okay, that doesn’t sound right, but did Gandhi celebrate Valentine’s Day, or Mother Teresa?!” (On second thought, you better come up with people who at least dated. Come to think of it, Donald Trump recently had some good suggestions about remembering historic figures.) “Does Frederick Douglass stop doing an amazing job to go to a Hallmark store? No, he’s too busy, although I don’t know where he’s working at the moment. Or does W.E.B. DuBois stop writing his initials — it takes longer than most — to choose just the right candy hearts to give out?” (You’re on a roll. Go for it!) “And do half a million women who marched in our nation’s capital give a flip about Valentine’s Day?! Okay, forget that one. They’re all home now, and some of them may be standing in the kitchen with scowls on their faces.”
The point is, we’re less than a month in to the Trump presidency and I can be forgiven if I was distracted. It’s hard to think of what’s trending at the flower shop when I’m hunkered down, binge-watching The West Wing, trying to believe it’s real. Not that Saint Valentine wasn’t real, and shouldn’t be remembered, but probably not with candy or other purchases. Like most of the saints who have their own days — Saint Nicholas, Saint Patrick and, I think, Saint Labor and Saint Memorial — there is a very real story behind them. But it’s not about roses and Whitman Samplers. (Not to demean Whitman Samplers, which can and should be eaten as part of a balanced diet. Especially the bottom row, where the nougats are.) The Catholic Church doesn’t make you a saint unless you’ve got serious cred, a lifetime of commitment and service that seldom ended well. But shallow commercialism and the need to monetize everything has stripped away the true meanings of their holy lives.
“Maybe THAT’S where our hearts should be on Valentine’s Day,” you say, finally recovering a semblance of self-respect, despite the bathrobe. “Remembering lives given in love and sacrifice is how we should spend Valentine’s Day, and then maybe go to dinner later tonight.” Adding, proudly, “Which was my plan all along.”
“Can I open my Valentine presents now?”
Of course, I’m writing this the day BEFORE Valentine’s Day, so I’ve still got time. And working in an office on Capitol Hill means there are many expensive boutiques that can give me gift ideas as I walk past on my way to the Dollar Store. Actually, what would be great is if I had a secret admirer at the office whose little appreciations I could re-gift to a loved one tomorrow. (It worked with my Secret Santa last Christmas. His gifts made perfect stocking stuffers for my spouse.)