Ah Valentine’s Day is almost upon us! You know it’s Valentine’s Day when every business tries to connect the concept of Love with their product or service. I’m still waiting for it: “Acme Plumbing celebrates your Valentine’s Day sweetheart. Purchase your V-day meal at Mikey’s Burger Barn, and get a discount on any plumbing service the following day.”
Here’s a little NSFW humor around love that could have been worked into a V-day theme:
I started writing this blog post about Love and Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago, just in my head. After I wrote an entire article, I let it sit for awhile. I just couldn’t hit publish. I suspect you’ve heard it all before. Instead, I share with you a couple of personal stories on being the Best Valentine Ever to the people you love.
A Picture of Love: Oscar
Oscar was the first family pet I truly remember, and considering how my father had a knack for taking in many stray animals and giving them temporary homes, you have to understand that Oscar had to have been special in order to stand out in my memory. He was not special by pedigree or breeding: Oscar was a stray and a mutt, named after Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. A mixed breed with some Poodle in him, Oscar was a gentle, happy dog, who routinely pulled us by leash on a skateboard, licked boo boos after a fall down a hill, and accepted his evening meal puck of Mighty Dog food and Chinese food leftovers in a plastic bowl just inside the door between the garage and the house. Oscar wasn’t beautiful, but no one had taught us that Love was only reserved for the beautiful ones. We loved Oscar to pieces.
I have two strong memories of Oscar. One is of Oscar, fur and legs flying, as he pulled me on my brother’s skateboard for what felt like a mile under the hot California sun. The other memory of Oscar is me hugging him and telling him how sorry I was for kicking him in the side when I had become frustrated after an argument with one of my parents. Oscar had every reason to bite me, but instead, he cried out loud, then placed his snout under my hand for a pat and a hug. In my shame, I buried my little face in his fur, and wept. Looking back, I believe his cry was as much for his pain as it was for mine.
Oscar later died of cancer, most likely of the pancreas and stomach. On that day, I cried for both of us.
I missed our routine. When it was time for breakfast, it was a reminder that it was time for his breakfast too. When I played outside, Oscar also went out with us to walk and run. When we were getting ready for bed, he was also brushed and readied for sleep in his bed. I learned about taking care of myself by also learning to care for Oscar. By wondering about his comfort and care, I found it was easier to wonder about my own, and return care from a place of reflection and empathy. If I was lonely at night, I could also wonder if Oscar too felt lonely. Because of Oscar, I learned how to feel compassion for another living being.
Escaping the Setup of Valentine’s Day
If you read my Valentine’s Day post from last year , you already know that I’m not a huge fan of the commercial side of this holiday. Instead, I encourage people to ditch the unsustainable actions and focus on everyday loving actions that put them in meaningful connection with each other. Still, we rarely talk about where we learn to be loving. Love is a learned skill. We come out of the womb, helpless and unable to do much on our own. It takes many years before the mind begins to link loving feelings with loving actions.
Skip forward to the present. You now have an aging parent, and you have a spouse and kids. Part of your care for your parent and your family is to make sure they — what? That they are, among many other details, brushing their teeth and getting regular dental checkups. Eating regular meals including fruits and vegetables. Getting rest and getting regular exercise. Remembering to take their pills. It’s all these simple yet very important things. You remember to care for them IF you remember to care for yourself.
Some people have been taught to love others before loving themselves. They have been taught that self care is equal to being selfish, and therefore self-care and self-love produces feelings of guilt and conflict. Why conflict? Because when your own needs are being met, you feel good. When you are exhausted and finally get some sleep, it feels good. It’s supposed to feel good! When you are hungry and you take the first bite of food, there is nothing more satisfying. Conflicted feelings arise when you feel terrible for feeling so good. My point: Caring for others is a natural extension of caring for yourself. So get that part right, and don’t get too stuck on calling self-care selfish. You’re just practicing on yourself to learn how to love someone else.
Becoming the Best Valentine Ever: The Practice of Love
Each year, I consider how I can be a more loving person. I believe we become more loving by allowing loving action to flow from a heart that is already full of love, and that includes taking time to love yourself well. This is especially true if you did not come from a very loving or nurturing home, or if there was some neglect in the way you were loved. If there is no one to supply that love now, it is up to you to start with yourself.
Becoming the best valentine you can be involves practice. You can’t expect to know how to love someone without concerted study and application. You learn your Love’s language by careful observation, reflection, understanding, and empathy. You hear yourself mulling over what you’ve seen: Ah, when I say X thing to her, she smiles and says that makes her feel good. Oh, when I do Y thing with him, he lets me know that makes him feel special.
The practice of love is in the little things. Once your practice becomes frequent and routine, you can find all the ways to flow this love you practice on yourself to the areas of your relationships that need this love too. That includes protecting your Soul Mate’s contemplative time, ensuring proper amounts of rest time, remembering special dates by putting them in the calendar, and noticing when the vitamin bottle is near empty (BTW, there are some neato apps coming out soon that will help remind you of these things).
Does this all this sound unromantic because there are no violins playing and no bouquet of roses? Do you find yourself wondering if she might be expecting some bling bling, or if he would rather endure an hour of shiatsu than go to a chick flick? I’m not arguing that the gift of a bouquet of flowers is not a sweet sentiment. I am arguing that Love can also look like a partner’s willingness to vacuum and straighten a room because his or her Love is coming home soon, tired from a day at the office. I’m arguing that a surprise of a filled gas tank when she left it empty the night before is the thing she’ll remember long after the flowers have been thrown out. When practiced from the fullness of a happy heart, Love takes on both the small and big acts, infusing them with meaning. When you are the Best Valentine Ever, you undertake the small acts, like making coffee and putting the toilet seat down, and asking how the day was and reminding each other of upcoming birthdays and events. These acts say, “I love you” over and over and over.
This year, my Man announced that he would like to cook me a special meal for Valentine’s Day. This is significant because eating out has become difficult since I developed two new intolerances: gluten (Celiac) and soy. Yet what is more significant is his willingness to cook most of the days of the week because of my office hours. I find his gift a very loving act, both in the Valentine’s Day meal in its specialness, and in the every day. He honors the fact that I love what I do, and my Practice requires that I keep some late afternoon and evening hours to accommodate the busy schedules of working professionals.
In the middle of writing this post, I looked up at the clock and realized it was time to cook dinner on an evening I’m not in the office. Dashing down the stairs, I announced to him, “Are you hungry? I guess we should start cooking dinner now.” He looked up from the table and said, “I have already started dinner. How is your blog post coming?”
“Almost done,” I said. “Just one more paragraph.” I was undone. He had cooked while I was writing, knowing that the presence of this blog lets the community know what we’re about. He made what was important to me a priority.
This paragraph is dedicated to those of you who have already mastered the art of loving through the little things, who have been loved well when you were young, and who have learned with practice how to flow love from a full heart to those around you. Thank you. With you, each day is Valentine’s Day.
Do you have a special story of Love related to Valentine’s Day and being the best Valentine ever? Share one of them with us here.