It'd be interesting, I suppose, to see what elementary schools allow these days on Valentine's Day. I mean, how many and what kind kids can bring, or whether they even allow kids to haul an armful of little cards or pass out chocolate kisses or exchange those hard little candies that whisper sweet nothings. Maybe not. Maybe, sadly enough, Valentine's Day has become only an extra-curricular activity.
My guess is that a lot of ye olde rituals have been nixed--you know, some cute kids end up get all the candy bars and the little tubbies with dirty faces and the wrong kinds of tennies get little or nothing at all.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe first grade at the school down the block is a joy today, Valentine's Day. It would be nice to know that this morning in schools across this country, little tykes were still being sweet to each other and passing out red and white M&Ms.
Little girls are better at it, of course, always have been, always will be--I mean at being sweet. You never see third-grade boys walking through a schoolyard holding hands, although who knows now that gay marriage is the law of the land. Chumminess takes different expressions generally among genders, I suppose--or has. It's just different if you're a boy--or has been. There's lots about gender that I don't get.
Somewhere back in my Christian education I learned about four kinds of love in the Bible--Greek words as I remember. Let me see if they're still there. There's eros, of course--who can forget that one?
Somehow most memorable, even when you get old. Okay, I admit it. It still crosses my mind. There, I said it. Go ahead and wince--"eeeeuuuuu." I don't care.
There's philia--I think that's how it's spelled--what my wife feels for her youngest grandchild. He can do no wrong. He's without sin. Not only that, he's simply one-of-a-kind. He comes over, and she's his. Totally. And whatever he does, she smiles.
There's agape, the one that preachers like as I remember, because it's something akin to what God's love is to us--you know, as constant as Siouxland wind--even more so. A wise old friend of mine once told me that the story of the Bible was no mystery: we mess up and somehow he keeps taking us back. That's all there is to it, really. Agape--that'll be on the test.
And there was another too, something brotherly or sisterly almost, like those little first-grade girls, hand-in-hand down the hallways. That's it's miniature version, of course. But it exists where'er there are good buds, I suppose, and especially and most powerfully among those people willing--not just able either, but willing--to be there, as the saying go. Seriously, be there. Like all those righteous Gentiles who risked everything--their lives and fortunes--to help Jewish people survive Hitler's madness.
My sister sent a box this week, a box full of cards we collected at the funeral of my mother--all kinds of cards bearing similar well-meant sentiments, expressing grief and sympathy and often saying really nice things about Mom, a woman who lived for a long, long time and generally was known for her outgoing--and loving--personality, if those cards are to be believed. She was persistent in her piety and wasn't shy about sharing her faith in the Lord. Could even be a little pushy. No matter. She was human, as all of us are.
With the death of others, it seems there is no end to little things that, one way or another, are similar to throwing that first spade of dirt into the open grave. One of them, certainly, is throwing away all those cards, all that testimony. My sisters, unmercifully, left that job to me. They'd gone through the whole bunch themselves and just passed them along. So I read them yesterday, one after another, which is, as I said, it's own kind of torturous ritual.
A few of them struck me with a kind of poignancy that made me lay them aside. All were open and honest, all were celebratory, all said wonderful things about my mother. But one that stays with me came from the old woman right across the hall in the retirement home. Often when we'd visit, mom's door would be open, and so would hers. Without too much trouble, you'd see her sitting there, even hear her TV.
It so happens it was a woman I saw almost every time I went to church at Mom's church, the church where I grew up, because our family and hers always entered from front of the church instead of from the back. Both our families sneaked in from the side and sat either in front of or behind each other. I remember her from the time I started remembering anything--Mrs. Gabrielse.
This is what she wrote to us--to her kids--on the card she left for us, for Mom.
". . .and I loved her" is more than enough for me to celebrate this Valentines Day. I'll let the theologians determine the proper category, but it has to be somewhere because what she says and how she means it, I'm sure, makes those three words as beautiful as they can be in this vale of tears.
My wife will get her flowers and a card--it's early yet; don't tell her. But La Verne's testimony is just about as pure as anything anyone will say all day long--and night--on this February 14.
This Valentine's morning I'm thankful for her card.