This morning, a colleague stopped at my office door, looked at me in horror, and said, “You’re wearing…black! All…black!” I was puzzled until I realized that it was because I was supposed to have on red or pink or some other Valentine’s Day color.
In 1998, David had already graduated from college and was living and working in Washington, DC. I was still up in cold, snowy Binghamton, trying to bang out two years of college in three semesters so I could move down there, too. Fancying myself a modern-day Erma Bombeck (that’s how cool I was!), I wrote a column for the school paper that was published on February 12. I attempted some wit about how my long-distance boyfriend was coming for the weekend, how our reunion would be so romantic, how it was so appropriate that would be visiting for the big holiday: President’s Day. We weren’t the V-Day types then either.
I guess that hasn’t changed much–I find the options for Valentine’s Day kind of gross. Browse the cards and you get saccharine devotion, florid adoration, or lewd eyebrow waggling. I get it–Hallmark doesn’t traffic in nuance or complexity; it’s just a card; and I suppose any of the three simulacra will do for a gesture.
But it’s not that I am not interested in love. Every day I am more interested in love that is too big, too radical to fit in the envelope. The love that’s gotten my attention is less a surprise box of chocolates and more a surprise punch in the stomach. It does not work well for marketing.
I am beginning to understand that if you are interested in avoiding pain, then you are not that interested in love. If you are interested in avoiding ugliness, then you are not that interested in love. To know it, you must be like one of Mary Oliver’s poems: “sentimental like a knife, unyielding.” It cannot be at its fullest expression unless it is connected to suffering and death. “My dearest, you connect me to suffering and death like no other. Happy Valentine’s Day!” You can have that one for free, Hallmark.
This is what I have learned: The preciousness of the love between my father and his family, and among all of us, was never more fully visible than in his sickness and death. The beauty of love in my marriage is not only in its sweetness, but as much–more–in its toughness.
I have heard that heaven and earth are full of the glory of God and it is holy, holy, holy. I don’t know about heaven but I do know that earth is full of sun and storm, and building and destruction, and poop and rainbows, and maybe it stands to reason that all of those are holy, holy, holy. It’s all in. It is all the glory.
So bring me a bouquet of flowers and weeds (both will wilt and die). Write me a poem (How do I love thee? By sitting with your suffering). Sing me a new song (all you need is love and a willingness to let your heart crack open). I want to open my eyes to it all–and name it all love.