Years ago, I had the pleasure of having a group of friends with whom I took a wonderful writing class. At the time, we spoke about every aspect of writing we could think of, and given how personal a discipline writing is for so many writers, the class brought us together in powerful ways, forging a number of friendships I still lean on more than twenty years later. One aspect of writing we talked about was the age old idea of a muse. At the time, my writing took the form of history papers and newspaper articles, so I discounted the idea of a muse, as necessity served that role for me. Fast forward more than two decades, and I see the appeal of a muse far more vividly now. My writing these days tends to be emails, cover memos, and if I am lucky a few paragraphs that might finagle their unattributed way into the Congressional record, but none of it is at all personal, and very little of it is remotely compelling. It is a different kind of necessity, but necessity all the same that brings my fingers to the keyboard. Thus I was caught off guard when one of my dearest writing class friends (and a stellar writer in her own right) tagged me with a writing assignment today. I will leave it to deeper muse musers than myself to determine if my friend is in fact a muse herself or instead a proxy for one, but all of a sudden I find myself confronted by a Daily Post challenge to write about Valentine’s.
One approach to this topic would be simply to take stock of the awkwardness of middle and high school Valentine’s Days and shudder. I think of my senior year in high school, and the two Valentines I attempted to navigate, and there is even more to shudder over. Both of the objects of my affection then were ill chosen, and the fact that I decided the way to handle that was to juggle two – good grief. It will shock no one reading this to learn that that arrangement ended badly. Moving into the first year of college, I spent Valentine’s playing Tetris with my would be Valentine, as I could not fathom how to escape the dreaded friend zone (a term that did not exist then). Sophomore year I took leave of my senses and sent a dozen roses to a woman I barely knew, but rather than see any romance in this grand gesture, she fled in horror. Swing and a miss. Junior year I reveled in a happy Valentine, gloriously ignorant of the whitewater that lay ahead of me. I cannot begin to recall where in our on-again-off-again yo-yo of idiocy she and I found ourselves for Valentines a year later, and the year after that we were still mired in the same cage match relationship. My learning curve can be embarrassingly flat sometimes.
Sometimes though, there is truth to the saying “it’s better to be lucky than smart,” so permit me to wax rhapsodic about my sublime Valentine of nineteen years. A friend of mine had mentioned a new colleague of his to me, a pretty young teacher new in town. As they were both in my hometown, and I was living in D.C. at the time, I regret to say my first response was to suggest my friend ask her out. When I met her a few weeks later, she recalled immediately how we had met glancingly in college, as I had roomed with a high school beau of hers. Since it is bad form to pay attention to your roommate’s ex, I also regret to say I had not focused on her as I should have when we first met. It only took a brief conversation with her for me to pull my friend aside and take back my suggestion he ask her out. She and I saw each other several times over that fall and winter, but both of us were disentangling ourselves from prior long-distance connections, so those impediments and the more than a hundred miles between us complicated my sense of how best to proceed. Still, we exchanged letters and phone calls, and I found more reasons to spend weekends back in my old stomping grounds. I wish I could say that this led to a lovely, if unoriginal, first Valentine’s day spent idling over a candlelit dinner, proffering heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and reading sonnets. Instead, the enduring memory of that day is a spectacularly expensive long-distance call (yes, I am that old) that meandered comfortably for many hours late into the night. While it was not even an exchange of sweet nothings, our talk ranged easily over a lot of conversational terrain, and it set the stage for our first proper date ten days later, a date that started our courtship that led to our engagement just nine months later. We have shared numerous lovely Valentine’s Days since then, but the unexpected pleasure of chatting late into the night (a worknight, no less) with a dazzling new friend will always stick with me, as it is a rare treat for Cupid to fire so many arrows in such a short span of time. I am sure my description does not do this justice, but you will simply have to take my word for it. Since then, I have been continually amazed at, and blessed by, her loving kindness, her deep well of patience, her tireless will, and a thoughtfulness that shines on me and my children every single day.
I know as I write that last part that she will not see herself in that list, which reminds of a wonderful song, which was itself passed on to me by a friend from the same writing class I mentioned at the start. (It is written and performed by David Wilcox, although it features an ending portion by Bach. If you do not know Wilcox, you will be glad you took the time to learn more about his music. Start with Eye of the Hurricane.) I think it is a fitting reminder of the power of love – and of a love affair – to grow, bind together, enrich, endure, tolerate, overcome, renew, and sustain.[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/200107/01%20Burgundy%20Heart-Shaped%20Medallion.mp3]
So now, to answer the challenge posed by my muse, you have a sense of my Valentine’s story. Poor ol’ St. Valentine’s Day sometimes gets a bum rap, as it is lashed to the complicated topic of love. We should not be surprised a day devoted to romantic love is fraught and prone to failure. Figuring out romance is complicated, and ultimately requires actual love. My magnificent Valentine and I slog through a lot of unromantic moments these days, as three wonderful children and life’s various commitments do not offer many occasions for candlelit dinners, proffered chocolates, and sonnet reading. I certainly wish I was better able to offer her more Hallmark moments and less time spent chasing after our surly children and shoveling out the house. She deserves more moonlit garden strolls and impromptu weekends in Paris. Looking back over the range of Valentines I have experienced, as much as my toes curl in embarrassment over the dumb ways I spent so many Valentines years ago, I would not change a single one of them for fear of not ending up right where I am today. I wish for you the same conclusion to your Valentine’s story.