Do you remember your first Valentine?
Not the homemade, 3rd grade variety, but the my heart sees your heart kind.
My first real Valentine was left outside my door on February 14, 1988.
I had somehow just always missed out on Valentine’s Day, being the social, free-spirited high school junior that I was; a fact that was carefully noted by a new friend.
“I think someone left you a surprise outside,” my mom said as she returned from retrieving the Sunday morning paper. Her smile told me that I would soon be smiling too.
Tied at the end of helium heart-shaped balloons was a small stuffed koala bear. I didn’t need to open the attached card to know who signed it.
I only knew one Aussie and he was more than just a tall, red-headed basketball phenom.
Apparently he was a great listener too.
Greg had me from the first “G’Day Mate!” Being an exchange student from down under, he left much more than that koala on my doorstep. He left perhaps the best kind of Valentine’s gifts, friendship and kindness, right there on Kensington Drive.
Fast-forward thirty years when Facebook reconnected old friends. He wasn’t sure if I would remember him, but how could a girl ever forget her first Valentine? Gifts of kindness are seldom forgotten, especially ones that are left on doorsteps when least expected
Greg and I now share in the new seasons of our lives.
He sends me pictures of family trips to surf Australian beaches and views of the Melbourne skyline on morning jogs.
He gets to see the beauty of a Carolina sunset and the soft blanket of winter snow.
Greg sent us a box of Australian candies and tucked in a jar of Vegemite for me. His wife, Julie. even shared a video of how best to spread it on buttered toast. My kiddos liked the chocolates much, much better.
I outfitted his family in some Tarheel blue and love that his daughters are wearing my favorite school color on basketball courts a globe away. And in one of the packages that left me eagerly counting the weeks it took to get to him on the occasion of his 50th birthday, I gifted Greg a piece of the South Stokes Gym floor that he played upon over 30 years ago.
Sometimes the real gift is in the giving.
Yet this Valentine’s Day, a day that will surely find me celebrating the eight loves of my life with cards, chocolates, and I Love You’s, also finds me wishing that we all had more Greg’s in our lives.
Though there is still a lot of goodness all around us, we live in a world that is growing harsher, bitter, and more abrasive by the day. I see yard signs along our morning drive to school that are meant only to further excite divisiveness. There are four-letter words plastered on car windows and bumpers that my seven-year-old can easily employ his wickedly good phonetic skills to pronounce, yet doing so would land him a trip to the principal’s office should the words get repeated.
Our fingertips type at lightening speed about the burger that was overpriced and undercooked. We tell the world that our neighbor can be a total moron, publicly and without apology. And if you forecast the weather, or have to make opening or closing decisions on a snowy day, I hope you have nerves of steel. In a world of rapid-fire judgment calls, you will never get it right.
Today I will leave politics aside as it deserves its own volume of What’s Wrong in the World Today.
We gripe. We complain. We moan and groan. Sometimes I think all of the grumbling prevents us from listening and really hearing what others have to say. A checkout girl at the grocery store recently told me that they dread working Sunday’s the most because “church people can be the meanest.” I heard every word she said.
Is this really the world we are leaving for our children?
I miss kindness. I miss gentleness. I miss courtesy, respect, and thoughtfulness even if we disagree or the line is long.
Let’s all use this day of candy-coated conversation, to begin showing the world what real caring and compassion looks like. It doesn’t necessarily take a balloon or a stuffed koala bear, as fond of both as I am. It’s a pause button, a softer vocabulary, an I see you.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours! May you give and receive much kindness.