When I taught young children, one of my favorite times of the year was Valentine’s Day. We started a week ahead of time. We got out the construction paper, scissors, and glue. The heart-making factory would be open for business. When you ask children to cut out hearts, you never quite know what you are going to get. Some come out small, some huge, almost all are lop-sided. Inevitably they are disappointed and want to know how to make it the “right way.” There is no convincing them at that point that there is no “right way” in art. They want their hearts to look like hearts are supposed to look. They want their Valentine mailbox to be just right.
So I would teach them how to hold the paper, fold it in half, and draw half of a heart. That’s easier. I taught them to not cut on the fold. They would cut along the line and, Boom! They opened their hearts up and you could just feel the love all around. Pride was everywhere. Once they knew how to do it, they would fold, draw, cut, and open more hearts than you can possibly imagine. We would make cards, mailboxes, and heart people. The classroom would be wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling pink, red, and white.
We would talk about Love and what that meant. At that age their frame of reference for Love was that which they received from parents and grandparents. We would discuss and write essays about what Love means. They would reach the conclusion that it often involved sacrifice. It was more about giving all you can without promise of anything in return.
Not much changed once they reached middle school in terms of their enthusiasm. They still wanted to make “all the things.” Their hearts got fancier. They tried to out-do one another with their mailbox creations. Their heart people became marionettes. Their frame of reference for Love became a bit more complex. Then again, everything is complex in middle school. Their essays about the meaning of Love were far more developed and insightful.
The funny thing is, as adults most find it easier to buy “all the things.” We still want it to be perfect, but perfectly bought from a store. I would be willing to bet money that if I put out construction paper, scissors, and glue on a table in front of adults, they would be excited to start folding, cutting, and pasting. But oh how our notion of Love has evolved! If we had to write essays, we would discover that for some Love is idyllic, for others, jaded. For many it’s a new definition of Love in the form of children and grandchildren. Some would share that Love involves great risk and even bigger loss. My answer would be that the Greatest Love we can give is putting the other’s needs above our own. Just like the construction paper, we fold ourselves in whatever configuration we have to in order to open up our hearts. It doesn’t mean neglecting our own needs, but instead, the Love we receive comes in seeing another’s face full of contentment, joy, acceptance, and Love. It’s the knowledge that we have given them all that we can for the purpose of making their lives better.
Valentine’s Day forces us to think about all kinds of Love. GOODness knows we need to cultivate it more. The world is desperate for it. It can take the form of kindness, respect, dignity, creating laughter, showing empathy, and offering acceptance. But to those we treasure most, it says, "Whatever I can do for you, I will. It’s my pleasure. It’s my great Love."