True Love, Candy, and Valentine’s Day

Vanilla Tootsie Roll Frooties are the best.

Vanilla Tootsie Roll Frooties are the best.

I’m not sure who is more excited about Valentine’s Day — sellers of chocolates, cards, and flowers, or my children. My kids have been preparing their Valentine’s cards for over a week. Our 7-year-old had her cards picked out a month ago, and our 9-year-old made adorable little airplanes out of Smarties, Life-Savers, and Big Red gum. Yesterday, my 4-year-old son brought home an entire grocery bag of candy from his preschool Valentine’s party. Valentine’s Day is a big deal among the grade school set.

This makes perfect sense. They haven’t yet experienced the bitter reality of romance: the girl you like likes another guy, but he likes this other girl, and the girl who likes you isn’t all that likeable. The person you thought was “the one” turns out to be a zero. Meanwhile, no one else will give you a number at all. Elementary school kids haven’t experienced this dark side of romance yet, so Valentine’s Day seems like just one more excuse for candy, a quick top-off of sugar before the Easter basket bonanza.

Seventeen years ago, I’d had enough of romance. After yet another failed attempt to attract the attention of a particular girl, I vowed not to pursue any female who was anything less than 100% as interested in me as I was in her. This would be my new rule: no more risking my heart in the name of love.

Shortly after making this vow, I met a really cute girl at a college Halloween dance. I was dressed as a Rocky Horror Picture Show fan (which I was), while she was dressed as a college freshman. We struck up a conversation over our mutual love for Tootsie Roll Frooties, but she had a boyfriend still in high school. Per my vow, I promised myself to think of her only as a friend, nothing more.

A couple of weeks later, I met her outside the post office. “Did you get any mail?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “From my ex-boyfriend.” I know this sounds corny, but our eyes met, and I felt time slow to a stop. That moment lasted forever.

Today, our kids will be bringing home dozens of uncynical, hopelessly sincere Valentine’s cards. I wish I could spare them the long journey from grade school optimism, through the heartbreak of false romance, to real love, but it’s a road they have to travel themselves. I know that, without the disappointment and frustration I experienced, I would not appreciate the love I now have.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Elizabeth.

Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and the Symbols of Love

Today is Ash Wednesday. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure if you could plan a better juxtaposition of symbols.

On Ash Wednesday, millions of Christians will have their foreheads marked with ashes, as a reminder of their mortality and sin. Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of Lent, when Christians traditionally begin a pattern of fasting in preparation for Easter, which often involves giving up foods like chocolate or candy. At our church, we’re removing our usual flowers from the sanctuary as part of our Lenten preparation and replacing them with two Crown of Thorns.

On Valentine’s Day, meanwhile, we give chocolate, flowers, and jewelry to our significant others as symbols of our love. The larger, more elaborate, and more expensive they are, the better, since our gifts are supposed to represent our love.

Both of these days are about love, albeit in very different ways. Valentine’s is, reportedly, a celebration of romantic love. (I say “reportedly” because it seems to have it’s most devoted adherents among the grade school set.) Ash Wednesday, meanwhile, points us toward Easter, when we remember God’s love for us through the sacrifice of his Son. The acts of Ash Wednesday and the rest of Lent are symbols of our response to his love.

It’s good to give chocolate and flowers. It’s better to give yourself.