My first experience with Valentine’s Day was in boarding school. I knew just enough about Valentine’s Day during my first four years of boarding school (about form four, which may be equivalent to ninth grade). The reason why I knew just about enough of it was simply because it didn’t matter to me and I didn’t have a reason to amped up about it. In the summer before form four, however, I had gotten myself a girlfriend. This was a girl I met during my first vacation classes.
Vacation classes in Ghana are similar to summer enrichment camps. During the three-month break from school, from June to September, some secondary schools organize vacation classes for students. These classes were enrichment classes, designed to prepare students for the new school year. For the most part, however, these vacation classes were avenues where students got to hang out with friends, meet other students from other schools, made new friends, and/or simply acted as teenagers do. Some of the friends you make at these classes last a life time, and I would add that most of the friends I still keep are friends I made at these vacation classes.
Why do I tell this story? Well, this girlfriend was also in boarding school - in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Her school was about one hundred and twenty miles east of Cape Coast, where I was in boarding school. The last time I saw her was sometime that January 1989, the day before she returned back to school after the Christmas break. Bear in mind, I still knew next to nothing about Valentine’s Day at this time. In my boarding school, boys slept in bunk beds in a dormitory and during the afternoons, a fellow student will walk by our beds holding a bunch of letters, and then hand them out to those of who had received letters.
On this particular Valentine’s Day, I received three different Valentine’s Day cards... all from the same person. I was over the moon. Word percolated throughout the entire campus about my Valentine cards. I had people come ask me about this particular girl who felt it necessary to send three cards instead of one. The unfortunate part of this story is that I didn’t send her any card. This was probably because I didn’t have the presence of mind to send any, as I had never received one before. Hers was the first I had ever received, and so here I was with three beautiful cards with thoughtful words about me being special! "Why three, and not one?" I asked myself. Others may have asked themselves similar questions "Why two and not one?" or "Why none at all?" These are questions which may not necessarily be easy to answer, however, they point us to that place in our lives where although we may not necessarily understand what we profess to another, the genuineness of our thoughts arises from the core of our human motivation.
William Blake, an English poet, wrote this about bearing love: “And we are put on earth a little space, that we might learn to bear the beams of love.” To bear love means to endure it; that is, to grow in your capacity in order to endure love’s beauty and its pain. To bear love means to carry love, and to spread it around in just the same way as children carry laughter with them. Lastly, to bear love means to birth love, to bring forth into life a new kind of love which soothes and heals the hurting lives of others.
I don’t think I ever felt the same about Valentine’s Day after receiving those three cards. You may also have a story about your first experience of Valentine’s Day. It may have been beautiful and life transforming, or perhaps a sad anecdote to a storied life. Whichever it is, I think part of bearing the beams of love is to find life in both new and existing relationships, and to reach back to thank those who made you feel special, even if for a moment.
On this Valentine’s Day, I implore you to look at your own life with honest and gentle eyes. If you are able to do that, you will find that deep within you is a person seeking for connectedness, healing, creation, and joy. I think that is your true identity, and what you exist for. Our reality is one where each has his or her own unique experience of desiring love. Beyond that, there’s something universal about desiring love; it connects you with all other human beings and with all of creation.
Valentine is about bearing the beams of love, and you all have a lot of that within you. Let your story be one of making someone feel very special.