In your mind’s eye, draw a heart shape, the way a school child would do on construction paper, the red kind the teacher gives out on Valentine’s Day. Now make it bigger. Now draw it around your whole neighborhood.
In the center, put the people you see each week, those whose names you may not know but whose faces you could recognize anywhere. Include the now skinny woman at the dry cleaners who found out about her cancer six months ago, but kept showing up until the chemo wouldn’t let her.
Put the crossing guard in there, too, the one who keeps the children safe, knows their names and the cars they arrive in. She’s the one who worries if they show up for school late, the one who keeps extra sweaters in her car for kids who forget them on cold days. She’s the one who gets to the school early and stays late, the one who just misses being hit by a speeding driver.
Give her a valentine card with a thank you written at the bottom.
The men who climb the utility poles right after the house goes dark in a power outage deserve a card, too, and maybe some chocolates. You never think about them until you’re cold, sitting in the dark, and wondering how long this will take. You take some comfort in the fact that the phone recording said there was a power outage in your area, since that means you didn’t blow all your fuses or forget to pay the bill.
Send a card to the walkers who pick up trash on the hiking trails or country roads, week after week. They post a photo on Facebook to let us know the work is going on, but it’s a reminder, not a boast. Don’t do this, their photo says, and help us teach others not to be trashy.
The drug store cashier deserves a card. She stops what she’s doing to hold the door for a woman staggering in on her walker, then takes the items the woman wants—shampoo and soap and toothpaste—up to the register for check out. The cashier’s husband died last year after routine surgery, but she’s holding up, she says.
She works side by side with the delivery man, the one who takes the prescription medicines to retirement homes or small houses where people live alone. He gives them extra time after delivery since he knows they are lonely. He may be the only bright spot in their day, so he visits for a minute before he goes to the next place.
Give a Valentine’s card to the library worker who started a book club for boys who hate to read. They’re learning that reading out loud isn’t so bad, even when you make mistakes, and giving your opinion about the book makes you feel smarter. Plus, the library man nods and gets your point. The other book club boys listen. The library worker asks them to rate the book from 1-5. Everybody gets a vote. These weren’t book fans before, but now they may be, at least a little.
Each year, we make Valentine’s Day about lavish romantic dinners, flutes of champagne, roses, Godiva chocolates, diamonds, even, and that’s fine.
But it’s also a holiday that should remind us of love in all of its forms, including the ordinary neighborly kind. In our busy lives, we may have to look for it, but it’s out there just the same.