When I came for supper at L’Arche last Thursday night, I didn’t expect a craft portion of the evening. But one of our guests had brought card-making supplies, and she set us the assignment of making one Valentine each.
I enjoyed this, especially because my friend Leo* asked me for my help with his card. When I said yes, he came to sit beside me. He’d added stickers, but needed some help with the glitter pens.
Whenever Leo asks me for help, I’m reminded of what it was like to be a new L’Arche assistant. I think of how hard I worked to earn his trust, and how, ironically, I didn’t recognize it when I had earned it. To wit: one day, I ran into Leo’s former accompanier and said, “Gosh, Mark, Leo’s always worried that his hamper’s broken or his book hasn’t come in or his mouthwash is low, and it all needs to be done yesterday. It’s hard to keep up!”
To which Mark smiled and said, “Oh, good. That means he’s learning to trust you.” And from that day on, I’ve never looked at Leo’s requests the same way. And so, when Leo asked for my assistance with his card, I saw that as his way of sharing his truth, his way of giving me a Valentine.
Plus, glitter pens are tricky; there’s an art to using them. You have to press firmly to make sure the glitter comes out in an even flow, but you also need to have a light touch, or you’ll end up with gobs of goo.
I practiced, and as I kept working, I could feel myself getting better at it. I got bolder, making my script fancier and switching from red to purple, with Leo’s approval. Leo couldn’t decide on a recipient, so we kept the text general. When I finished, we had a card that proclaimed, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” in sparkling, glittery text.
And as I worked, I couldn’t help but remember: last Valentine’s Day was the day that my friend Allison learned that she had cancer. Last Valentine’s Day was a day of fear and sadness. But this year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, Allison’s friends and family are rejoicing in good news. Though earlier tests had raised the possibility of more treatment, her latest tests have revealed no cancer cells.
When I got the news, I was too stunned to process what it meant. After the anxiety and stress and pain of testing, she was in the clear. Free to grow her hair and make plans and celebrate. And it was that thought that I held in mind as I worked on Leo’s card. I made the best letters I could, as an affirmation of gladness.
When the writing was done, we sat back and admired the card together. We took in the crisp white paper and the cheerful stickers. And suddenly I saw our small project as an act of love and defiance.
It’s so easy to get cynical about tasks like this, to think, “This is silly. What does it matter? Why make Valentines at all?” What’s difficult is to make a card — and to live each day — like it does matter.
And with that insight, our project took on an unexpected poignance. After all we’d been through — after a year marked by the darkness of cancer and the strange alchemy of loving and letting go — here we were, making valentines. Here we were, daring to be happy.
Like Allison’s son playing on the swings and embracing the present moment, we were making the best Valentine we could in the face of this beautiful, terrible thing called life.
And it meant the world to me.
How will you show your love this season? Tell me in the comments! I love hearing your sharings and insights.
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*Names have been changed.