Emails for restaurants still taking reservations remain unopened. I am ambivalent about asking to celebrate with my once-lover or trying to spend time with the dear friend who is busy making valentine sugar cookies for her bakery business and who hasn’t a lot of time because she now works two jobs.
Because at the moment we are passing a store full of red hearts and pink streamers and I am cradling Foxibeau the dog in the crook of my arm, I think of gifting him a pink squeaky heart-shaped toy. A present to the dog may be this year’s show of love to another.
This is not to say love isn’t in my heart. It is and not just because store decorations have given me the seasonal go-ahead. The love I call love feels quiet and tentative as if exuberant, joyous declarations might summon a loud “Shut up!” And I really don’t want to hear anyone, especially myself, say something dismissive like: “You love a dog?” As if this means I’m lacking. Or “You love yourself? Shouldn’t you be beyond self-centered by now?” Perhaps alluding to the Bodhisattva vow to save all beings.
If loving myself means I invest energy and money to regulate my nervous system and to plow through parts and pieces of this self I find problematic, then yes, that could be called self-centered. Yet calling it so would be a mistake. Smoothing out and soothing frees up energy to direct toward being present and perhaps even temporarily “saving” a few beings whose lives intersect mine.
Love of the self feels more like appreciating an ally than treating myself like an object in search of approval. This love feels like a best friend, like a pink angora sweater worn with a tuck-in peter pan collar identical to the one my best friend is wearing.
It feels like the plump tufted brown pillow my therapist placed beneath my feet before she guided my imagining to experience being swooped up out of the reach of a barbed-wire swirl of self-criticism by a large monkey lest I be overwhelmed. This protective mother monkey swings my six-year-old self high among tree branches. Once out of harm’s reach, the large monkey cuddles and soothes until my curiosity sends me scampering to the ground amid a swarm of playful baby monkeys who groom and play with each other and with me. I let their brown softness and the feel of the pillow remind me of Foxibeau, who runs into my mind to join in as I rest in the comfort of safety from my critical, suffering self.
I feel love as I listen to a story a friend tells about her habitual morning walk around Stowe Lake before sunrise. She recounts recognizing a homeless man bedded down at the boathouse and calling to him: Eddie, are you okay and warm enough? He assures her: Doin’ just fine, thanks. Then he says no to the money she offers him to buy a warm jacket. Resuming her walk, she and the other morning joggers hear Eddie’s voice yell out her name. I love you, Valerie, he yells. If you ever aren’t married, I’ll marry you!! She yells back her no thanks she’s going solo, as other joggers, older Asians, not understanding his outcries rush to her to be reassured she is safe.
This feeling I call love is gently laced with humor; it is love that giggles at the raspy sound of a growing growl in a little dog’s throat. It’s hard not to smile. Hard not to laugh although shushing is surely required.
It is a gift to myself of comfort and forgiving. In my mind-heart I hold the image of a loving presence fierce to protect the child in me from the pain still aching to be healed. And this love’s authority commands in her kindest voice that “Shut up” be vanished from the heart’s vocabulary. With love and gratitude, I wish those who read here: a happy Valentine’s Day.