Last night, my kindergartener was working on his valentines. With a pencil in hand and a class list on the table in front of him, he carefully penned each student’s name on a small Toy Story card. I looked over at him from time to time, smiling inwardly at his absorption, at his focus, at the way that he (in the time-honored tradition of all kids) was sticking his tongue out slightly as he wrote.
Being the mom of a kindergartener takes me me back to my own childhood Valentine’s Days. I remember elementary school, and the excitement of receiving a small white envelope from everyone in the class. Inside would be a small cutout of a cartoon character, or a princess, or a whimsical animal, with my name and the giver’s name carefully printed on the reverse. Sometimes the envelope bulged in one corner because a chalky pastel-colored heart candy had been tucked inside. More than once, a classmate accidentally wrote my name on the Valentine that said “For You, Teacher” – an error which, given my current profession, was remarkably prescient.
There was something so sweet and pure about Valentine’s Day back then. Alas, it didn’t last. By the time I got to college, Valentine’s Day – more often than not – was an unwelcome reminder of the fact that my romantic life was not progressing in the way that I thought it should. It was a day to feel alternately depressed about my own single state and envious of those women who got red roses or restaurant dinners from their boyfriends. That stage is in the past now – ever since meeting Scott, V-Day has been redeemed – but it’s hard to forget those years when February 14th was more about wistfulness and cynicism than romantic love.
That’s why, as I watch my six-year-old write his classmates’ names, I’m recovering a sense of the sweetness of a child’s Valentine’s Day. Once again, I’m seeing a day that is about inclusion rather than separation. In kindergarten, the cards are shared with everyone; no one is excluded. That is a class rule, admittedly, but it’s an unnecessary one, because my son would do it anyway. He isn’t complaining about having to address a card to everyone. He isn’t saying that he doesn’t really like so-and-so. He wants to give everyone a Valentine. To him, it’s perfectly natural that the heart-trimmed images of Buzz Lightyear and Woody and Jessie will be shared freely with all. I love that innocence and generosity. It strikes me as pure agape, as love at its finest and most beautiful.
That’s why I’ve been thinking lately that if you want to understand the love that God has for humanity, maybe a diamond necklace or a big bouquet of roses is not the most helpful image. Those are valentines intended for one person, and one person only. Instead, I like to think of God’s love as a batch of small cards, perforated at the edges and addressed with care, freely and unreservedly given to every single kid in the class.
Heart image from Karen’s Whimsy.