Valentine’s Day sentiment

Many people believe that Valentine’s Day was dreamt up by businesses—like candy shops, jewelry and greeting card stores, florists, and restaurants—in order to make money.

But I believe that any day that makes us stop and think about the people who are important to us is a day worth honoring.

It was February a year or two ago, right around Valentine’s Day. I was listening to national public radio when a song came on. It was “Gandhi/Buddha,” composed by Cheryl Wheeler, and I had to stop and listen to every word.

Here are the chorus lyrics, which so perfectly communicate the gratitude I feel for the people in my life:

I must’ve been Gandhi or Buddha or someone like that,
I must’ve saved lives by the hundreds everywhere I went.
I must’ve brought rest to the restless,
fed the hungry too.
I must’ve done something great to get to have you.

May you have a happy Valentine’s Day, and may your life be full of people you care about.

The woman in the black hooded coat

She walks by my house year-round, rain or shine, wearing a long, black woolen coat usually with its hood up. She wears a backpack and carries a shopping bag and a duffel bag. She is pretty, with long blond hair, probably in her late 30s, and dressed usually in a skirt. She is always alone.

I hear her coming because she suddenly shouts words and sometimes phrases that I can hear through closed windows. Maybe she has Tourette Syndrome, or is responding to voices she hears?

If I’m down the street and walking toward her, she crosses the street. I’ve seen her sitting at a table at the library with all of her bags. When I try to make eye contact, she looks down and away.

Today, she was pacing back and forth in the library’s parking lot wearing her characteristic black coat and hood and incongruously holding a couple of shirts on hangers covered in plastic from the dry cleaner. I was sitting and waiting for the library to open when I noticed her duffel and shopping bags under the bench opposite me.

When she quickly walked by me to pick up her bags, I said, “Hello.” She did not look at me or speak. But as she passed, she moved her hand laterally toward me in what I believe was some kind of acknowledgment, but I’m not sure if it was positive or negative. Then she hurriedly picked up her bags and left. I impulsively called after her, “It’s okay,” but I’m not sure what I meant or if she heard me.

Seeing her so isolated makes me sad. I wonder how she navigates the world. I try to imagine her story, what her life is like, and what she is feeling. Maybe she wants to be left alone.

If the opportunity arises, I will most likely say “hello” again to cautiously acknowledge her while holding her right to privacy. It just seems worth it to me to try.

It is so easy to forget

It is so easy to forget
that the need to be right
closes the heart
and separates us.

It is so easy to forget
that the path to love
is taking a deep breath,
smiling, and extending a hand.

Why can’t we remember to
do what brings the connection we crave?

One path to joy

I have never met anyone I consider a stranger.
—His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

After years of attending a meditation group and hearing and reading the profound words of those who have come before me, my heart is beginning to open to the fact that we are not strangers, that we are all known to one another—connected by our common humanity, experience, suffering, and joy. I’ve walked in your shoes and you in mine.

What prevents us from thinking that way? Fear of being rejected by others? Fear of being known? Fear of accepting that we are more alike than different?

All I know is that when I can be fully present with others, known and unknown, and can reach out in kindness and compassion, I feel joy—and that feels good.