Breaking from my usual end-of-the-week posting pattern, I thought I’d share with you, today, memories of a personal Valentine’s Day disaster and lessons learned from said disaster.

We’d been married less than a year and ranting, for days, about the perils of unfettered capitalism in general and, more specifically, the commercialization of all holidays, including Valentine’s Day. It should not have surprised me that after so much vehement theoretical conversation, my logical and practical husband would assume that we weren’t celebrating this Hallmark-induced, Lindt-endorsed occasion. Maybe we agreed not to – I can’t remember, all these years later.

What I do recall is balling in my bus between runs.

I was subsidizing studies by driving a school bus and between the drop off at school number one and the start of route number two, I took advantage of the solitude and sobbed. To this day I remember tears coursing down my face as I pulled up at a stop light. A teenage boy looked steadily at me from his seat on a bus parked next to mine. He just looked. He didn’t laugh or smile. He took in my tears and my sobbing and stared steadily at me, compassion in his eyes. Somehow being seen made me feel as though my misery had been witnessed by the universe… acknowledged and understood. It was a weird, one-of-a-kind moment.

That’s it. That’s my Valentine’s Day disaster. Nothing earth shattering, just the sobbing sadness of disappointed expectations and unfulfilled longings. Can you relate?

I learned something that day.

It’s better to make it about others. Since then, I turn my focus outward on Valentine’s Day. I think about who I can do something nice for. Cookies for a lonely neighbour. Flowers for a widow. The possibilities are endless, really. Making the day about brightening someone else’s life lifts my spirit – since I started doing this it doesn’t much matter if I ‘get’ something or not, because my expectations and hopes centre around delighting someone else.

I can’t sign off without sharing one more tidbit with you.

Over the years I’ve learned something I wish I’d known more than twenty years ago, on that sad morning in my bus: Sometimes you have to tell others what you need. They can’t always know if you don’t tell them. We aren’t mind readers. Well. Some of us appear to be – sometimes. But if I need a hug and no one is noticing, the best thing I can do for everyone is to say that I need a hug. The same goes for quiet or alone time or a conversation or a gift.

If you need it, tell someone. Reach out. The world would be a softer, healthier place if we all dropped our defenses and just opened up about our need.

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