It was the day we had been planning. The stockings were stuffed, the kids were excited, the performers were lined up. We had been worried that perhaps there wouldn’t be enough goodies and gift cards for everyone who came to have a stocking but in fact, as if by magic, items appeared and generous “elves” showed up with envelopes stuffed with gift cards. It was shaping up to be a fantastic celebration night. I got a phone call from Kat, with the Mariposa Hunters Point Yacht Club, saying she would provide all the food for dinner and dessert that night! It was such a generous gift.
I was still half asleep when my phone started to buzz. I answered and heard the news that one of our kids died. The world seemed very unsafe and fast at that moment. Ron and I jumped out of bed and into action. That day is a blur of tears and heartache coupled with the ever present thought that we had a big party that night.
As we stumbled through the rest of the day with one foot in the land of the brokenhearted and one in the celebration of life I had to continually remind everyone, myself included, that we could honor the lives of everyone that was going to show up that evening without dishonoring the life we lost.
The night was amazing. There was food enough for everyone to eat their fill, and then some. We gave out 92 stockings filled with goodies, gift cards and love. We genuinely celebrated the lives of those we love. The youth performed their songs, showed their videos and even Ron and I did a song. Emotions were intense and the reminder that life is fragile was on all our minds and hearts. There were tears and laughter and both together at times.
The year ended and 2015 began with a funeral. This is not the launch we had hoped for, this was not the road we wanted to walk and yet this is where we found ourselves. Loving another human being will always ultimately hurt. The end result of all love is pain. This is a fact. Why love then?
A few weeks ago I found myself in the storage area above my office digging through bins of files for some old paperwork. At first it was a task that felt daunting and dusty. Now you should understand that I am slow to part with paperwork that we might “need” down the road. However, I don’t know if this level of file hoarding can be justified. Of course the box at the very bottom of the furthermost stack is what I needed. This hunt led to a ridiculous mess. As I wiped the sweat from my brow and looked around I declared, much to my sweet husband’s dismay, “this needs to be changed!” Thus the unplanned for Spring Cleaning of winter 2015 was underway.
Shelving units were purchased and everything was brought downstairs for a thorough sorting. The weekend consisted of full days opening bins and digging through old stuff. I know myself well enough to know that when I’m having a hard time emotionally I seek projects I can throw myself into and finish. Much of the work we do doesn’t ever actually end so it feels good to complete a project. What caught me off guard however was the emotion of going through 23 years of memories. Weird right? Cancelled checks, old W2’s, time sheets and bank statements – yawn; and then there they were…youth center attendance sheets from 1994, pictures of kids – now grown, notes of love written to us through the years by kids and donors and staff. Memories of others we have lost along the way. Sitting alone in the backroom of the center buried in bins and boxes I began to weep.
Who am I that I have been given this rich life? How did a young, newlywed couple in 1991 happen into a community that needed us as much as we needed them? Love and pain. They go together. It’s human nature to want to avoid pain, we run from it, we numb it, but it will happen anyway. As I sat in the dust and mess I wondered what my life would have been like if we had chosen another path. What if these people who we came to serve had not become our family?
Valentines Day is approaching. I hear people say they hate it for various reasons. I get it, but as I think about Valentines Day it is just another day to be obvious in our love of others. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius.
This Valentine’s Day I am grateful for 23 years of unexpected valentines. Twenty-three years of laughter, tears. loss, celebration, births, deaths, performances, food and joy. There will never be love without pain and even knowing that I chose love.
Will you be my Valentine?