Sacred Spaces

Mon Coeur

Valentine’s Day, 32 years ago: My romantic life was mostly a disaster (see earlier “Toast” post for some oblique details—things had continued along those trend lines), but I love love, and Valentine’s Day always feels a bit like Thanksgiving to me—all the overflowing gratitude, but with fewer starchy foods, more chocolate, and a wider allowance for invention. I sat down that Tuesday to write love notes to family, friends, and colleagues, letters of appreciation and gratitude in red ink on the back of postcards with Pre-Raphaelite art reproductions on the front. I did a lot of gushing; all of it was genuine. Perhaps you received one.

I was in my second year of teaching then; my assigned mentor from my first year of teaching—who had become one of my closest friends across our differences of her being a French woman in her 50s teaching French and my being a thoroughly American 21-year-old teaching English—taught me more about life and love than she did about anything to do with classroom management or professional development. She laughed at herself in her strong French accent: “Oh, I’m fat and old now,” she said, and then, continuing without apology, regret, or nostalgia, “but I was beautiful when I was young, and men—!” and photos corroborated her beauty and her adventures. She was divorced by the time I knew her, severed from an abuser.

“In any relationship, there is the role of Lover and the Beloved,” she told me. “In healthy relationships [can you hear her French accent?!], the partners take turns as the Lover and the Beloved. The trouble is, for some people—” and she identified me as one of those problematic ones—“being the Lover is much more satisfying. But—you can end up never Beloved.” Ah, yes; you can. “Look for a Lover,” she encouraged me. “Not just someone who is fine with being Beloved.” 

Years later, on another Valentine’s Day, I was teaching class, going through the text for the day, opening the book to the references I had outlined in my lesson plans. On every one of those pages, all throughout the class period, paper hearts that had been slipped into the seam fell out with my loosening it. Some of them were tiny; some were larger; some were red and others pink; all of them had been hand cut by my oldest son and placed along the entire trail of my work that day, where he knew I would find them, where he knew I would be overwhelmed with delight.

As for that original set of Valentine’s postcards: I know for sure that one of my friends kept his. He placed it into a book that he always carried. He read the postcard repeatedly: In it, I just thanked him for what he had done for me and encouraged him in the good he was doing for others as he served in Guatemala for two years. Did he have it with him when he was held at gunpoint by guerrilla fighters in the mountains? Did he have it with him when he was suffering from a parasite attack? He certainly still had it with him when he returned to the U.S.; we have it framed now on our bedroom wall, framed so we can both see the image and read the text on the reverse: a talisman for the Lover/Beloved we are.