This past Valentine’s Day I read about an organization in New York City that was collecting homemade valentines to hand out with all the meals that would be delivered to the eighteen thousand homebound individuals in that city. Think about that. Eighteen thousand people in one city who, because of illness or age or disability, can’t leave their homes. Medicine has to be delivered. Volunteers bring them every meal. If they’re lucky, a family member or friend or pastor checks on them once in a while. And the best they can do is wait.
It made me so, so sad to think about those people. Sad enough to start rummaging through our glue sticks and construction paper and unleash my children to get busy making valentines to send to the Big Apple. Then it struck me that there must be homebound people right here in Tulsa. I made a quick call to Meals on Wheels and discovered that in fact about twelve hundred people every day depend on this service from inside their four walls. I realized these folks could be in my own neighborhood and I would never even know it. The lady at the agency told me that many of these elderly people do not have any visiting grandchildren and would treasure a valentine they could tape to the fridge. It would probably stay there all year long, she said.
My vision expanded.
My first idea was to collect some valentine-y art supplies—paper, stickers, ribbon, doilies—and distribute them to my son’s third-grade classmates and get a few more valentines made that way. Then, like the Grinch, my project idea grew three sizes that day.
Now I wanted all the third graders in the whole school to participate. It’s worth noting that at this particular school, all the third graders includes about three hundred kids. The size of this school is bigger than many small colleges. For the first six months, I felt like I was dropping off my baby at LAX. “Go get ’em, tiger!” I would say. Then, watching him disappear into a sea of backpacks, I would try not to throw up. It’s been a tough adjustment (for me, mostly). But for my little valentines project, the numbers were in my favor.
I made a mad dash to an art supply store and got the goods. The classrooms already had markers and glue and scissors, of course. I was up until 2:00 a.m. compiling twelve big packets of valentines supplies, one for each third-grade class. (A suggestion: never try to separate a stack of three hundred wafer-thin doilies, or you will grind your molars into a nice, fine powder.)
I am trying to act quickly on crazy ideas these days. I’m finding they are often the best ones. Lord knows I have a stockpile of safe and reasonable ideas to last until Y3K. I’m tired of doling out love in level tablespoons.
Even at two in the morning, I was super-energized as I prepped and packaged the crafts. I wrote a short letter for each teacher to read to the kids about what we were doing and why. And then I left them to cut and paste as much love as they could muster.
A few days later, I picked up all the valentines (bags and bags of them) and was planning to drive them over to Meals on Wheels. Being a little ahead of schedule, I sat in my car and made the grave mistake of starting to read a few until they were soaked and soggy with my tears.
“Dear Valentine. Do you feel okay? I hope you have enough food. Maybe this will give you enough love.”
“Be mine, Valentine! (Come on! You know you want to.)”
“If you’re reading this, then you should know that you are loved, and I hope you’ll be my Valentine this year.”
And then, the one that sent me over the edge: “Valentine, are you sad? Would this help?”
Below the words was a teeny metal fake-ruby ring taped securely inside a purple crayon heart.
“Yours truly and forever, Timothy.”
I closed my eyes and imagined someone else’s grandma turning the calendar page to February 14 and swallowing a little more sadness, remembering an old sweetheart. Or a dance. Or a box of chocolates. Kept company only by her memories now, she pushes down self-pity and shakes off the invisible residue of loneliness that keeps trying to settle on her. She’s hungry now. Lunch should be here soon. And so, just like every other Tuesday, she waits. And waits.
Unaware that Timothy’s proposal and ring are en route.
Unaware that somewhere on the other side of Tulsa she is loved a little bit by a third grader and a forty-year-old stay-at-home mom, and the great big God of galaxies who knew her name.
Today, lunch might be worth the wait.
From You Belong: 52 Stories to Strengthen Your Purpose, Faith, and Relationships. Copyright © 2016 by Live Event Management, Inc. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.