My wife and I got separated last year, so this was my first Valentine’s Day alone in over 10 years. In the afternoon, I was feeling a bit blah, so I decided to bake some cookies.
While buying ingredients at Whole Foods, I shared a smile with a cheerful checker. As she was ringing me up, her friend came over and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
The checker groaned. When her friend walked away, I asked her, “did you just groan?” She was a bit taken off guard, but quickly smirked, “Yeah, I’m sad about my friend getting off work.”
Then she admitted with a grin, “I’m a bitter person.” I smiled.
I wanted to offer compassion, but wasn’t really sure what to do. Driving away from the store, I thought about asking her if she wanted to have some tea or go for a walk after she got off work, but realized how creepy this might come across.
When I got home and got an email from a friend who said that her friends on the East Coast were spending the day leaving notes of kindness “from the universe” for strangers.
The notes read:
“Happy Valentine’s Day! Take moment, give yourself a huge hug, and remember how absolutely amazing you are.
Love yourself today! You are your most precious valentine.
Much love and many blessings,
So I found a card lying around and copied this message. I was wearing a hand-stitched heart that the same friend who sent me the email had given me. My friend had gotten the heart from the Gandhi ashram in India and had given it to me the first time we hung out.
Hesitantly, I took off the heart and put it in the envelope with the card. Rushing back to Whole Foods, I prayed that the checker would still be there. Of course, when I went back to the line, she was nowhere in sight.
Walking towards the information booth, I realized that I didn’t even know this checker’s name, but right when I got to the booth, I saw her bagging groceries on the far end of the store.
I grabbed a manager and asked, “Who is that woman bagging groceries right there?”
The manager said, “Oh, that is E____.”
I handed the manager the puffed up envelope and said, “Can you give this to her?” and walked away.
When I got home, I was elated. I thought about the checker getting this note and gift, not knowing who sent it. I imagined the smile on her face and the joy in her heart that magical things can happen, even on a lonely Valentine’s Day.
I sent back an email to my friend and told her what had happened on the “Best Valentine’s Day eeeevaaaah.”
A few hours later, I got an email back that read: “And that’s super extra awesome that you gave her the heart pin, too. That gesture is priceless– not just for her, but for you. Cause it’s easy to give away things we might not want or value, but when we give away something we love, that gesture of “tyag” (translates to “sacrifice”– but sacrifice isn’t quite the right meaning) connects us even more deeply to the other person, and the web of interconnection. :)”
Reading this email, I realized that what we are all looking for on Valentine’s Day (or everyday) is to connect deeply with others. We are just brainwashed to believe that we need to connect with a “significant other.” The truth is that we can have intimate relationship with anyone, even perfect strangers.
This experience taught me that whenever I’m feeling lonely or depressed to just go out and serve others, preferably anonymously. As all the great spiritual masters have said, “It is in giving that we receive.”