I was named after my father, who was named after his father, both named Valentine, both now gone. People often thought my dad's birthday was Valentine's Day, because why else would someone name a child Valentine? My dad used to say that, after 11 kids, my great-grandparents just ran out of names.
When I was growing up, my mother made a big deal about Valentine's Day. In the litany of our family celebrations, Valentine's Day was second only to Christmas. All of us kids got actual presents, in addition to heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. We ate a special dinner, from the rarity of appetizers to chocolate-frosted cake, in the dining room, even if it was a school night. Flowers came special delivery for my mother, sometimes followed by jewelry. Hearts became my mother's thing. She ran with the heart motif year-round in her interior decorating and fashion decisions, and she still has an extensive collection of heart boxes.
Having spent my formative years thus surrounded by hearts, I think about what the heart symbolizes on this bittersweet day. The shape of a heart, while not much like the appearance of the muscle that pumps our blood, means love in the international language of pictures. When our hearts are heavy, we carry the true weight of sadness. When our hearts are in the right place, we are sincere. When we tell someone to have a heart, we are soliciting mercy. When we call someone soft-hearted, we imply that that person is ruled more by emotion than by intellectual considerations. Conversely, when we refer to someone's heart of stone, we know that person will be unmoved by sentiments such as compassion or pity, and may even be, yes, heartless. When our hearts are broken, we mourn the end of a romance or the loss of a true love. When we act half-heartedly, we are not giving our best effort, or not living up to our potential. We are phoning it in, rather than living life wholeheartedly.
The lesson of Valentine's Day, then, sometimes lost after the sugary one-day thrill of flowers and presents and candy and lace, is to live life with the whole heart. The older I get, the more I understand that our days on earth are not unlimited. During our time under the sun, there will come a day that will be our last. The world will keep turning, the seasons will arrive as always, but each of us will end. We've no time to waste. This sobering realization focuses my attention on the importance of living with the whole heart.
After the miserable week I've had, I should try it.
Really: I should take my own advice, embrace my own philosophy. I've spent the week whining. Now that my employer, the state of California, has transferred me, involuntarily, to a position 90 miles from my home, I spend a lot of time on the road, and a lot of time in a bad mood. I miss my convenient former job location, my wonderful co-workers, my easier lot. I wish I could get by without that paycheck. I find myself plodding gracelessly through the day, feeling old and spent, willing the workday to be over, lacking appetite, drowning in half-heartedness. If living with the whole heart requires finding the good in each day, I have been negligent. If every moment is precious, then giving less than my best to whatever my day asks of me is indolent. I am not being the person I want to be.
Living with the whole heart means taking chances. It means waking up, seizing a day, satisfying a curiosity, and discovering the holy in all things. It means the death of regret, because we will actually say and do the things that we sometimes later wish we'd said or done, but held ourselves back because of fear. Following one's heart may entail looking ridiculous, behaving impetuously, and risking emotional honesty. It may involve ignoring the dictates of the precise and proper intellect, and willingly courting admonishment, disapproval, or even ostracism. Finally, living with the whole heart means to trust, and to give without expecting repayment, and to love.
This seems so much to ask of a tired world (or an exhausted state worker). It seems impossible to lead such a life fully and heartily. But if we only live half-heartedly, the question arises (and I must ask myself): exactly what are we saving the other half for?
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.