For the past eighteen years I have not celebrated Valentine’s Day. Instead I recognized February 13th as “Bravest Day.”
After twenty-two years of marriage to a compulsive, selfish man who lived in denial, my wife said that enough was enough. Since I refused to get help, she would, but she wasn’t going to live with the toxic person I’d become.
That confrontation shattered the tenuous hold I maintained on the “everything’s okay” façade of my life. Standing amid those shattered fragments, I knew I had nothing left. I faced the hollow person I was. And I knew I could no longer live this way.
I sought help, real help this time. In opening up the putrid wounds of my soul, healing began. I found support to deal with my compulsions. No longer hopeless, change ensued.
Simultaneously my wife also experienced help, hope, and healing. There followed three years of painful self-examination, false starts, and slowly rebuilt trust. After three years our separation ended. I moved home.
During this period, as our marriage teeter between hope and despair, I began my personal remembrance day by giving my wife bulb flowers – a symbol that as the flowers died but bloomed again the following spring so too I hoped our marriage would follow suit.
I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate love with the day’s declarations of eternal love knowing how insensitive I had been for all those years. Even substituting Bravest Day only partially remediated the sting of regret.
Usually on January first a growing malaise started culminating in Bravest Day and then it dissipated. I see now this was lingering shame over my past treatment of my spouse. She had clearly demonstrated her forgiveness and love. Deep down I still held on to my regrets and felt unworthy of forgiveness.
Until this year. I had psyched myself out to defuse the malaise. No longer would this time of year blindside me. But no malaise came. Pleasure married surprise and I paid as little attention as possible to its lack. Perhaps by not pondering my situation I could prevent that proverbial “other shoe” from dropping.
On February 13th I planned on purchasing another pot of hyacinths when my wonderful wife said, “You don’t need to get me anything for Bravest Day this year.” She remarked that she appreciated my continual expressions of love and appreciation.
As I drove to work my eyes filled with tears. In recent years I have learned that when my response is out of proportion to the cause, I should take note and discover what in me facilitated this reaction.
Throughout the day an increasing tide of emotion bathed me. By the time I reach the store I understood. It was not so much that I didn’t need to celebrate Bravest Day. I felt freed from the vestiges of shame, liberated to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
I bought a pot of azaleas decorated with a small heart on a stick and a Valentine’s card, the first in nineteen years. It was perfect:
My tears, they come as I write this, are tears of gratitude for the healing on our lives. Gratitude for the prayer I started using six years ago. Unite my heart to fear Your name. God has answered and for that I am eternally grateful.
And so Valentine’s Day is back.
I hope I celebrate love’s day at least eighteen more years.