Written by Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network
I was in a local grocery store recently. As I entered the store, I was bombarded with signs that Valentine’s Day is once again upon us. Red roses with white bows. Balloons reaching for the sky. Bouquets of candy bars. Sweets for the sweet. As I wandered about the aisles, my mind drifted toward the hearts that will be broken on this day when love is celebrated.
Somewhere there is a young boy who will be taunted and shamed by other boys who notice the small valentine he has clutched in his mittens for the teacher. They will grab the delicate card he worked hard to make and they will stomp it into the snow as they call him names. He won’t shed a tear – at least not now. He has learned not to cry. He knows that showing he has a heart will only make things worse. The older boys will get bored and move on to other targets. He will pick up the pieces and carry on.
Somewhere there is a young girl who has loved being daddy’s secret valentine until the day his touches made her scared. They made her uncomfortable. They made her confused. Now, when daddy says “I love you”, she nods her head and prays that he will not want to come to her when mommy goes to work. On this day, she will think God must have been too busy and as her father leaves her room she cries her heart out – and then she will pick up the pieces and carry on.
Somewhere there is a young mother who has worked all afternoon to make sure the right meal is on the table. Her husband will come home and she will know the drinking began before he ever left work. Her efforts will be buried under criticisms of how the food tastes, how the house looks, how she has changed, and how she disappoints him. She has long ago stopped hoping for a card or a rose. She nods in agreement to every word with the hope that her gift on this day will not involve touches filled with rage and disgust. As she looks in the mirror that night, she thinks about how she will cover the new bruise. She will pick up the broken pieces of the mirror and carry on.
Somewhere there is a father who will lose his job today. He has been saving every penny to pay bills that have filled his mailbox since his heart attack last year. The company can no longer afford to insure him so it found other reasons to let him go. He sits in his truck in the parking lot and takes out the handful of singles in his wallet to see if he has enough to take his wife a small gift for Valentine’s Day. He knows he must have gas in the tank to look for new work so he heads home and knows the woman who sat by his side while he recovered will stand by his side through this new challenge. She has his heart and together, they will celebrate the gift of life and carry on.
Somewhere there is a family surrounding a young family member in a hospital bed. Each member of the family prays for a miracle that is getting harder and harder to believe in. Their hearts are breaking and they ask the questions – Why him? Why now? Why? If he passes on this day their memories will be forever connected to their love for him and the pieces of their spirits that will travel with him on his journey. They cannot imagine or trust in the strength they have to pick up the pieces and carry on.
Our world is full of people who celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of love, romance and endless possibilities. Our world is also full of people who see every day, including this one, as another day of heartbreak, fear, worry, and loneliness. Youth care workers, domestic violence counselors, workforce advocates, and hospital personnel are just some of the many hearts that do important work every day. They commit themselves to helping lift up others in times of need. On this day of love, please take a moment to thank someone for the gifts they share with others and know that the heart they lift up may someday be yours.