You never know when you might get roped into making Valentines.

When I came for supper at L’Arche last Thursday night, I didn’t expect a craft portion of the evening. But one of our guests had brought card-making supplies, and she set us the assignment of making one Valentine each.

I enjoyed this, especially because my friend Leo* asked me for my help with his card. When I said yes, he came to sit beside me. He’d added stickers, but needed some help with the glitter pens.

Whenever Leo asks me for help, I’m reminded of what it was like to be a new L’Arche assistant. I think of how hard I worked to earn his trust, and how, ironically, I didn’t recognize it when I had earned it. To wit: one day, I ran into Leo’s former accompanier and said, “Gosh, Mark, Leo’s always worried that his hamper’s broken or his book hasn’t come in or his mouthwash is low, and it all needs to be done yesterday. It’s hard to keep up!”

To which Mark smiled and said, “Oh, good. That means he’s learning to trust you.” And from that day on, I’ve never looked at Leo’s requests the same way. And so, when Leo asked for my assistance with his card, I saw that as his way of sharing his truth, his way of giving me a Valentine.

Plus, glitter pens are tricky; there’s an art to using them. You have to press firmly to make sure the glitter comes out in an even flow, but you also need to have a light touch, or you’ll end up with gobs of goo.

I practiced, and as I kept working, I could feel myself getting better at it. I got bolder, making my script fancier and switching from red to purple, with Leo’s approval. Leo couldn’t decide on a recipient, so we kept the text general. When I finished, we had a card that proclaimed, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” in sparkling, glittery text.

And as I worked, I couldn’t help but remember: last Valentine’s Day was the day that my friend Allison learned that she had cancer. Last Valentine’s Day was a day of fear and sadness. But this year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, Allison’s friends and family are rejoicing in good news. Though earlier tests had raised the possibility of more treatment, her latest tests have revealed no cancer cells. 

When I got the news, I was too stunned to process what it meant. After the anxiety and stress and pain of testing, she was in the clear. Free to grow her hair and make plans and celebrate. And it was that thought that I held in mind as I worked on Leo’s card. I made the best letters I could, as an affirmation of gladness.

When the writing was done, we sat back and admired the card together. We took in the crisp white paper and the cheerful stickers. And suddenly I saw our small project as an act of love and defiance.

It’s so easy to get cynical about tasks like this, to think, “This is silly. What does it matter? Why make Valentines at all?” What’s difficult is to make a card — and to live each day — like it does matter.

And with that insight, our project took on an unexpected poignancy. After all we’d been through — after a year marked by the darkness of cancer and the strange alchemy of loving and letting go — here we were, making valentines. Here we were, daring to be happy.

Like Allison’s son playing on the swings and embracing the present moment, we were making the best Valentine we could in the face of this beautiful, terrible thing called life.

And it meant the world to me.


How will you show your love this season? Tell me in the comments! I love hearing your insights.

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  1. Rache February 6, 2012 at 4:29 PM - Reply

    this made me teary. so happy to hear of Allison’s triumph.

    it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget that being happy, and making others happy, takes work and courage!


  2. Brooke (Books Distilled) February 6, 2012 at 6:24 PM - Reply

    Happy Valentine’s Day, friend! What a lovely reminder to celebrate the moments of truth and beauty and love in all our lives–not just our culture’s cookie cutter ideas of romantic love. I raise my cafe au lait to you. 🙂 And I’m so relieved to hear that Allison’s in the clear.

    • Caroline McGraw February 6, 2012 at 7:50 PM - Reply

      Thank you, my dear – I’m glad you liked it! And I appreciate the cafe au lait cheers 😉

  3. patti February 6, 2012 at 8:08 PM - Reply

    To dare to dream, and live and hope, some of the hardest dares to accomplish.

    Thank you for writing as you do.


    • Caroline McGraw February 6, 2012 at 8:11 PM - Reply

      Well said, Patti! Writing helps me to live that way, and comments from readers like you keep me going, so thank YOU.

  4. Dorothy Copps February 6, 2012 at 10:11 PM - Reply

    Thanks for your wonderful insights and sharing about yours & MS’ relationship.
    I read about Allison on Facebook and rejoiced. I am so glad you shared about the connection with Valentine’s Day! Terrific! Dorothy

    • Caroline McGraw February 6, 2012 at 11:09 PM - Reply

      🙂 Thank you Dorothy – I can feel your enthusiasm just leaping off the page! Love it.

  5. Allison February 8, 2012 at 3:35 PM - Reply

    Thank you for this beautiful piece and the poignant connection you made between my positive news and the Valentine’s cards you and Michael made. I’m struggling a bit, even amidst my good news, and I think it’s because for a while, it’s going to feel like there’s an enormous, yet invisible, bump, just around the corner, waiting to knock us off the course we think we’re meant to be on. Thank you for reminding me to take a chance, for reminding me to dare to be happy!

    • Caroline McGraw February 8, 2012 at 4:12 PM - Reply

      I’m so glad you liked it, my dear friend! & totally understandable that you feel as you do; at times, happiness can take great courage. <3

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