Tag Archives: valentine’s day

The Present

13 Feb



Grace gave me two odd shoes,

each beautifully different

from the other.

They almost fit,

at least, well enough.

I can’t walk while wearing both.

One is high, the other low,

so I must walk one foot shod,

the other exposed.

I must choose

which foot will be cold

and vigilant down to the naked toes.

When the sharp edges of

aloneness press

into the pad of my tender sole,

I wear one,

or the other,

to cushion some comfort,

to save some sting.

Because moving forward

is the only way down

this regretful ridge

past trees, to forest view.

Paths never seem smooth

or cut clearly

for these feet kissed with curiosity.


I must muster gratefulness

for these odd shoes.

They have walked me far,

and held my toes dear

even when one rubs reality raw or the other pinches the point.

It’s not their fault they don’t fit,

being made for the shape

of another’s foot.

Nor is it mine.

They’ll gladly wear me, instead.

One for desert dreaming,

one for snowy silence.

Am I a glutton for ingratitude

by yearning for a pair

made to house my feet home?

Right and left.

Is it so much to ask God

for simple shoes,

with supple strength

and yet, also

lightly laced

for dancing?



19 Feb

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks. ― Samuel Johnson

Sometimes while looking at this period of my life, I realize how special and significant it truly is. Perhaps is it forming something of great value to me, and to others. I’m conscious enough to realize that this enormous amount of personal time has been given to me for a reason. And one day, I will see all the connections that have lead to whatever future is created. Before embarking on the 21 Days of Love I didn’t realize how many people really follow me, and try on my life for size in their imaginations. My intern at school revealed one teary morning how much she and her friends look up to me…that they want to be me. And in a mix of fear and compassion I told her two things: It scares me to be a walking example because I’m human. I make mistakes. Because I care…I want others to be their most genuine selves…not me. But then, I thought about my own view of this journey. As a witness, at times it isn’t from the end with all the abundance. First lesson in loving myself more. . . check.


Starting the love quest was easy. I had a list of activities and high hopes that each one might provide some insight on loving in a culture which seemingly only validates romantic love. Higher love, companionate love, self love or compassion seem to be considered second best in our society, what one is left to embrace when “real love” just doesn’t seem to work out. Embracing “Big Love” becomes a consolation prize which often evokes other’s empathy. This can be annoying to have to love them through. Seriously people, I’m not a nun just because most of my love at present is outside the eros box. So I set out to learn something, in spite of this prevailing assumption and to show others that an attitude of “making the best of the situation” shouldn’t be the spirit in which one should celebrate love at all. We need a bigger understanding in this culture. We need to be more open. We need more expansive hearts.

A social media post for each day of love was my primary focus and I decided early on to let whatever sign or activity which presented itself be the point of love for the day. That seemed to work well. But from there that’s when the plans slowly started to unravel and reform into some of the biggest lessons about love I’ve learned to date.

One of the first activities, attending the Latin Salsa Dance Party at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, was a repeat performance from two years ago. A fabulous Cuban band, Tiempo Libre, preceded it, and early in the evening I began to reflect. That event two years ago was the beginning of the adventure portion of this journey and essentially, my first “assignment” for this blog. Two years later, dancing up at the stage and then, with one of the lead singers shows just how far I’ve traveled. At the salsa party, I noticed others dancing together, not just couples. Women moving with other women, proud Latino men in a line posturing, moving in rhythm with each other and affirming each other’s prowess and skill. What a difference from two years before. I now notice the power of sexuality as a human thing, something which can be expressed outside the cultural norm of “relationship”. For though the music was spicy, sensually freeing and passionately rich, there was no barrier or judgment in moving with it whether in couple, in group or alone. Our culture as a whole needs more touching, more passion, more kissing. It seems we only feel able to be in our bodies with one another under specific moral and social conditions. And to me, this has lead most into sexual expectation at any physical contact. We need to lose that. Most don’t realize how much they actually need touch and expression of physical love every day until they lose their “partner”. How many dysfunctional relationships of all sorts could end if we knew that others were there to literally hold our hands, stroke our cheeks, and rub our shoulders beyond the constructs society defines.


But this event also re-framed the next week in a peculiar way. Within days everything unraveled. The wine and chocolate tasting I’d planned was cancelled and trying to create one for my friends didn’t work. Quickly then, I knew I shouldn’t rely on re-envisioning the traditional Valentine.

I’ve always wanted to indulge myself by having my hands and feet hennaed like an Indian bride. Images of Krishna and Radha within swirls of lotus flowers trailing my arms and feet seemed the perfect way to externally proclaim the love I have for my highest self. But plans with all three artists I contacted fell through, one after the next, the last calling to say no henna was to be found in Lynchburg anywhere. To order it, would place arrival after Valentine’s Day.  Expectations at every turn were being shown to the door.

While I did attend Sonnets and Chocolates, another repeat performance of two years ago, it was only due to the grace of Endstation’s director Geoff Kerschner, who I taught many years ago. The fundraiser sold out three hours before I purchased a ticket. However, he was able to find me one seat at a table with some folks from the arts community where I teach. Many of them I already knew from teaching their children. And to be sure there were some lovely romantic touches to the evening, like when I was finally able to have my favorite Shakespearean actor recite Sonnet 29 to me. Sure, I bought the chocolate and the sonnet as a donation, and I asked for him specifically  to deliver it. But looking into another human’s eyes while he beautifully recited such profound words was beyond self-love. Knowing that I had done this, he relayed how much he appreciated being part of the moment and gave me a heartfelt hug. How simple and how beautiful it is to be human to one another on a holiday honoring love, yet one which ironically excludes a lot of people.

I think that night, it really started to hit me. First, love does not go according to plan. It takes its own path, like a stream in spring, the thaw takes the path of most allowing and then it wears it’s way into the landscape of life. Little by little it makes its mark.  At every rock in the way of my plans, love took a turn to show me its versatility, its expansiveness, its connection to others in a million different ways rather than solely self-directed. Sure, we all need to love ourselves first, to let that be the beginning path where we let love flow. But then, to grow the stream, others must be there to create the infinite complexities with which we come into union.

During the last week before Valentine’s Day, I found a moving TED talk by Hannah Brencher, founder of The World Needs More Love Letters


In teaching Romeo and Juliet, I wanted my students to think about more than just heady romantic love and its possible tragic ends. Loving other people as she once was loved delivered her into her destiny and out of depression and isolation. When she spoke of her beginning love letters, I knew EXACTLY what she meant. “In the days when they were necessary. . .”, she said. I think back to two years ago, how absolutely necessary it was for me to travel somewhere experience it, take photos…write. And now what rich experiences I have, deep wisdom, and more connection which enables me to follow my purpose.

I’m not going to lie, the last week was hard. I almost gave up. For about two hours on the Thursday before Valentine’s Day from 4 to 6a.m. I lay in bed and stared at that empty space beside me…and it hurt. I missed someone . . .down into my bones. And I cried, a lot. But then, I went to work and allowed. My students had written love letters to strangers and one of my struggling writers brought in his late assignment. He had chosen to write to one of my mentors who had recently lost her husband in a sudden heart attack. His note moved me to tears.


And I realized that we all have our days needing extra love…some more than others. But that’s what we are here for…to do that. To be that extra love for each other outside of the love we hold for ourselves. And when we start working toward that type of conscious loving and genuineness, the more we grow the heart of the Universe.

21 Days of Love

2 Feb

At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service. –Fred Rogers

Habits, they say, can be either established or broken in a mere 21 days. In the light of my last post, and in trying to ease back into post holiday “normality”, a thought arrived during the early morning removal of my Christmas decorations.

“Uh oh.. Valentine’s Day”.

But before I could even let the swell form a wave, I suddenly had an epiphany:

Why don’t I celebrate Love?

Each day in some way during the 21 days before Valentine ’s Day there has to be another way of seeing this, ways to show myself and others love in its many intricate facets. No need to dread it…more over…I need to go out and meet it head on. There is something there I need to learn, so I might as well dive in. Call it a “Love Pilgrimage” if you will, but I have discovered now that if I re-frame the prevailing culture or environment in which I live into a more positive experience, then I can become part of the narrative more easily. And I can give and receive more mindfully. Simply…I want to be happier in a culture that tells me I need to be miserable or cynical on certain holidays because of what “is” in my life.

So this year, I am celebrating Valentine’s Day by loving myself deeply and by exploring ways in which I can love others outside the cultural paradigm. Each day since January 26, I have been posting to social media a poem, quote, or song and pictures focusing around one facet of the enormous complexity of Love, this great emotion at the heart of the Universe. By engaging in activities which may connect me more to the power of my own heart, I hope to cultivate a daily habit of positive conscious loving in all its nuances and to carry that energy forward into 2015.

My students and I are inevitably reading Romeo and Juliet, Cold Mountain, and examining the cultural assumptions implicit in romantic love in literature. Pacing guides just so happened to have placed them now. And ideas for personal experiences came easily and are already underway, the stories I’ll share in the days ahead.

It isn’t all about candy and flowers …but it is all about the heart.

I started by putting back half of my Christmas decor…light is light. 🙂

A Plateful of Memory

18 Feb

In the front seat of my grandpa’s Impala
I guess it was late summer in ’63
he said, I’m gonna get you a big old burger with a small town’s worth of flavor
you know it’s the finest place in our little town to eat. . .

. . .So give us this day our daily bread
and remember the truth is gonna set us free
and she said what are you doing here alone on another Saturday night
and I said ah I’m just a being me
besides it’s the finest place in our little town to eat

Neon lights, all night diner
Anita’s right on time with my coffee and extra cream

— Brian Hall, Anita Pours Coffee

Last week was a bit rough. A new earlier morning regimen had me a tad sleep deprived and with a mid week jaunt to DC to Ash Wednesday service at the National Shrine, a slight pestilence was trying to gain a foothold in my throat. So when Cupid’s Day rolled around, I was achy and a bit homesick. But I decided to take myself out to dinner for the day of love anyway in memory of one of my favorite dinner companions…my grandaddy. If there was anyone I’d love to spend a nice Valentine’s dinner with, it would be him. Granny always tells the story that when I was little, he took my high chair down to the basement and sawed the bottoms of the legs off so it would sit up to the table evenly right beside him. My feet never hit the ground for the first three years of my life, according to her. I was a permanent fixture in his arms. Naturally a diner, something with a bit of the south and of nostalgia seemed the place to go to remember him and to feel well…more like dinner felt back then.

Market at Main was my destination, and for a single diner, it’s perfect with a long marble counter, friendly waitstaff, and a full view of the kitchen. I had eaten there before a few times, but always for brunch, never for dinner. So with a photo of Grandaddy on my phone, I went downtown for homestyle southern diner fare.

The atmosphere of Market at Main has all the right features of a nostalgic forties diner, but with a lot more space. The ceilings are high which opens up the atmosphere without making a counter diner seem exposed or cold. That aspect I like quite a bit, and there is something to be said about barstools at just the right height. Many bars have seats too low to rest one’s arms properly on the counter, or too high to cross one’s legs properly underneath. I felt quite comfortable in my swivel seat almost immediately. The only aspect of the restaurant I don’t enjoy is that the open kitchen, while fascinating to watch, emits a normal cooking smoke and the smell permeates my hair and clothes. When I leave, I know I have been there. They have large ceiling fans, but it’s the down home cooking, real cooking that resonates in the air. Whenever I cook bacon at home the same thing happens. I suppose it’s like finding a tiny bit of manure in the mushroom carton, it lets a person know that the food is real. That’s more important, to me anyway.

Two of the waitstaff greeted me quickly and I was tended to with great care. For the holiday evening, a special menu was available and it was really hard for me to choose. One aspect I did not anticipate was the availability of beer and wine, something not typically diner-esque, but a nice touch. I ordered a Raywood Merlot that was soft and slightly tannic. My first course of fried green tomatoes balanced with it nicely. They were tart and savory, paired with a spicy mustard remoulade sauce that had good peppery heat. Even though they were a tiny bit soft for my tastes, everyone has his or her own recipe. These were more tender, thicker cut, so the coating was less crispy than I had enjoyed at breakfast previously. Again, real food has variation…probably from cook to cook as well. It might even be the season, too. Green tomatoes in winter aren’t typical seasonal fare.

Among a few delicious sounding choices, I chose the Tango Pork: pork loin medallions with a citrus balsamic glaze and fried plantains, collards on the side along with grilled zucchini. I almost bent to the macaroni and cheese, but held off. I didn’t think it would quite mesh with a citrusy glaze. The only aspect of the special menu selection that I didn’t like was that the entrees didn’t seemed to be paired well to available sides. They were most definitely southern classics, but I began to think that perhaps the specials should stick to classic southern rather than “fancy fare”, one of the reasons I didn’t choose the Pink Chicken, with its raspberry, white wine cream sauce. My dinner was delicious, nonetheless, the glaze on the pork not overly fruity nor sweet. Both the collards and zucchini were ultra fresh and not over cooked, which is usually the case in most restaurants that serve greens. I could have ordered just collards and the macaroni and cheese, that would have definitely reminded me of being at Granny’s, maybe next time.

The plantains, however, weren’t cut to fry well and I honestly thought they were bananas, really not to my liking. Overall though, the food was solid and real, but I think trying to be something it wasn’t. No matter what, the menu should stick close to cafe southern, even on a holiday. That’s the whole appeal of the place, and pretty much the only place I know of to get home cooking that isn’t like a cafeteria or haute Lowcountry. Is there a category for Gourmet Virginian? There are plenty of fancy Valentine’s Day dinners out there in beautifully decorated candlelit spaces. Southern diner though is quaint, loving and warm and it should just be that, even with the food. Simple food made by nurturing hands. That is the soul of southern cooking to me.

Market at Main does have that quality and that that extends to the people there as well. I don’t think I’ve been some place where so many people smiled at me or wanted to tend to me. It was like Granny’s, the “what can I get you”, “how you doing baby” sort of feeling. I like that, especially on a Valentine’s Day when I was tired and a tiny bit homesick for family loving. That was soon remedied, though. One of the cooks, who had previously come by to ask me how my dinner was, came out of the kitchen again to talk to one of the patrons. As he did, he pulled a tiny frame out of his pocket and began to talk about his grandfather. My ear perked up immediately. Then, he went to show another coworker and then another waitress. I asked if he’d show me. What a genuinely nice young man. He came over, proud as punch and showed me the tiny black and white framed photograph of his grandfather, Irvin Lloyd Hoyt.

“He was in the Coast Guard”,  he said smiling. “Doctors gave him five years to live back in ‘72 cause he had black lung from being a coal miner.”

He told me he had passed away only a few weeks ago at 89. But that picture told me how this young man saw his grandad, as a hero and he was so proud. And I thought, he was carrying his loved one with him on Valentine’s Day, just like I’m carrying my granddady with me. That picture means the world to him, one small way he can express his love for a great man in his life.

We shook hands and formally met.

“Hi, I’m Jeremy.”

It was a genuinely good moment, one that reminded me of seeing a cousin again after a long time, family connecting two virtual strangers. I didn’t show him the photo of Grandaddy on my phone, but I did tell him how much of a grandaddy’s girl I am. I could tell in the smile we shared that he understood.

I’ve been thinking of family this Valentine’s Day, and how important it is to remember and be remembered. I like to think we take our family with us everywhere we go, in our smiles, in our handshakes and hugs, sometimes literally in our pockets. Simple love extends to all sorts of endeavors and at times, the best food is made and enjoyed with family in our hearts and minds.

Salt in the Wave

14 Feb

So I suppose you might ask, “How are you handling Valentine’s Day Ms. Wayfarin’ Lass? Is there a way to spin this out into an adventure that makes the social stigma of being sans beloved better?” First, let me state that if everyone would stop feeling sorry for me because I’m single on Valentine’s Day that might help me feel a ton happier. It’s as if the only choices I get in the emotional palette are acerbic, defensive, depressed, or desperate. Celebratory expectations, both social and material, for people on this holiday do a great deal more harm, in my opinion, than good in the grand scene d’amor. Pressures that mated men must feel in choosing the “right” card, the “perfect” gift and then the judgment women pass upon themselves upon receiving or not receiving these tokens do a lot to create an unhappiness within many romantic relationships that just doesn’t need to happen.

Seems to me, though, there’s a general inability to express ourselves well when it comes to love at the heart of it all, no pun intended. And that’s where Hallmark gets its foot into the door of our hearts and pockets. I don’t think we’re taught how to show or receive authentic sentiment from the variety of people we love very well and still keep it simple. It’s as if we can feel something genuinely enough as children, but somehow post pubescence it becomes way too complicated. Clarence is a pro at simple.“Going for it” is his modus operandi. Most dogs are like that. When they love you, you know it in a big way. I suppose it would be easier if we could just wag our tails at each other and roll over at will for a belly rub.

I’ve tried to keep this motto: “Love is simple” in my head and in my actions since December. So early this past weekend, I decided that I would be treating myself to love this week, mindful to enjoy and trying to find the essential part in loving my family, my friends, and most importantly, myself.

Last Saturday, Sonnets and Chocolates a fundraiser for Endstation Theater, was my entertainment for the evening. Director Geoff Kerschner was student of mine many years ago and I attend their shows at Sweet Briar College each summer. Supporting the arts is important to me and of course, I love Shakespeare. The sonnet as an art form moves me in ways that make me yearn for a poet in my life. It’s Shakespeare’s ability to transform the complexity of love into a kaleidoscope of words, each one subtle, yet powerfully concentrated enough to reveal the truest nuances of feeling which touches my most romantic side.  And it’s that nuance which makes the speaker’s sentiments unique, powerful. In that uniqueness, the sentiment is born anew and given afresh to the beloved every time. A love sonnet isn’t only for a special occasion once a year, nor like an every day note for a lunchbox. Like honest affection, it arrives on its own terms and in its own time and rhythm. This is what makes love poems so special.

Performances by Endstation’s casts are always brilliant and the desserts, divine. This year I attended solo, quite by accident. Several of my friends decided at the last minute not to come, but I still endeavored to enjoy the wine, sweets, and romantic songs by Paddy Dougherty. As the evening wore on, though, I began to notice the dedications for donation mounting up and the recognitions of years achieved in marriage being announced like lifetime awards in some Love Hall of Fame. Don’t get me wrong, the theater has to raise money for its endeavors and I support that. But as a single person, it became harder to listen to. And as the held hands and heads upon shoulders became more and more apparent, I wanted more Shakespeare, something for me to love and words which would love me back. What I experienced was the social construct all over again. Cruising through Valentineland on the “Its a Small Angel with a Bow’s World After All” boat. I didn’t feel too uncomfortable, though. Maybe comfortably numb might be the more proper term as I lounged in my chair, nibbled on truffles, sipped Rebec’s Landmark White and tried to enjoy the aesthetic quality of Paddy’s voice, rather than the lyrics singing of a one and only.

Sunday afternoon, though, was when love’s beauty truly compromised my emotional armor. I attended a performance of the James Chamber Players at Oakwood Country Club, literally a three minute walk from my home. As I sat in a banquet hall, beautifully decorated for the Valentine holiday, with thirty or so others, an understanding about the depth of human love and longing began to arrive.

The room quieted.

A tuning of strings were low notes floating like waves over the audience in unified harmony, then rising in crescendo.

My heart lifted into the swell and then, the truth in the notes, like salt in a wave, stung.

And as they played, something in the music washed over me and filtered down into my core. The motion of their bodies in the playing became part of the song, part of the gift. Within the expressive movement of sound, the players loved the music into being. And that is a true expression of love, I thought, that giving, and at times that sacrifice. One of the last songs they played was Fantine’s from Les Miserables.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving. . .

Swimming in an ocean of sound, the lyrics  met the resonance of bow and string. From first bar to last, I gave in and let tears flow.

I cried because I love,

have loved,

will love again.

I cried because sometimes love is giving without hope of receiving.

And sometimes it’s receiving in the grace of an inability to requite.

And for all its pain, joy lies within all of it.

Love IS simple, but that doesn’t mean its always fair or fulfilling. That’s what is missing, truncated from this white, pink, and red velvet cupcake, candy heart, rose and dyed carnation filled holiday.  We do not honor the love that is bittersweet, still as genuine and strong, passionate and important as its more recognized counterpart. And we should honor it, grateful to feel it even in its injustice. For it means we are alive and able to be human and that connects us and ultimately heals us all. For we cannot know the swell of joy without the absence of it, nor celebrate the sweetness of a beloved without time alone.

%d bloggers like this: