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Back when we were children, Valentine's Day was always a day of excitement and anticipation.
In my elementary school years, one of the highlights of winter would be our class Valentine Party. Once the date was set, our teacher would utilize the days leading up to the party for preparation.
We would work for days creating receptacles for our Valentines. One year we decorated brown lunch bags and taped them to our desks.
Another year we had to bring in decorated shoeboxes to serve as our "mail box" to receive the valentine deliveries of our classmates.
At home, we'd agonize over choosing just the right valentine for each of our classmates. The class clown would have to get the funny one.
And we would have to choose special ones for our best friends, and the teacher, and sometimes even the principal.
One rule of the Valentine party was that you had to bring a valentine in for every member of the class (no one could be left out). Sometimes this was a challenging endeavor.
What's the appropriate valentine for the kid who is your arch-enemy on the playground? What about the kid who always tries to cut in line at lunch, what valentine does he deserve?
And then there were always the classmates you didn't really know that well at all. What valentine expresses cordial greetings without expressing too much sentiment or presuming too close a relationship?
Fourth-grade year was probably my most memorable Valentine Party. That year, after we had all trekked around the classroom from desk to desk, making our Valentine deliveries, I discovered a special Valentine in my "mail box."
It was a palm-sized box, fashioned to look like a book. The little book's title was "You're a Novel Character."
When you opened the cover of the book, inside the little box was five rolls of Lifesavers candy and this message – "and I'm sweet on you."
Naturally I scanned the little gift box frantically to see just who was "sweet on me," only to find the name of girl that I really had no friendship with at all.
Loretta was a quiet, shy, girl who didn't seem to have many friends in class. I think I had spoken to her maybe twice so far that school year.
As everyone sat at their desk looking through their Valentines I sat there trying to figure out how to respond to this gift of hers.
At first, I scanned the room to see if anyone else received a little book, too. When it appeared obvious that I was the only one to receive such a valentine from her, I became panicked about what it meant and what I was supposed to do in response.
When the dismissal bell rang, I managed to muster up enough social grace to go back to her and thank her, but I did not linger long for fear of not knowing what to do or say next.
Duringr the next couple of weeks, we spoke more often, and Loretta and I became friends. But not long after that her family moved so she left our school.
That little box of lifesavers taught me a lesson that year that has remained with me.
Before that Valentine party I had never really made an effort to get to know Loretta. I wasn't rude to her; I just ignored her.
Her little gift taught me about the capacity for love and kindness people possess. Her little gift taught me about the bravery it takes to reach out and make a connection with others and about the unimagined blessings that can occur when we do.
It surprises me that Valentine's Day is still so prominently celebrated in our culture. After all its beginning can be traced back to the life of an obscure Roman priest who united couples in marriage even though he had been forbidden to do so by Emperor Claudias.
I guess its celebration continues because the need to be loved is universal within all of us.
This year's Valentine's Day may find you without a special loved one. But rather than be sad, consider the possibilities of love and kindness that exist all around you.
Consider the people in your life who need acts of kindness, those to whom you could reach out.
Valentine's Day may pass this year without you receiving a box of chocolate, or even a roll of Lifesavers. Yet the holiday can still have a meaningful impact on your life and become a memorial occasion if you will use it to show your love and friendship to someone else.
Your act of kindness may enrich the life of another beyond what you could ever imagine. That's a lesson I learned from a roll of Lifesavers.
Allen Clark is a pastor at Highland Baptist Church.