Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Valentines Day Available for All!

John Bosco Parish: Mass for the Sick 2-14-2019

Jamba Rafiki (Hello Friend)

Valentine's Day is the day for love! An inexhaustible display of red roses tied with baby's breath, and bouquets of pink and white carnations in colored vases, tempt the anxious admirer. If flowers are not alluring, there is an aisle dedicated to whimsical balloons with light-hearted messages, boxes of sweethearts that suggest "lets get busy" and "kiss me," and red foiled Russel Stover candy boxes, brimming with dark chocolate strawberry nougat chews, milk chocolate coated nuts and caramels, inlayed with a user friendly map to guide one away from the less desirable morsels. Interspersed amongst the sweet delights are amusing baubles—scented candles and ceramic figurines painted in red and silver glitter. I have a collection of these precious treasures that my children carefully chose for me over the years.

For many, however, the day acts as a painful reminder of a love that is no more, or a heart that cries "If only..."

Surely, most of us can relate to a blundering mess of a Valentine's Day, emblazoned forever in our  minds. You remember, that year when you, or your significant other, totally missed the mark, dashing a heart against the rocks of despair. Maybe the error came in a mundane or thoughtless gift, or a hastily chosen card with sentiments written exclusively by Hallmark, personalized by a name hurriedly scratched in ink, or a gesture of love that lacks the appropriate inflection. Hopefully, you have never found yourself in the tornadic aftermath of a Valentine's Day forgotten.

Quirky things can happen with Valentine's Day, once two people have been together for a while. For some, the passionate celebrations of bygone years inconspicuously, and without intent, morph into a day filled with conflicted emotions—burdensome and guilt provoking. Yet, there are a few fortunate couples who experience the constancy of love, with passions just waiting to be released.

I have had some lovely Valentines celebrations. Remember grade school, when you custom designed a shoe box with glue, red and white construction paper, magic markers and crayons? After decorating, abundantly pleased with the outcome, you took the shoe box to your teacher, or a parent, who then used a sharp instrument to cut a slit in the top of the box, creating a post box for friends to deliver cards and goodies.

The night before the school Valentine's Day party was wholly dedicated to the miniature perforated cards that came in a box of 100. Happily selecting just the right box at the drug store, the one with the  popular cartoon characters matched with just the right messages, had a propensity to become stressful for my little self. Picking out just the right cards was critical; and if my mom did not get me to the drug store in time, the popular boxes of cards would be gone, and the disappointment that followed was palpably magnanimous.

Ahh, but what followed never failed to erase any negative disposition I might have embodied during the card ritual—the hours spent sitting on my bed sorting the good cards for my friends from the lackluster cards for my enemies. The stories I told myself, comparing one person to another, meticulously separating friend from foe, was done with the simplicity available only to a child. With a glass of cold water within reach, (a necessity for the thick layer of dry gumminess that accumulated on the tongue when licking a multitude of envelopes), the cards would be sorted, names written on the envelopes with swirly lettering, sealed shut, and thrown in to a brown paper grocery bag placed near the bedroom door, in holy anticipation of the day to follow.

My mother was known for her Valentine's Day tea parties. Her table was majestic—adorned with a white linen tablecloth dappled with tiny pink and red aluminum hearts, centered with a bouquet of red and pink flowers. The table served as her palate to display towers of treats, carefully placed on plates lined with white paper doilies. Her delicacies ranged from ham and cheese and cucumber tea sandwiches, to white iced petite fours with candied hearts, next to her infamous chocolate ganache cake with fresh raspberries sprinkled with a powdered sugar heart, and the creme-de-la-creme of assorted Godiva chocolates, including white and milk chocolate dipped strawberries. For this celebration, my mom always chose her Laura Ashly tea set in the vintage Guinevere pattern. The small roses painted on the pieces reminded her of a string of pink hearts.

Being so far away from home, I had pushed the day into my subconscious. However, when I closed my eyes that night, I was profoundly grateful for the lesson on love I received that very day.

As a class, we attended the Mass for the Sick at St. John Bosco Parish in the heart of Nairobi. Before we embarked on the journey to the church, my classmates embraced one another with tremendous zeal, extending loving thoughts to one another. On the journey to the parish, we sang along to African love songs playing on the radio, dancing as much as a cramped car would allow. As we approached the church, I was greeted by cheerful African songs bellowing from the church building, inviting both the well and the sick to enter her sacred space. I watched as a multitude of patients, wrapped in hospital gowns, descended the stairs of buses, inhaling deeply the fresh air. Many disabled in wheelchairs were carried up the stairs by smiling strangers, ready and willing to lend support where needed. Grandmothers and grandfathers, moms and dads, young and old, were being pushed in wheelchairs by relatives, eager to find a place at the  front of the altar.

I stood in awe at the front of the church, witnessing acts of love and kindness in every direction. Unable to tear myself from the scene, I entered the church late, but was able to find a seat next to my friends. The church was brimming.

Before the service started, a friend tapped my shoulder, pointing to the first row, directly in front of the altar. There sat the tiny bodies of many of my patients, dressed in fresh and brightly decorated hospital pajamas, flanked by hospital matrons. Like a mother delighted to see her child after a long absence, I quickly moved down the aisle, having to refrain myself from throwing my arms around each one.  I was delighted beyond words. Our mutual excitement was met through the eyes, as we silently shook hands. Not one of the children risked being removed from the church by one of the matrons.

When I floated back to my seat, I looked up to see a young boy walk-running up the aisle towards me, his hospital robe decorated with elephants and bears flying open as he moved, his bandaged hand cradled in his other hand. We knew each other, and I had obviously missed him in my enthusiastic encounter with the front row. I stood from my seat as he moved towards me, smiling. I knew he was taking a great risk by getting up from his seat to come find me. He arrived at my side, grinning and  slightly breathless. Releasing his injured hand, he used his good arm to embrace me. It was spontaneous and beautiful, a moment galvanized by the power of love. I was captivated by love's spell.

On a day I had dismissed as "not for me," I fortuitously became a witness to the wisdom and energy found in unbridled love— a universal love that reaches beyond expectations and limitations, unquantifiable and timeless. We danced and sang, riding the momentous wave of love, unlimited by the maladies that define daily existence—unlimited by the maladies I carried that tightly wrapped my understanding of love.

This Valentine's Day, I was taught love's endless capacity. I discovered that love is a continuous presence that moves amongst, besides and through not only lovers, but friends, family and strangers. The day is more than a moment in time, measuring the extent of our love by gifts given or gifts received. I participated in Love—boundless in  energy and opportunity. I discovered Love's wait, and Love's desire to be experienced. It is a vibrating melody treasured deep in our souls. If we are willing to receive it, the Universe will happily unfold it.


A Valentines Spread prepared by a friend!

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