all of the selves we Have ever been
He told them I was valiant,
and that became my name. Prince Valiant
The house fell on us this year. Everything went wrong.
With a virus running rampant and restrictions in place, people were unable to travel. Some could not even leave their houses. We discovered that “there is no place like home,” is only true when there is somewhere else to go. Home, it turns out, is both a place and a way of life. No ruby slippers, no click of the heels, can take us back to the way it used to be.
It was a year that was tough on love and a year for tough love: weddings delayed, marriages strained, parent-child relationships taxed, children behind computer screens, older relatives behind glass windows. It is difficult to find love when gathering places are closed and we are masked and standing six feet apart.
This will be a different Valentine’s Day. The traditional holiday symbols of red hearts, paper doilies, perfumes, and chocolates have been replaced with face coverings, stockpiles of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and lavender-scented wipes. Chocolate is no longer reserved for a special occasion; it has become a daily over-the-counter medicine for a chronic case of hard times. The longer the pandemic drags on, the broader the definition of hard times becomes. In addition to the coronavirus, we’ve endured weather disasters and wild fires, social unrest, political upheaval, and insurrection. On Valentine’s Day, the snow is up to our noses. No wonder we’ve replaced “Have a nice day!” with “Stay safe!”
The words “Happy Valentine’s Day” can be a mouthful to a toddler learning to speak. When my children were that age, the words came out sounding more like “Happy Valiant Times Day.” I thought those greetings were innocent mispronunciations, but it turns out, children can be clairvoyant.
This year I am trading “Happy Valentine’s Day” for “Happy Valiant Times Day” with my childhood mental images of Prince Valiant and his Singing Sword undefeatable in a fight for a worthy cause.
It has not been easy weathering this medical, social and political apocalypse. For the past year we’ve focused on the worthy causes of staying alive and protecting the lives of others. It has meant many days of isolation, fear, loss, boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and financial uncertainty as chaos overtook the spaces where we once lived in peace. Many lived terrified each day with nothing to think about except how the rent would get paid or where food might be found. Even as people took action to preserve their health and safety, they wondered if they would live to see their grandchildren again, if they would ever work again, or have the simple pleasures of going to a restaurant or trying on new clothes. They wondered if they would ever again feel comfortable going to a concert or using a public restroom.
Throughout the past year, we dangled from the windows of our old world: drive-throughs and grab-and-go restaurants, curbside pick-up-and-delivery, kisses blown into the wind, hands pressed to glass…it has been a daring, no-contact battle. We never imagined the determination it would take to follow the not-so-simple health and safety guidelines, the courage it would take after 365 days of solitude to stay home one more day, the dedication that would be necessary to show up at the computer and do the homework.
Those who were able to do so kept working and serving others—steering wheels and syringes, grocery bags and boxes became the new Singing Swords doing overtime.
This year, our hearts were tested and the contents exposed for everyone to see. This year made it evident: to give your heart, you must first have one.
May history look back on this time, look back on us, and remember that we were kind, generous, cooperative, selfless, determined, and brave. May they call us valiant.
For the millions of people who lost loved ones this year, this holiday is especially for you.
Happy Valiant Times Day!