My twelve-year-old posed this question. With the days of the sparkly Valentine’s box and confetti-decorated, pink cupcakes mostly behind us, I pondered my own questions.
Who is this boy? What is he like? What does it mean to be someone’s Valentine when you’re twelve?
I’m thinking maybe they could swap chocolate hearts or cookies. Maybe they would sit together at the lunch table.
Bada-bing-bada-boom. Done, right?
I was wrong.
“Mom. He goes to a different school.”
“So, you’re a bit young for long distance relationship.” I sarcastically quipped, not thinking too much about it.
“Mom, he used to go to my school. He moved away and now he has cancer,” she said, her eyes begging for me to be serious.
Cancer. Shit. I thought I was young for cancer. Cancer—that unfathomable thing that robs children of hair, of innocence, of life—can instill a child’s classmates and friends with fear. I remembered all to well being held hostage by a young man’s cancer when I was young.
This was serious. How could I protect her? What could I say?
“Oh, sweetie. I’m sorry. I’m sorry he has cancer. What about you? How do you know this boy? What does it mean to be someone’s Valentine?”
“He’s a friend. I just don’t know how to answer him.”
I didn’t either.
I found myself in the cross hairs of memory. When I was sixteen, a young man suffering from cancer, who was enamored with me cornered me. Alone during the day in a hospital he wrote me letters, called me, sent heart doodled notes to me through a cousin. He thought he was going to die from his cancer treatments, especially if he couldn’t see me.
I didn’t know this boy—from a neighboring school and church activities—that well. Because it made me more quesy to talk about it, I didn’t. My parents had no way of knowing they could have coached me through those difficult weeks.
How could I spare my daughter the same? Should I? And, would it really be the same?
But, most importantly, how to engage this normally quiet-about-such-things-daughter so she would stay open about this?
“Mom. Mom? I’ll just ask him what he means by Valentine.”
Wow. Why didn’t I think of that?
But wait. I had. I just had not told her what to think. I had merely posed the question.
Comforted by the confidence and caring in her voice, I knew she was on her way to tending to this delicate situation of the heart that had given me a window into my own.
What stories of the heart have caused you to reflect on your own or that of another this Valentine’s season?