My Turn: Valentines That Matter

valentine's roses

Giving thanks and reaching out are two ways to spread the love

It’s February, the month when we celebrate love on Valentine’s Day. I remember my mom buying mini heart cut-outs to take to school for each member of my second-grade class, each one with the same words: “Happy Valentine’s Day.” That sentiment wasn’t enough to spark a whirlwind romance for a second grader, but as Mom reminded me as I signed the back of each heart, “John, it’s the thought that counts.”

The sights and sounds of the holidays and the New Year are behind us, and we are back again to face the dark political divide in this country that has catapulted people to a level of intolerance and lack of trust in America’s institutions. People are deluged with radio and television talk shows, podcasts and internet drivel about politics that’s enough to make you wish you lived under a rock.

People seem to have forgotten how country comes first, how important it is to value the underpinnings of our republic. The political establishment in this country is on its own partisan tear, doing what it wants, giving its citizens the Rodney Dangerfield treatment of “no respect.”

There is no better time than now to drill down to what matters, to put differences aside and take time to reflect on those who have made a difference in our lives—those we love and respect. It might be a teacher, a coach, a boss, a long-forgotten friend. Just jog your memory about those who took the time to give of themselves to help you jump the hurdles, traverse the ups and downs of life’s journey. They may not be living, but you will remember them as people who gave a damn.

The people who believed in you even though, at the time, you didn’t believe in yourself. It’s time to send them a Valentine, from a heart full of thanks. Will Bass, my high school basketball coach, pushed me hard. He was an inveterate disciplinarian who emphasized tough practice sessions. “If you practice hard you will be prepared,” he reminded us. His admonition to “be prepared” still rings in my ears. Will died years ago, but I thank him for the confidence and the mental toughness he instilled in me. Those who played for him would say the same thing. We were the lucky ones to have crossed his path.

I have the most love and, at the same time, compassion, for my wife, Margaret Mary, who has devoted the last 45 years of our 56-year-old marriage to making my journey through life with multiple sclerosis (MS) as normal as possible. It’s been hard on her—always stressful—but I have never heard a complaint. Dealing with me is difficult enough. Add MS to the equation, with all its complications, and most spouses would have walked. Margaret Mary stayed.

Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” This month of love, start to downshift your engine, cool your jets and put life into perspective by mulling over those who have made a difference and have had an impact on you. Thank them by writing a note, calling them on the phone or making a personal visit. Just keep in touch; you’ll be glad you did, and it might be the nicest gift they will ever receive.

This story is from the February 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.