In August of 1988 I went to a watermelon social on the back porch of Furman University’s dining hall. I was more or less minding my own business when across the way I saw a girl who was so beautiful I could hardly believe she existed in the same world where I lived and moved and had my being. I don’t even know how to talk about this without sounding like the worst sort of Hallmark card, so I’ll spare you.
I didn’t speak to the aforementioned girl at the watermelon social, but I spoke to her eventually, and eventually we got married and raised six children together. That face that was such a marvel to me in August of 1988 is now more familiar to me than my own face.
But every now and then, when we arrive separately at a party or a school event or church, I’ll catch a glimpse of my wife from across the room, and I’m astonished all over again. I’m that nineteen-year-old boy, and she’s that eighteen-year-old girl. The amazement that such a creature exists at all is compounded by the amazement that she’s the most familiar thing in the world to me.
Wendell Berry knows what I’m talking about:
The Wild Rose
Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,
Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose looming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,
and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.
Valentine’s Day is just three days away. It’s time to get serious about those love letters and love poems. I offer the same advice I gave this time last year and the year before that: Don’t try too hard to put your feelings into words. All those things you feel about your beloved–those are the least unique thing about your relationship with that person. If you don’t believe it, go read the greeting cards at the grocery store. Your feelings, which seem utterly unique when you’re feeling them, are so common that the nice people at Hallmark and American Greetings make a good living selling them at three dollars a pop.
If you want to write a Valentine that gets results, start with memory, not emotion. If you give an account of a memory that you and your beloved share, some little scene from your story, you can hardly help but be original and intimate. Be specific. Be concrete. The emotion will take care of itself.
If you need a little extra direction, here’s a writing prompt for your Valentine: Wendell Berry writes, “I am blessed and choose again/that which I chose before.” What has caused you to choose your beloved* again? Write about that.
*If you aren’t in a long-term romantic relationship, that’s all right. You love somebody, and that love is a choice. Write that person a Valentine.