Valentine “Presence”

The door bell rang. I cringed. My little one had just fallen asleep. Only one thought permeated my every cell, “Please, please don’t let it wake the baby!”

My husband and I had just returned with our five month old from another hospital stay. We had already spent her first Halloween at the local children’s hospital, with her little pumpkin costume hanging from a crib railing. Then a call came the day before Thanksgiving that we needed to head up to Boston children’s hospital. Today, we were thankful to be home for one of our favorite holidays, Valentines’ Day, even though my husband had to leave early that morning for a business trip. This wasn’t a complaint- his work place had been so supportive these last few months. The night had been long, though I slept with one eye open, concerned the baby’s cries would wake him.

I wasn’t planning on answering the door. Oh, crap, what if the person decides to ring the bell again?? With the not-so-sweet smell of spit-up on my nursing shirt and a hair-do that screamed “new mother,” I whipped open the door to find a sight I wasn’t planning on seeing: four women, wearing jackets with sequin lapels, white crisp shirts, red bow ties and vests, each holding a rose. I stood motionless, both my mouth and the door hung open. A cold blast hit me hard. Agitated, I gulped down the fresh air and a taste of the outside world. I blinked a few times. I knew I was exhausted, but, Huh?

We all stood in the cold. I waited for an explanation. “We have brought you a singing Valentine with a message from Paul.” I smiled a toothless grin. I’m going to kill him.

Two decades ago, for our very first Valentine’s Day as a couple, I was not about to take a chance on being disappointed. If I wanted intrigue and romance, I would show the way. I set up a “Valentine’s hunt” with clues and gifts hidden at different stores and restaurants around town. I involved as many people who were willing to play along from the bartender to the video store owner. All the clues contained the word, ocean or sea, to point to the final destination of the Coast Guard House, our favorite restaurant, where I sat waiting in a red dress peering out the window at the ocean, tracing each step and hoping he would arrive. Even in the days before we each had cell phones, I stood in my own power, I pushed through with determination, and I controlled my own destiny. This year we celebrated the love of our new-born daughter and the fact that we had compiled a strong medical team for her health needs. I had tucked a sweet card in his suitcase and I had visions of finding one under my pillow as well that evening.

Each quartet lady was smiling, each chipper, and happy, and carefree – all of which I was not. I invited them in from the cold. What else was I to do?

Adjusting to being a new mom and taking care of a sick infant, I never thought so many different emotions could exist at once. Elation, fear, worry, joy, frustration, love- crazy, overwhelming love- all at the same time, in different breaths, depending on the look in my child’s eyes. This is NOT how it was supposed to be. I did not sign up for this. Didn’t I just spend the last nine months in prenatal yoga classes and taking vitamins and visualizing the perfect birth, the perfect life? Didn’t I do everything right? I was embarrassed by my anger, but I was a planner. You planned it out, you worked hard, and you got what you wanted. That had been my philosophy, up until now. Now I craved this simple vision of life…I desperately needed, wanted her to be okay…but at that very moment, I also longed for a shower.

Flustered, I repeated, “Serenade me?” I tried not to show my annoyance at the timing. She’s finally asleep! Why did my husband think this would be a good idea? I couldn’t be upset with him though- it was a very sweet gesture—in the abstract. With no audience except for me, one of the women began by blowing a loud note from her harmonica. I frantically waved my hands for her to stop. “Can we do this quietly, please? I just got my little one to sleep.” Each nodded and smiled, confirming their suspicions- a frazzled new mom. I assumed the women would just sing in a whisper, but no, each tucked in closer, gathering around me.

The first song was upbeat. The second song a romantic ballad. The third song I didn’t know. By the fourth song, I avoided eye contact. It felt long. I shifted. I just wanted a shower. I wished I was wearing a bra. I wanted out. I felt trapped.

And I was- I was trapped by my thoughts, by how I viewed my circumstance, by holding too tightly to the vision I had laid out for the future… It was then that I stopped wanting to hear the replay of my own familiar tune: “I want” “I wish” “I need” “I feel,” and started hearing one I had never witnessed before. Be here. Be here now. Then there was silence. I glanced up, expecting the women were finished. Each one was looking at me, contented, like they had all the time in the world to hold this space for me. “Do you have any requests?” Holding their gaze, tears began streaming down my face. I did, I had so very many requests but none that involved a song.

I picked, “You are my sunshine.” I had avoided singing it, even though it was a favorite childhood song that I had thought I would sing to my own sweet baby girl. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray…” As this circle of women surrounded me again with their beautiful voices, the hardened ball, the one thickly wrapped inside my chest, began to dissolve. There I stood in the moment…and suddenly I just let it all go. I let go of the tightly wound idea of what life should be like, let go of the fear of the future, and just stood in the absolute present moment. “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away, please don’t take my sunshine away.” It wasn’t about knowing how it would all turn out. It wasn’t about pushing through and taking control. It was about surrendering to the moment of what was here and now. Right now, right here, in my kitchen, I was being serenaded by four grown women in sequin bow ties. I wiped away the tears. There was nothing left to do but laugh, and surrender to the absurdity of it all.

I don’t remember if I got a shower that day, but I do know I received something much greater. A lesson on surrendering. Being present is a choice. Being open to those around us who are willing to pour love into empty spaces is a blessing. Holding space for others only requires our own willingness to offer time and talent. Our gift of presence is greater than anything else we have to give. Thirteen years later, with our baby-daughter entering her teen years, I finally asked my husband how he came up with the idea of sending a singing Valentine quartet to our home. He muttered something about thinking the baby might enjoy the music and not wanting me to spend the day alone. He also mentioned the other options he had considered…and I was very grateful he didn’t send the singing gorilla.

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