The Love Tree
A short essay on whether the meaning of love and loving can be communicated without spending money on presents.
On Manifesting Love on Valentines Day (and every day...)
It's a crisp and overcast winter afternoon and I'm sitting on the front porch with my six-year old nephew, Mikey. Mikey is complaining bitterly about the fact that his mother brought home regular old "nothing special" Valentine's Day cards for him to give out to his classmates on the morning of his first Valentine's day party at school. "But what about the cupcakes with pink frosting your mom's making Mikey?" I ask. Mikey doesn't answer me; he just puts his head down, folds his little body inward, and sighs dejectedly. The cards are a painful embarrassment to Mikey. They don't have lollipops or yummy chocolate kisses nestled into heart shaped holes like the cards his next door neighbor and best friend, Sammy, will be handing out. As I struggle to console him, a task that over the years has seemed almost effortless with this uncommonly cheerful child becomes an exercise in futility. Eventually l run out of arguments and explanations, and so I join my nephew in silence and we both sit brooding. I'm suspecting that Mikey's unhappiness isn't about his meager offering as much as what his offering represents to him. I'm afraid that what he has to give has somehow become confused with what he doesn't have, and even more disturbing, with who he is.
In a culture that breeds consumerism and permits corporations to manipulate the emotions and desires of its citizens by purposely creating discontent, our children are asking for name brand products long before they've learned how to read. And in this land of plenty where it's been estimated that the typical American spends six hours a week shopping, works 165 more hours a year today than in 1965, and parents average just forty minutes a week playing with their children, is it really all that difficult to understand how a six-year old boy might be beginning to define himself based in part on what he possesses? How do children escape the very traps that those who are supposed to teach them repeatedly keep falling into?
continue story below
It begins to rain and Mikey and I head into the house to join the rest of his family. I sit and chat with my sister while he and his siblings settle down to watch an after-school special. Within moments the television screen is dominated by a scene of an absolutely beautiful young woman moving gracefully along the shoreline with her long hair gently blowing behind her. In the background a seductive and yet sophisticated male voice is reciting snippets of Shakespeare's "How Do I Love Thee." Next, there is a dramatic pause and the virginal beauty stops walking and turns to face the camera. "Do you really love her?" The voice gently asks with substantial feeling, "then buy her a diamond this Valentine's Day." The commercial ends while the message lives on...
How is it that a holiday that has been understood to represent something as sacred and as ineffable as love and whose origins have been estimated to reach as far back as ancient Rome become linked with elaborate gifts, cartoon characters, and various other products that support entire industries?"
Throughout the week, I keep remembering Mikey's sadness. While I recognize that we can't meet all of our children's needs and respond to their seemingly endless wants, I'm still haunted for some reason by my nephew's bitter disappointment. It feels as though I owe something to Mikey. And while I'm not sure what that is, I'm reasonably certain that it can't be purchased with fancy cards.
What does Valentine's Day truly represent in America today other than boxes of chocolates, flowers, cards with messages of love written by a stranger, gifts, and dinner plans? Does February 14th cause most of us to pause and closely examine our feelings for the significant others in our lives? Do we contemplate what it is specifically that we want to celebrate in regards to our loved ones and our loving? And if it's truly love that we want to manifest on the one day of the year devoted to loving, than how can we best accomplish this? While presents can be wonderful to give and to receive, are they as effective as our total presence in communicating our appreciation, our devotion, and our caring? In a world where capitalism has become the dominant spirituality of our time according to Jack Nelson Pallmeyer, in a culture which offers up pleasure as our highest good, consumption as our sacrament, and "get the most for your money" as our moral code, where does love fit in, and how do we live it?
There are numerous definitions of love that exist and countless instructions for how best to demonstrate our loving. Sadly, many of our messages regarding love are now delivered by giant corporations as diverse as Channel, Volvo, All State, and Hallmark. Jean Anouilh defines love as "above all, the gift of oneself" and while this perspective might inspire us to nod our heads in agreement, it won't necessarily be reflected in our day to day behaviors.
We have so many opportunities to communicate our love without spending money in spite of what our apostles of advertising suggest to the contrary. We can truly listen to a loved one with our whole hearts, without judgment, and without becoming distracted. We might joyfully engage in a random act of kindness, make breakfast in bed, an intimate dinner for two, or assemble our favorite recipes, copy them into a notebook and deliver them to a friend. We could write a poem, surprise our husbands with a tape of love songs that capture how we feel about them, or our wives with a written record of how we first met along with some recollections of special times that we've shared. We can wash and wax our grandparent's car, or kidnap our child from school in the middle of the day and go on a picnic. We can deliver a coupon entitling a tired parent to an evening out while we baby sit, or another that promises our assistance in completing a specific task to someone else whom we care about. The possibilities for manifesting our love are almost endless...
On Saturday I've decided to answer the small voice that has kept calling me back to Mikey. My daughter Kristen and I assemble art supplies and pay him a visit. We ask him if he wants to make a "Love Tree." Mikey is intrigued with the idea and so we immediately get to work. We gather branches from outside and fasten them together. Next, Kristen draws hearts on red construction paper and Mikey and I cut them out. On the front of a heart Mikey writes the name of his classmate, and on the back we inscribe something special about the person whose name the heart bares. On Valentines Day the children will discover a message of appreciation specifically written to them hanging from the branches of our modest little tree. They will be small messages of love delivered from my nephew's giant heart. When we are finished with our task, Mikey's eyes are shining. He can't wait to bring his tree to school and he tells me excitedly that he knows just where he'll place it -- at the head of the platter that contains his mom's cupcakes.
Staff, H. (2008, December 31). The Love Tree, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, May 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/the-love-tree