The lace has grown yellow with age. The edges are tattered, and the glue that held the pieces together has long dried up, leaving only a slight stain on the faded red paper. It is much smaller than I remembered. Perhaps time has caused it to shrink. It seems so fragile, resting here in my palm.
The words have nearly faded and even the heavy crayon marks have lost their luster over the years. There’s a smudge of unknown origin on the back, near where the paper was rubbed dangerously thin by uncounted erasure marks. The name is barely legible; the pencil lines are so weak that only the mind can read the letters.
I found it the other day, while doing one of those winter chores: cleaning closets. It’s nearly 25 degrees below zero outside and it seemed like a good idea to clear away some of the trappings of a thousand years.
February is the middle-of-winter month and most of us have fewer choices in this month than in any other. For those of us here in the GREAT NORTH, it is either shovel the walk or clean the closets. It’s warmer in the closet (although not by much!). So, armed with dust rag, trash bag and the radio, I open the door and slip in . . . not really thinking about what I might find. I thought I was just going to clean the closet.
But that first box sent me spinning. I found things I hadn’t even remembered I’d lost! I finally found the holiday gift I bought for my sister last year and then so carefully hid away. I found snow boots and sand pails, a beach towel, three old paperbacks, a pile of magazines (all saved because I wanted to clip something “important”). I found shoelaces for shoes no longer “alive” and several other things that had once been alive.
I found half a chocolate-covered cherry and part of a deck of playing cards.
It was quite a treasure box — filled with junk that once had had some meaning to someone, maybe even me.
I sorted through the coats and clothes, painfully aware that “someday” would probably not arrive in my lifetime. The too-short hemline and the too-small waist would not be mine again. I packed those things away, mindless of the hours and the drifting snow outside the windows.
When I found the box of scrapbooks, I sat down — now that the closet had some actual floor space. I touched the bindings, not quite sure I possessed the courage required to open the pages. The phone rang and forced me away from that decision. I left the closet and did not return until now.
That’s when I found the old paper Valentine, tucked away between the pages of a life lived long ago. As I held that once sticky, but now only stained piece of construction paper, I felt a connection with other Valentines, in other lifetimes. I heard a whisper of another voice: my own mother’s exclamation over my offered gift. It blended then with my voice, speaking across the generations of children bringing home paper messages of love. OH! I had forgotten THAT . . . it had become lost in the pain of memories.
It was a peaceful hour in that closet, listening to the sounds of my life, lived long ago and now remembered through the pages of these scrapbooks. I heard my own laughter and that of my friends, joining the laughter of my own children, seeking the laughter of tomorrow’s bearers of paper hearts.
Time does pass by. Generations of hearts have been delivered and received. Generations of love have been shared, just as generations of hurt have been endured. It felt timeless in the closet . . . as if when I opened the door, the giver of this Valentine would still be waiting!
Perhaps that is exactly what is happening. Perhaps the engineers of all of our hurts and happiness are still waiting — waiting for us to claim that love and bring their light back into being.
There were so many years when I could not bear this exchanging of paper hearts! There were so many years when I counted FIRST what I was missing, never realizing that in measuring my losses, I was truly losing what I did have!
The snow has drifted deep across the yard: only the tips of my flamingos’ knit-capped covered heads are visible in the white. But my vision has been cleared somewhat this afternoon by a visit in the closet where I found a memory that no length of time could fade. The lace IS faded, the edges tattered, but the heart always remembers and through the tears, the sounds of love given and received echo back to me.
Go find a Valentine, clean a closet, rummage through a drawer, search for some tangible evidence that, indeed, your loved one DID LIVE — and what a sweet treat that will be!