Jillybean's Blog











{February 14, 2013}   “Say What You Need to Say…” Happy Valentine’s Day!

Amazingly enough, the most important lesson I’ve ever learned about love and Valentine’s Day didn’t come from my longest relationship, my extremely solid and supportive relationship with my parents, or even my first love (though, these did teach me PLENTY). No, my most important lesson about Valentine’s Day came in 1997…Friday, February 14th, 1997 to be exact.

I was a senior in high school.

“Take out a sheet of notebook paper and pen…”
I’d looked around at my classmates. Did anyone know what our teacher had in mind that day? Anyone?
It was religion class, “Theology of Death.”

It was fourth period, right before lunchtime. The weekend was three periods away. Come on, wasn’t this supposed to be a “throwaway, party day” at school?

I sat at my desk, wearing my usual smart-assy “screw everyone” Valentine’s Day attire. BLACK. ALL black. My best friend Michelle and I wore black every Valentine’s Day as “a statement.” Hell with that stupid holiday.

Falling in line with my (unnaturally pessimistic) view today was the thought: “Of COURSE there would be a pop quiz.” I rifled through my unorganized backback.

“F-ing Valentine’s Day and there’s a quiz.”

This prospect fed right into my teenage angst-ridden view of the day in general. It just HAD to suck in one way or the other.

Mind you, I had no idea back then what REAL heartache entailed. I’d thought at the time that an unrequited crush on the same guy since sixth grade constituted a broken heart of epic proportions. As a high school senior, with yet still no return on the investment of emotion for six years…was thinking Valentine’s Day just COULDN’T be any worse for me…constantly thinking about a guy who still didn’t want me topped off with a pop quiz I was bound to fail made me pout. Openly.

I held my pen steady…ready for the first question.

Our teacher wrote something on the chalkboard. I couldn’t see it.
“OK,” my Ms. Saunders announced…”I want you to pick three people. Three people in your life who are very important to you.”

“Wait, what?”

Everyone else seemed to share my confusion.
After meeting our blank stares, she continued.
“Go ahead, pick three people.”
“Is this a joke?” I asked Sara. Sara, who had ZERO concerns about Valentine’s Day seeing as how she was already pregnant and on the road to being married a few days after graduation, just smiled at me.
“What?” she asked.
“Is this a…never mind,” I repeated. It was a lost cause. Sara was already living in a world of which I wouldn’t have an inkling until I was…who knows how old?

“Pick three people, NOW,” Ms. Saunders repeated. “Right now.”

I raised my hand.

“Um, can they be dead, or…?”
“Good question, Jill. They have to be alive right now, and they should mean a great deal to you.”
“Sweet!” I thought. “That’s easy.” The people closest to me were Mom, Dad and my sister, Jenni. DONE. Easiest pop quiz ever.

Everyone wrote theirs down and looked up.

“Now, since this is ‘Theology of Death,’ we’re going to do an exercise. Everyone write down your last words to these people.”

Again. Blank stares.

“OK, in OTHER words,” Ms. Saunders continued. “Say, you found out TODAY that you had a terminal illness. Say, you knew you were gonna die in a week, write down what you would say to these three people you picked.”

The room was abuzz with irreverent questions.

“Wow, that’s not depressing. Should I include the will…or…?”

“Wait, am I a senior in high school at the time, or…?”

“Do they know we’re sick? Do we tell them we’re dying???”

Ms. Saunders tried to humor us without succumbing to frustration.

“No, no,” she said. “Right now, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? Don’t overthink it, just do it.”

Not overthinking was a tall order for a classroom full of dramatic late-teens. But then it suddenly occurred to me…This exercise is about saying what we want to say. Nothing else. So I started writing.

Suddenly, things I’d always wanted to get off my chest and admit to came rushing out. This potential catharsis was merely between myself and the piece of paper.

OK…I’d felt like a failure of a daughter at times, but I loved with all my heart. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I’d always be grateful…when I ran away and hid for hours that one time when I was 12, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone…I was just scared. That time I said I hated my stepmother? That was merely out of anger. And you know what? No one, NO one had better parents than I did. No one had a better best friend in their little sister than I did…even though I was in a near coma during an allergy attack at 6-years-old, I knew Jenni never left my side for one second. I even heard her praying and bargaining with God for my life, even though I was physically powerless to acknowledge and reassure her…when I got mad at everyone I was really just vulnerable…and, while we’re at it, did any of them know how much I needed and loved them even when I needed them to believe I was flat-out pissed off about something stupid and inconsequential? Did they know that everything I did…be it tennis, grades, ANY accomplishment I had…was because they believed in me?

I stopped writing.

WOW, that felt good to get out.

I looked around. Some of my classmates were still writing when I put my pen down. Others had ignored the task completely. But I had a peaceful grin…the look of a teenager who had just released a lifetime of regret in the span of several minutes. That feeling was altogether unexpected. I kept going.

“Time’s up, everyone.”

OK, 20 minutes left in the period. Almost lunch time.

Today might not be so bad after all.

But what did this have to do with Valentine’s Day?

Ms. Saunders had a mischievious look on her face. She knew something we didn’t.

She calmly walked over to her desk and took out a box.

“OK, so this exercise isn’t for the feint of heart. But it’s Valentine’s Day, and I want you all think about what I’m about to say.”

She opened the box.

As she walked down the isles of desks, she dropped three envelopes on each one. Paired with three greeting cards.

Oh, no. The sinking feeling in my stomach belied what came next.

“For those of you who are brave enough, I want you to take these cards,” she said as she approached my desk.

BOOM. There were my three blank Valentine’s, staring me right in the face.

I had a lump in my throat. I knew what was coming.

“…and I want you to look at what you wrote…and don’t, just don’t think about it…I want you to copy, WORD FOR WORD, what you just wrote…address the envelopes with the people’s names you chose, and give these Valentines to them when you go home tonight.”

We were all silent.

“What?”

She couldn’t be serious. Take these private thoughts, and, GIVE THEM AWAY? Uncensored???

“I want you to treat this Valentine’s Day differently than any other. I want you to have the courage to repeat exactly what you just said, and give these messages of love to the loved ones in your life tonight. Say what you have always wanted to say…without holding back. Give the gift of yourself this year.”

“Holy shit,” I thought. “I said a lot of things in this exercise that make me look weak, make me sound stupid, make me look…human.

I took a deep breath.

Nothing I had written in a birthday card, Christmas card, or thank you note even remotely resembled what I was about to give away now…in writing.

But I accepted the challenge.

I’d resolved to take my “final words” and make them everyday words. These were true sentiments from the heart, words I thought would never see the light of day, let alone another pair of eyes. They were words written in anticipation of a grade for the rawness of their honesty.

And now I was about to copy them down into a Valentine…and let them go.

Truth be told, it felt so good to do that…I went home and did the same for three MORE people. Sure I felt vulnerable…sure I felt weak and scared. But I’d never felt so alive and powerful in my entire life. And the feeling was ADDICTING.

So addicting, I couldn’t stop with just three. I couldn’t stop at just one year.

In fact, who knew? I may just wear pastels for Valentine’s Day next year.

And now, 16 years later, Valentine’s Day is not a lame holiday meant only for lovers and those lucky in the throes of infatuation. For me, it’s a holiday meant for friends, family and those who have changed us. Those who have made us stronger and more optimistic, and more like the people we want to be even though a battered heart may tempt us to hold back when we should take a risk. Valentine’s Day is about truth and love…love for people, love for life, and love for ourselves. It’s about loving the truth enough to let it go.

As a senior in high school, with the help of that class, I’d figured it out. In being honest and saying what I’d always needed to say under the guise of anonymity, and being who I need to be, I’d really discovered what true love is all about. And, as everyone knows, Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating love, no matter how it takes shape…or what higher ground is waiting for us.

To this day, I step onto the edge of that cliff and look over with a few people every year. Valentine’s Day is the day I celebrate where unspoken words will never be left unsaid. And sometimes I’ll even include a “Be Mine” sugar heart in the envelope.

Valentine’s Day, for me…from that special senior year day on…celebrates courage…and saying what you need to say.

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Sandy says:

Thanks so much for sharing this Jill. I so look forward to reading your blogs. Someday I hope you will let me read your Master’s Thesis on hereos. You are an excellent writer. Happy Valentine’s Day. Sandy



Great post, Dear! The “last words” letter sounds like such an interesting exercise. Awesome that you still do this đŸ™‚



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