When I was…oh let’s say…nine, I was attending an all-girls school, which was situated next door to the all-boys school. My recollection isn’t as crystal clear as I would like it to be but I’m pretty sure this memory is stored from February 1988.
At 11 am we had our “small break”, which meant hundreds of kids would pour out onto the playground to breathe in the fresh cold air, skip, dance and walk (running was prohibited when playing on the yard) for just a few minutes. February is rarely met with warm weather or the sun shining so playing out on the wet and often muddy grass was out of the question. Which on this particular February morning was a problem for one young curious and excited schoolgirl girl as she stood on the edge of the tarmacadam where it delicately lined up with the border of the forbidden grass and looked out at the tall and heavy wire fence to the boys' school.
Now I wasn’t just blankly staring over there, a boy I knew was waving to me to come closer. He courageously threw a very small parcel sky high over the fence, where it climbed the air and then came crashing down amidst the long grass on the school premises.
I think at this point what you need to know about me is I’m not a rule breaker. I’ve never taken much pleasure in rebelling unless of course the prize was surely worth it. And a small parcel being flung into the air on a grey school morning seemed like a worthy prize. So without hesitation my shiny Clark school shoes darted across the wet squeaky grass to retrieve what I felt rightfully belonged to me.
But before I had time to push that gift deep into my pocket and return to the safety of the yard I heard my name being called in that strict severe tone that only a nun can muster up as quickly as they can seemingly appear from nowhere.
She made it clear that I was to open my hand and reveal to her what that boy had thrown across the fence. I was mortified, I frantically scanned through everything in my brain that I had learnt in my life so far for a solution to get out of this situation with as little fuss as possible. I even considered closing my eyes and hoping she would have disappeared by the time I would reopen them.
I didn't go with that option, I chose to slowly and tentatively peel back my fingers to reveal a carefully wrapped up Rolo (the last Rolo). I glanced up at her and shockingly a large, broad smile spread across her usually vexed old face, and to this day I swear I think I heard her laugh as she walked away. I couldn’t believe it, I had gone against strict policy and had broken the rules in full view of watchful eyes but something had softened and created a moment of humanness between a nine old girl and a mature woman (in my child's eyes she was about 100 yrs old but on reflection maybe not). Normally the interactions I shared with her consisted of me being told to sit up, pay attention, wake up, stop talking but right now there was a strange understanding and appreciation of one another. Suddenly a small gesture between two kids had captured a moment of innocence and sweetness and not only made this nun smile but also not scold me. This was pretty unusual.
This memory comes back to me as a reminder of how we are all ultimately searching and seeking kindness and compassion in each other. No matter where we are in life, how rich, how poor, young or old at our core we want the same things, love, understanding and connection. And these feelings are powerful and contagious, and they have the ability to spread thick and fast when we know how to direct them.
When we look towards Valentine’s Day in February we can commonly think of it as being geared towards couples and lovers, a moment for big gestures and overpriced Hallmark cards. And whilst I don’t believe that declarations of love should be scheduled annually and acted out publicly I do believe it is an opportunity for us to train, advance, work out and develop these beautiful and delicate human traits.
This isn’t a story about acts of love on Valentine’s Day but rather it’s about the little moments that we all share and experience. The bravery in reaching out to someone to connect, the breaking of rules for something our hearts desire and the wisdom in mutual amusement and appreciation for each other and the situation we inhabit.
Happy Valentine’s Day.