Love And The Lonely: A Valentine for the Disconnected
- Thursday, February 10, 2005
When I was in the second grade, I fell in love with Maggie Argo. Maggie Argo had golden hair and freckles and wore pretty print dresses. When she smiled, the whole room lit up, and I would feel a sort of warm flush across my cheeks.
Though I wasn’t really sure what love was supposed to feel like, and didn’t really admit even wanting to feel it, something nonetheless would wrap itself around my aching heart every time this little girl came near me. When I looked at her, an emptiness inside me filled. Maggie Argo took my breath away.
For what seemed like a long time in my short life, I had been looking for an opportunity to let the little girl with the golden hair know how I felt. The fear of doing so could never quite squelch the burning need; it seemed that I would literally burst if I didn’t at least let her know how important it was for me to be near her. Fall had passed, and Thanksgiving and Christmas…time gone by, and still I had not summoned the needed courage.
Then, I became aware of the perfect opportunity. And so for weeks I had been anticipating the day when all the students would write Valentine’s Day cards to one another. I had come to learn that Valentine’s Day was about Love, whatever that was, a day when people who cared for each other would do things to show their amorous feelings. My dad always gave my mom candy, and usually red roses. I remember her eyes lighting up as he would come through the door carrying the crimson blossoms in a glass vase. I wanted to make Maggie Argo feel like that.
Having resigned myself to the mysterious feelings within my skinny chest, I felt like Valentine’s Day would be a perfect chance to show my true feelings for Maggie Argo. I would write her a special card, and inside I would confess my undying affection. This was a most scary thought indeed. But not as scary, somehow, as the thought of going through life without her ever knowing how I felt.
The night before the big day, I spent a long time thinking about the right words to say. My mom bought a big bag of somewhat generic cards for my sisters and me. They had all sorts of corny sayings and cute drawings. There were zoo animal-themed cards (“Have a Grrrrreat! Valentine’s Day”), space alien cards (“I would fly to the moon for you, Valentine”), and even talking vegetables and fruits (“You drive me bananas, Valentine!”). I finally decided on something more intimate, with two attractive vegetables staring deeply into one another’s eyes—“Lettuce Be Valentines!” I thought Maggie Argo would like that one.
She and I had never really talked before, because each time I attempted to speak to her my tongue would swell, and I couldn’t swallow. If I made any sounds at all, they were mostly unintelligible, and Maggie Argo would simply smile that paralyzing smile, and walk away. I felt that the undeniable humor and wit embodied by the two heads of iceberg lettuce wrapped in an embrace would be the ice breaker, so to speak, allowing my confidence and cleverness to finally become known. I would let the card speak for me. After much tortured consideration, on the inside of the card I wrote these words:
I THINK YOU ARE THE NICEST GIRL IN THIS SCHOOL.
I had given the whole thing a great deal of thought. The words seemed right; not too assertive, but clearly holding deeper meaning. I put the card into its envelope, and placed it near my bed. Lying awake that night, I opened and reread the note many times before falling asleep, imagining Maggie Argo’s life-giving smile. I felt sure that this time, her smile would be just for me.
The next morning, I clutched the box of cards to my chest as I entered the classroom. Along the bottom of the chalkboard were taped brown paper lunch bags, one for each kid, our names written on them in red marker by our teacher. I followed my classmates along the line, dropping in cards that my mother had helped me complete. When I came to Maggie Argo’s bag, I froze. She had drawn a red heart on the front. The sight of this vulnerable-looking, hand-crayoned heart somehow brought into my spirit an unfathomable yet profound sense of…of responsibility.
In that terrible moment, all my confidence left me. I wasn’t at all sure I could go through with it. I had written more than just the perfunctory salutations. Suddenly, horrible images flashed through my mind: What if Maggie Argo were to read my intimate message out loud…what if all the other kids laughed at me? Or, even worse…what if she were to be embarrassed? My own reputation was expendable. Hers was not.
My shaking love note hovered over her open bag like a hand grenade. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and let love lead. Risking everything, I let the card drop in.
Later, as all the kids laughed and opened their cards, I could barely concentrate. I went through the motions, looking at the names in my cards, but barely seeing them. I kept an eye on Maggie Argo. Sitting several seats behind her, and one row over, I could see the delicate angle of her face silhouetted against the window. The rest of the room full of kids, the noise, the sunlight coming through the window…all of it seemed a dream, everything waiting for one moment, one heartbeat. My life slowed and stilled, and finally came to a breathless halt.
And then. Then, just as I had almost decided to run away, to give up on the hope of love and resign myself to the vague loneliness I had felt all my life…just as fear nearly separated me from the endless possibilities of joining hearts with one very special person…just then, Maggie Argo turned slowly in her seat, and looked right at me. And the world was silent.
Maggie Argo smiled.
Way back then, when I was a little boy still full of wonder, and unafraid to wonder such things, I once asked my grandmother why God made the world, and people along with it.
“God made us,” she said gently, “so that He wouldn’t be alone.”
Her answer satisfied the innocent boy in me then, and, in a place having little to do with theology, satisfies the boy in me still. Having created man, and knowing it to be good, God quickly decided that it was not good enough. We were never meant to be alone; it doesn’t feel right. Perhaps God didn’t like the feeling either.
Maybe this explains, at least a little, why some of us can feel lonely in a room full of people. I have experienced this feeling off and on for as long as I can remember. Now all grown up, I have learned some official-sounding names for this feeling, and I am mostly at peace knowing that I am an addict and have bipolar disorder. By God’s grace I haven’t had a drink or drug in sixteen years, and my depression is mostly under control. I have a wife and two kids who love me, and I love them. There is so much in my life to be thankful for now, because I have known destitution and isolation and an inner emptiness that threatened to kill me. God has been good to me.
At times like Valentine’s Day, though, I can’t help feeling a sort of veiled sorrow. I wonder why God decided to give me my life back, while so many others seem lost… lost within themselves, within the walls of their own sense of unworthiness, their own hopelessness. Maybe it’s because, as a counselor, I work with these people one on one, and stare into their eyes. And they look back into mine. And in these moments I am convicted, day after day. I can never forget. I know who they are. I know how they feel.
I wonder if Adam felt some indefinable ache that one night before he drifted off to sleep. I wonder if he dreamed of what God would do that night, taking a part of him to make another someone. And though it wouldn’t take long for the man and woman to learn fear and shame and the kind of haunting loneliness that to some degree lurks within each of us even now, I wonder if…I wonder if, only for a little while, the three of them felt eternally, blissfully connected.
This desire for connection drives us all, really. It drives us either away from or toward our Heavenly Father. We seek fulfillment in people, places, substances, behaviors… we drink and drug, work and worry, worshiping wealth, seeking sanctuary from the nagging discomfort… and always it is more and more and more, but still we cannot fill the emptiness. And yet, some of us are able to turn and run to the Well, and finally slake our thirst. At least until we wander away again, as little children often do. Having tasted the living water, though, we’re never the same again. We know.
It’s risky, of course. Love will cost us our very lives. Even when I was hopeless and drunk, the idea of giving myself over to this most powerful of things—Love—felt in some ways more frightening than the living hell in which I lived. And so I stood just out of reach, my hands hovering near the face of God, so afraid to risk touching such unfathomable beauty, peace, hope. I recall a man grown old before his time, lost and slowly dying in his dark addictions. And I remember how dangerous it felt, this surrendering to Love…
And then. Then, just as I had almost decided to run away, to give up on the hope of love and resign myself to the vague loneliness I had felt all my life…just as fear nearly separated me from the endless possibilities of joining hearts with one very special person…
Christ came, finally, to forever put an end to our loneliness. Through Him and in Him, we have access to an intimacy that defies our emptiness, and casts off our chains.
On this day celebrating love, I pray each of us might discover Love—the kind of Love that does not judge or shame, but gently opens to us the arms that won’t let go. I pray that every hopeless heart wandering through a broken world will turn for Home, finally seeing through our tears that no matter how many times we turn our backs on Jesus, He is always facing us. Succumbing to the ultimate connection, may each of us know this: When in helpless faith we surrender to Him our shattered souls, loneliness is a prison that cannot hold us.
I don’t know what ever happened to Maggie Argo. She moved away at the end of the school year, and I never saw her again. And though I was to learn many kinds of loneliness along my journey back to Christ, I had at least on that one Valentine’s Day come to understand that love is both fair and fleeting…a precious gift to be cherished rather than understood.
May the Love of Christ Jesus fill you, now and ever more. Amen.
Jim Robinson is a successful songwriter, musician, speaker, author, and recovery counselor. A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Robinson is founder of ProdigalSong, a Christian ministry utilizing music, speaking, counseling and teaching to convey healing for the broken spirit. For information about his ministry, music, or his book, also called Prodigal Song, visit www.ProdigalSong.com or contact Jim via e-mail: email@example.com.
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