How a Table for Two Becomes a Table for Many

outward-loveI have always loved Valentine’s Day. In elementary school, I made valentines for each person in my class. My best friend and I used this opportunity to be a bit bolder toward our crushes. Our bravery only went so far as confessing “You’re nice” and writing “Love, Sarah” rather than simply “From, Sarah.” But on Valentine’s Day we’d still squirm anxiously in our seats, eyeing our crush across the room as he skimmed through his stack of cards, hoping that maybe we’d make eye contact and he’d understand what that simple phrase really meant. Each year we went home without any romantic gesture of reciprocity from the boys, but bags of candy provided a sweet balm for our hearts. And for an 8-year-old, that was just as good.

One of my favorite Valentine’s Day memories was during my first year in graduate school. I had recently ended a long-term relationship and knew that I could very easily fall prey to the feelings of loneliness the holiday often causes when you don’t have a significant other. So, my friend and I organized a large dinner at her house and invited a lot of amazing women from our program. We each contributed to a delicious potluck meal, drank wine, and laughed a whole lot. I had recently moved to Boston from across the country, and as I looked around the table, surrounded by women I admired deeply but hadn’t known five months earlier, I felt tremendously blessed. In the period after that relationship’s end I struggled with loneliness, but that Valentine’s Day was one day completely free of the emotion. It was full of love and gratitude.

Andy and I always want our home to be a place of hospitality, a place for others to find love, acceptance and friendship. In order to make that happen we have to go out into the world, commit to loving others more boldly, and allow the bond of our love to create a ripple effect.

Andy and I met a couple years later, a few days after Valentine’s Day. So, it was not until almost a year into our relationship that I had to discover the cold, hard truth: Andy is not a fan of Valentine’s Day. We went out for a nice dinner the weekend of Valentine’s Day, but he kept emphasizing that we were celebrating our one-year anniversary, definitely not Valentine’s Day. There was no need for a Hallmark holiday to define how and when we express our love.

When year number two came around, I had been in discussion with a dear friend of mine who wanted to visit some weekend, so I suggested she come over Valentine’s Day weekend. She seemed hesitant at first, not wanting to disrupt a romantic weekend for us, but I assured her we didn’t have any plans. Valentine’s Day arrived, and despite Andy’s grudge against the holiday, when I got home from work I found a sweet Valentine next to a special ingredient for one of our favorite cocktails. My friend got in for the weekend, Andy came over, and we cooked dinner, made the cocktail and then raised our glasses to love, friendship and Valentine’s Day.

I was grateful to have my dear friend with us that year because it reminded me that love should never be entirely inward; it should be a force in the world that propels us outward. Love should be expansive. It should welcome others in; it should free space at the table for conversation, fellowship and laughter. Andy and I always want our home to be a place of hospitality, a place for others to find love, acceptance and friendship. In order to make that happen we have to go out into the world, commit to loving others more boldly, and allow the bond of our love to create a ripple effect.

Valentine’s Day continues to be a holiday that is grounded in beautiful friendship for me, from those afternoons with my best friend in elementary school, to the amazing women I studied with in graduate school, to the different communities I’m part of today. Andy is my best friend (who, by the way, is coming around to this holiday after all!), but I’m so grateful that together we can celebrate Valentine’s Day with the community we are so blessed to have. A dozen roses and a reservation for two are not required for that (though chocolate will always be welcome.)

 

 

Sarah Otto is originally from warm and sunny Phoenix. She moved out East for the Master of Divinity program at Boston College, fell in love with her husband, Andy, and stayed. She currently works as a campus minister at Providence College.