In the entire calendar year, there is only one day that I love more than Valentine’s Day. There is something about a day set aside for the purpose of actively celebrating and spreading love that enthralls me.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a long, chatty letter to my friend, David Parrish, whom you met in the Overture of Camerado, I Give You My Hand. David has lived at Indiana State Prison for the past twenty years.
In this letter, I mentioned the origins of my love affair with Valentine’s Day. I told David that I was hopelessly infatuated with Valentine’s Day, and that it all started with my passion for exchanging those little dime-store Valentine cards with my schoolmates way back when I was in elementary school. I told David that opening those little cards always gave me immense pleasure. I told him that I kept my brown lunch bag that served as a “mailbox” in my room for months, and I would read my Valentines over and over again.
And it’s true. I would pause to consider why a certain card had been given to me by a particular person. Did the verse printed on the front make sense in terms of our relationship? If not, what did that signify? I also puzzled over unsigned cards, trying by the process of elimination to deduce whom it might have been from, and then I’d wonder about the reasons behind the anonymity. I think I loved Valentines because they were a tactile connection to art and verse as well as a psychological exercise in matching written expressions with personalities.
I was, in short, a Valentine geek.
Well, yesterday I received a puffy envelope from my pen pal, Mr. Parrish. I was mystified. What could be inside? I noticed that it cost more than three dollars to mail, which represents over thirteen hours of labor in his world. I cut the envelope open carefully. Inside was a stack of envelopes, each with my name on the front. For a moment, I was confused. How in the world had David been able to buy and write all of these cards at once? As I sifted through the pile I realized that the handwriting on the front of each card was not the same. So I started opening, and reading. And opening, and reading. The cards, one more beautiful than the other and all incredibly inspirational, had been sent to me by some of the men who are imprisoned at maximum-security Indiana State Prison. A sampling of the personal messages they wrote:
“I pray that your loving Spirit, honed in your youth, continues to be shared as if every day were Valentine’s Day.”
“Dear Maura, Have a nice Valentine’s Day. P.S. Miss you at church. With love always,”
“We thank you for your contribution in a man’s life who has done so very much for us. Happy Valentine’s Day! May you feel much love on this day that celebrates it.”
“Maura, it’s people like you who make life worth living. Bless you. Happy V-Day.”
“God bless you, my sister. Your adeptness coupled with your infectious personality left an indelible impression on me. I thank you so much for your time spent with us and for encapsulating the essence of a great man. Only a great person could do that. Today I celebrate you with all of the adoration you deserve and may that adoration stay in your heart always. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“To Maura on this Valentine Day. We all miss you & think of you often. You have been a bright light in a dark place. Thank you. And may you have the best Valentine’s Day ever.”
and, from David himself, who must have worked insanely hard to put this immense project together,
“Here’s to you and your hopeless infatuation! Don’t ever stop being a geek! Love, David.”
David sensed the importance of my nostalgic remembrance of days gone by and then set about re-creating that experience for me.
Yes, I cried. Of course I cried. In fact, I think that any person who can read this story without getting at least a little teary-eyed might possibly need a heart transplant. A Valentine-heart transplant.
Prisoners are people too.