04/11/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why We Need Holidays -- Even Valentine's

There's no shortage of tragic news these days. Like many, I struggle to respond to the vastness of all this global pain. And now, just to top it off, I've got this doozy of a cold.

I toddle off to the drug store for some flu meds and find aisles lined with red velvet chocolate boxes and chubby cupids winking my way. Just breathing the air gives me a sugar rush. But how relevant is this over-commercialized holiday? Do we really need it? As I reach for some double strength cold remedy, it hits me: Heck yes we do, probably now more than ever! I need the respite and renewal that holidays bring me, balancing this overwhelming darkness with glimmers of light and joy. And while holidays remind me that there is more to life than just the daily grind, they also inspire me to reach out to others in meaningful ways. So, as artificially man-made as this day seems, I even need Valentine's Day!

Back in second grade, Miss Ridell put out a brightly decorated Valentine's mailbox for kids to fill up with Valentine's cards. Peanuts characters were the cool choice from Woolworth's -- 20 for just 49 cents. Newcomers to school, like me, were likely to get just a few cards, if any, and certainly none from the "little red haired girl" we might have longed for. Like other kids, I could relate to Charlie Brown's feeling left out on Valentine's Day. And today, isn't the whole world still longing for love?

Some say the opposite of love is indifference. Certainly our hearts have been opened as we now make a difference in Haiti. This year, I have friends who are planning to volunteer time locally as well, in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and retirement homes, because as they say, "We need some love in our own back yard too." From my own experience, the good feeling that comes from sharing compassion anywhere on Earth makes me a getter as well as a giver.

When times get tough, pulling together with others strengthens my heart. As an adult, I didn't forget the disappointment Valentine's Day can bring, or the thrill. In my own way, I've tried to spread love. When I had a Christmas company, I offered glass ornament roses, hearts, and cupids. These were commercial for sure, but given as tokens of love, they had meaning if there was real love behind them. I've gotten creative, too, over the years expressing my Valentine's gratitude for great teachers I've had, a doctor who got me through an illness, and even forgiving a difficult boss.

And the big bucks made by those selling cards, chocolates and flowers? Maybe it's an economic stimulus love program for all those stores and companies that need at least one great day a year so their employees can keep their jobs! We all have families to feed, right? Sure, the nightly news tells me we are a war-loving nation, but if the billions spent on Valentine's Day are any indicator, I think we are also a nation in love with love.

For over a thousand years, the Church recognized Valentine as a saint. In 1969, the Pope demoted him. But the Age of Aquarius is here, and undaunted, the love beat of romance goes on. Recently, a pal stressed about what to get his wife. "I don't want to land in the dog house like last year." Expectations can run high, but I always found that surprising my partner at different times of the year with candlelit dinners, little gifts, maybe a romantic weekend getaway -- these helped me say "Happy Valentine's" more meaningfully than trying to cram it into just one day. But at the very least, Valentine's Day gives forgetful hubbies at least one day a year to say "I love you."

I'm not limiting myself to just romantic love either. There are so many kinds of enduring love to be found and shared. There's nurturing parental love, and the supportive love of friendship. I've got single friends who realize an essential ingredient of love is also taking care of themselves. They've earned it. A good meal, a hot scented bath, a party with friends... chocolate festivals, poetry readings, concerts, or a vintage romantic comedy... all ways to catch our breath and hopefully even connect with others.

And what about the next day? Valentine's lasts a day, but what about love? Maybe the key to Valentine's is knowing that, in a good way, we really do need each other. Roses, chocolates, and cards that say, "Be mine," are a good start, but I also look to the love that does not come bound in a box. Suppose I try to extend love beyond borders to the entire human family? Can we shoot a few less missiles and a few more love arrows? Poets say real love is about wanting a person's good wherever they are. Love extends an open hand to the universe.

But, how do I get there? How can I behold all I see with the eyes of love? For me, love flows from my belief that we are all divine in essence, all a part of God by whatever name we use. It's this common connection that paves my way.

How about you? Try it as a lark... No moment is too small. Take your own, beautifully human love global. Become a living Valentine. There would sure be a lot less empty Valentine's boxes, and besides, you'll be amazed by how the world changes before your very eyes.