Every February, retailers across the U.S. unroll yards of pink and red bunting, tack hearts on every flat surface, and load their shelves with chocolates, flowers, and jewelry. And every February, those who feel left out of the love holiday complain that Valentine’s Day should be named Single Awareness Day or call for a boycott of the manufactured holiday with such impossibly high standards.
Love (and the lack of it) can be awfully hard on the soul.
But as uncertain as love can seem, it’s still the single best thing we can allow ourselves to feel… and to give. This Valentine’s Day, whatever your situation, take a moment to consider this: you have options. If you live in a developed country, there’s a good chance that you can take steps to change your circumstances, explore possibilities, and shape your life. We are taught this from childhood.
Ask a child in the suburbs what she wants to be when she grows up. Her answer could be “I want to be a pilot” or “I want to be the President of the United States” or “I want to be a rock star.” My kids dream of making people laugh or forging careers as professional musicians.
Try asking that question of a child in one of the poor communities where we work. These children have no such dreams. Often, they respond, “If I grow up….” The future is by no means guaranteed, and these little ones figure that out at a tragically early age.
When I visited a family carving out a life from the side of a mountain in Bolivia, it was this inability to look ahead or look up from the desperate striving to survive that surprised me. I cannot comprehend a life without hope and without dreams. But when we talked with the mother and father in the yard between their house and their kitchen (they cooked in a hut separate from their sleeping area), it was clear. They had potential but no ability to see it, let alone the margin to cultivate it. They were just trying to stay alive.
In our work with those at the poorest levels of society (both here in the United States and overseas in developing countries), we define poverty as a lack of options, lack of margin, and lack of hope. The people in the poorest parts of the world have lost the ability to dream. They spend every ounce of energy just trying to survive the day. Stepping back to take stock, look for alternatives, or imagine a different life? That is a luxury they can’t even conceive of.
You can give these children that hope. You can open the door to choices, help their families build a little margin so they can bounce back from setbacks, and create an environment in which they can dream… and love. The quickest way to feel love is to give love. And there are few things more loving than opening your heart to a child in need.