Merry Overholser column: Love lesson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The older I get, the less I find appealing about holidays, though not in a curmudgeony way. I simply feel the need to put into practice on a regular, if not daily, basis the ideas that support the celebration of them. I make an effort to express gratitude throughout the year; not just the thanks we make a point of voicing in November. This is a relatively new practice for me but I’ve found my life much fuller and easier if I look around and take notice of all I have, not what I lack. It’s not always easy, though; honestly, it takes quite a bit of effort.

Two weeks ago, early on a Sunday morning, I had to cough up a significant amount of cash after my dog bit into my inhaler, which necessitated an emergency trip to the vet. Although I was grateful Henry recovered, I have been mourning that money that could have helped me pay some pressing bills.

Valentine’s Day found me at the vet again. Yes, Valentine’s Day, when if we believe what Hallmark, Teleflora and expensive chocolate companies’ advertising would like us to believe, I should have been cozied up with my lover (whom I have yet to meet) and been languishing in the abundance of her purchased tokens of love.

Really, Valentine’s Day is at the top of my list of least favorite holidays. Even back in elementary school, I remember returning to my seat in class after the card exchange and counting my valentines only to overhear other girls shout out numbers that exceeded mine. Feelings of inadequacy and rejection filled my heart, usurping any feelings of love that were expressed toward me that day.

I no longer feel resentment or jealousy that I am not part of a couple right now, especially on a day when symbols of love are flaunted in our faces the way that the excessive consumerism at Christmastime insists that we bear gifts of tidings and joy, whether our budgets can tolerate it or not. February 14th holds no significance for me; whether I am part of a couple or not, I am a member of a loving village.

So, back at the vet, to pick up Henry, I’m standing at the counter, in a state of sticker shock with pen poised over checkbook; all I’m thinking is, “You’ve got to be kidding me; another multiple hundreds of dollars in less than two weeks!”  But then, I glance up and see a woman slowly walking toward the reception area from the examining rooms in the back. Looking like a lost child, grasping a file of papers, red-faced, quietly sobbing, trying to hold back the tears, but to no avail.

Other pet owners either know or fear what her face conveys; eyes lower around the area. She stands about 10 feet behind me and her pain is palpable. I’m sure it wasn’t silent because there were dogs and cats and their people checking in and out, but all I could hear were her attempts at silencing the pain of her heart as she couldn’t stop the sobbing. I felt so guilty standing there ready to pick up my dog, so I turned around and looked into her teary eyes and just said, “I’m so sorry. Pet hairs clung to her sweatshirt as evidence that she had embraced her companion through to its last moments.

I have never done this in my life, but I asked this stranger if it was okay to give her a hug. She shook her head, indicating yes and I put my arms around her and I could feel the too-familiar anguish of losing a loved one as she clung to me and cried.

Sometimes words are not sufficient, and you need someone to validate your feelings so you know you truly are not alone, so maybe that is what propelled me to offer outstretched arms. I turned around and went back to my check writing as she approached another desk to take care of the last bit of business for her never-to-be-seen-again companion. I heard the woman checking her out say, “I’m so sorry; I just went through the same thing myself two months ago.”

Offering ourselves up when we are most raw makes us the most human and centers us. I had the good fortune on this day of love to bring my bouncy bundle of furry energy home with me.

I think my lesson for the day is this — I don’t have to go looking for love. It is around me in many forms; it just takes me to open up my heart to see it. May you be lucky enough this and every day to spread some love.

Merry Overholser is a special education teacher with the Rowan-Salisbury School System and lives in Fulton Heights with her granddaughter.