In a month adorned with whimsical doily decor, things that glitter, and red and pink everything, the treasury of festive cheer denoting February has me thinking about the love in my own life. Contrary to my unapologetic cynicism towards Valentine’s Day, I firmly believe in the idea of true love; I met mine in college. We were about nineteen years old, connecting in typical sophomore fashion through a shared appreciation of a then-relevant band. In the months following, our time was marked by shared meals, long talks and driving around the picturesque Finger Lakes region that surrounded our school (and too many deep belly laughs to even count). Our connection was not only instant, but undeniable. In the years since - even with the addition of marriage, babies, idiosyncrasies and a share of hurdles - our bond has only intensified. I should probably confess that this love isn’t of the romantic variety, but a deep connection amongst best friends - Margie, Kim and Al - my confidants. While many of our sentences begin with “remember when” or include embarrassing anecdotes from any given time, our strength and seemingly unshakrable bond comes from an evolution of respect, support and lessons learned (plus we have a lot of dirt on one another). Each serve as a co-author to my story and with these girls, it only gets better with time.
It’s this tight-knit friendship circle that inspired a search for an evolved approach to celebrating acceptance and support. We began at Opportunity Works Connecticut, a nonprofit organization committed to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities through meaningful and gainful employment services. Their program offers skill training, mentoring and advocacy that helps individuals live a happy, productive life in their communities. What’s really to love is that through these doors, everyone is treated with respect, dignity and purpose. At Academy Hill School in Springfield, area students are embracing their local environment and learning about conservation through the “Teaching With Trout” program through the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Additionally, we share sweet treat recipes, unique outing ideas to celebrate love locally and offer a resource for getting outside and enjoying the outdoors.
In Finland Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivää, an all-inclusive celebration that emphasizes the value of friends, family, neighbors, community, pets, and those who have been beside us at trying times. Call me crazy - and certainly unconventional - but I don’t believe your “better half” needs to be designated as just one person, heck I have a whole tribe that keeps me in line (Lord knows, I need it). Instead, I reserve this space for all those dear who ease my burdens, perpetuate joy, encourage greatness and make me laugh hysterically (my lot is to return the favor). As we approach the holiday designated by affection - which is a welcomed distraction amongst the negativity this year - I hope your days are defined by an authentic appreciation for all those who bring love and meaning to your world.