Roy Exum: A Valentine’s Day Exercise

Friday, February 7, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I was whispered a beautiful story about a grammar school teacher the other day. Usually I am too thick or slow to pick up the clever “ulterior motives” of others and feel privileged when I am let in on the secret. But here we are one week shy of Valentine’s Day and I have a reason for telling you about this particular teacher.

There is a very clever lady among us who every three weeks or so gives her kids a secret test on Friday afternoon. Just before everybody takes the weekend off, the teacher asks the students to get a piece of paper and write down the names of the three other kids in the class who they would most like to sit next to at lunch. Pretty simple.

By the following Monday she whittles the responses down to just one boy or girl (there are no runners-up, of course) and then she announces the winner, holding that lucky child up as a role model for the other children to follow.

The teacher talks about good manners, sharing, laughter, the art of listening, and all the reasons we might most enjoy sitting with our favorite classmate at lunch. But our hero’s real mission is to identify which children in her class get the fewest votes. Sure; by identifying the outsiders, she is able to see that they are included among the more popular kids, using one subtle trick after another, and this way very few children slip through oft-cruel cracks of a grammar school society.

She has games, where sometimes the class will eat lunch seated alphabetically. Sometimes it is according to height, or birthdays, but only because the teacher knows the pressures and pain of being picked last, she is determined to help the children who are in most need of a boost. She uses a popularity contest to – what? – actually identify the least popular. Then she acts accordingly and it’s no secret why she is the school’s best teacher.

Next Friday is Valentine’s Day, our annual salute to love. While this may at first seem corny and quite different from my daily offering, I think it would be a very wonderful thing indeed if each of us could identify someone among us to single out on Valentine’s Day. Romance aside, it is an opportunity to love another person and just as cupid’s best work is done in the spirit of the day, I am asking this be an anonymous endeavor that will leave your mark full of wonder and delight by this time next week.

I found out some ago years ago that the best surprises are sprung when the recipient has no idea why something nice just happened or – even better – who in the dickens was responsible for such a sudden tingle. Hatching a caper is always fun but watching it unfold from a distance provides a warmth that not even the fiercest of all polar vortexes can counter.

Finding a worthy “mark” has never been as easy. Look around and you can find the woman who just got divorced, the man who lost his job, the kid who is suffering from the flu. Famous people are easy – I’ve never seen Mayor Andy Berke when he didn’t look like he needed to be told a funny joke. Darrell Patterson, the WTVC sports announcer who recently retired, needs our note to remind him we miss him on Channel 9 and Will Wade, the Mocs first-year basketball coach, would thrill over a complete stranger’s belief that his greatest victories are still ahead. Do you see how easy it is!

So the first step is identifying your pigeon. This weekend you need to be alert … maybe it’s the bag-boy at BiLo, the crossing guard in front of the school these cold mornings. The easiest targets are those you know are struggling the worst but the best ones are those who “think” nobody knows they are hurting, or those who think nobody cares.

For less than a dollar (with a stamp now costing 49 cents) you can write an anonymous note to be delivered next Friday on “The Day of Love.” For just a little more you can get one of those tacky cards that plays a verse of a song but it is what the note says that carries the day – be creative, thoughtful, honest … maybe even a personalized poem that rhymes and tells what an inspiration they are to you. Trust me, this will mean the world to someone if you’ll just try your best.

I can tell you from experience the domino effect is the most fun. That’s when one happenstance leads to the next, then the next. Those take a lot of creativity and planning but you’ve got a week if you’ll start today. As you know, the best practical jokes take four or five people to be successful but this isn’t a gag – love is real. Recruit two or three co-workers, make a plan, and next Friday you can cause something real nice and totally unexpected to happen in somebody’s life. If you really strive to make it great, they’ll never forget it.

In a world filled with emails and twitter, nothing in the world means as much as a hand-written note that comes in the mailbox. To keep somebody from recognizing your handwriting, you may have to use a font on the computer you rarely would but mail the note … not email … to get the full effect.

What if every one of us just told one person next Friday that we cared, that we have watched and pray over them? It seems to me that Valentine’s Day – one week away – offers the perfect opportunity and the time and effort – believe me – is nothing compared to what will happen at the other end of this very simple exercise.

If it works in a grammar school, it can work for us and I will promise that not as many, as a clever teacher knows, will fall through the cracks.

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