By Mandi Donohue

Having been single more often than not in life, Valentine’s Day was never about red roses from the quarterback or a diamond heart-shaped pendant from the “Forever Us” collection at Kay Jewelers. I learned early on that it could be a lot more than celebrating your significant other. Sometimes it was about doing things for others or allowing myself an evening of self-care.

In Los Angeles, my friends and I would celebrate our love for each other by having a “Pal-entines” brunch that over the past 10 years has became a fierce, bonded and life-changing sisterhood. Valentine’s Day is truly a day to celebrate love and it’s a beautiful sentiment.

As a 38-year-old American citizen, experiencing Valentine’s Day this February in 2017, I feel different. I’m finding the idea of love so … annoying. Agitating. Belittling. Does love have to be a verb?  I’m asking for a friend. We are a tense nation that has been bottling up powder keg emotions into fragile little jars. Filled to the brim, they have begun to seep out into our everyday lives in conversations about broccoli, feeding our dog, tying the shoes of our children: “What do you mean the coconut milk is in aisle two?!”

To make Valentine’s Day about love forces us to check in with ourselves and who we are in our lives. The lack of love we have experienced and shown to the world around us is a harsh reality to swallow and an ugly reflection to see in the mirror. To celebrate and choose love is to surrender our need to be right (yuck!), to surrender our childlike egos (I don’t wanna!), the ability to see our neighbor as human rather than monsters (kill the beast!).

It sounds painstaking, doesn’t it?  For some of us, to see our president as an actual human being might be the equivalent of peeling off our own skin. And vice versa.  In her book “A Return to Love,” Marianne Williamson talks about the ideas of love and fear. Love might be an easy one to wrap our brains around as it encompasses wonderful things like goodness, peace, compassion, kindness, joy and wisdom. Fear, on the other hand, is hidden in so many emotions — anger, judgment, sadness, resentment, cynicism, frustration, gossip, etc. She mentions that with this in mind, every moment of the day, in every experience that we have, we have the opportunity to choose one of these two things.

Do we choose love or do we choose fear? I had never thought of my own anger as being fearful before. It makes you think, “Where does this fear come from? What am I really afraid of? Do I need to be? What is a better solution?”

This week Bill Pope, Mary Sharman, Libby Hills, CB Thomas and Don Davidson put up a sign in Mazama that says “Mazama is a sanctuary community. All are welcome here.” I’ve heard a lot of support for the sign, which isn’t surprising in Mazama. But in some roundabout, vague ways, I have also heard not everyone “gets it.” What if you saw the sign five years ago and their were no politics attached to it? All are welcome here. The more the merrier. Let me add a little more water to the soup. We’re happy you’re here. The graciousness I have been shown in my life, whether it was a place to stay or a free meal, allows me to deeply appreciate that sentiment with a strong desire to pay it forward.  It sounds like my version of heaven.

I am not the one with all of the answers, nor am I qualified to be a poster child for love as I’ve seen the truth in my own reflection, but I do know that every day — even every moment — we get the opportunity to make a new choice. I am grateful for that. We get to start over. This year Valentine’s Day can prove to be bigger than ourselves if we let it. Love is an incredibly powerful thing. What will you choose?

PREVIOUSLY, IN MAZAMA