And February was so long / that it lasted into March / and found us walking a path / alone together.
February has never been my favorite month. It's cold and grey and gloomy, even if you don't personally have any big issues around Valentine's Day, it's hard to avoid the cultural trend toward Messy Feelings as it approaches. But Valentine's Day 2008 threw an extra kink in the works, and since then February has been...complicated. Even as the trauma of the event itself has faded, there is no sense for me of Valentine's Day as something romantic.
What it has become instead since then is a reminder of greater connectedness. After the shooting, the city and campus came together and supported each other through something awful, and though there are more people who understand it every day, it's difficult to really know what it's like until you're part of it. In the midst of the mourning and the support, though, there was also an ongoing battle about whether the shooter deserved to be mourned as well; whether there should be a cross for him on memorial sites, whether we should talk about him at all.
A few years before that happened, I fell in love with a poorly-rated 2005 movie called The Interpreter. There's a lot to criticize about that movie, certainly, but there's a line from it that has stuck with me in all the years since: vengeance is a lazy form of grief (I've also paraphrased it as vengeance is a lazy form of justice). In the weeks following the shooting, it was that thought that drove me. I argued vehemently in favor of mourning Steven, of naming him and taking responsibility for him. Something had happened, somewhere along the line, that someone could have changed, and though nobody could likely know for certain what it was, I felt a sense of responsibility. Steven Kazmierczak committed a crime that changed my life in a lot of negative ways, and I do not forgive him for doing so. I have many complicated thoughts about the causes of young white men's violence, and not all of them are generous. But I know that the causes of violence are complicated and often fed on cultural trends and gaps in support systems, so it's never about just one person's actions.
So for me, nine years out, Valentine's Day isn't about romance. It's something that in my heart edges up against Jewish traditions of community atonement on Yom Kippur. I spend the day thinking about the ways we fail the vulnerable, and about the ways we can recover from those failures (I have sinned. We have sinned. For the sins we have committed, we must...). I think about community and culture, about resources and relationships and shared responsibilities. It's about love, deeply and thoroughly, but not about romance.
I don't ask that you forget your traditions for Valentine's Day, whatever they may be, but in days like these, when we are failing our most vulnerable at what feels like every turn, I hope there's room to add in this reflection. I especially hope you'll take a moment for it if it's not something you think about regularly. Think about whether you equate compassion with forgiveness; whether you are willing to take responsibility for your threads in the web that so many people fall through. Think about the debts you owe and how you might move toward reconciling them. Think about the idea of productive grief and justice. See what comes to you.
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