"What are some things that make you happy?"
This question is a routine part of my self advocate workshops - it's part a discussion about feelings. I'd asked the question two days before Valentines Day and I should have been prepared for the answer.
"Having a boyfriend."
"Having a girlfriend."
One after another they called out answers. One woman explained, slowly and clearly that she had a boyfriend and that he hadn't come that day but she loved him. He made her happy. Even when he wasn't there - she could think about him and he made her happy.
I joked with them a bit about how Rhode Islanders are obsessed with love and sex and relationships - they laughed but didn't contradict me.
I remember back only a few years ago a man with a disability sitting in my office. He had been brought to me because he wanted to ask a question about sex and he refused to ask his staff. They finally called and said that he just wanted to ask a question.
He came in and sat waiting to see me.
When he came in it took him a lot of courage to work up to ask me his question. I expected something serious, something deep. Because he'd started to cry even before the words came out.
Then came the question spoken through tears. Asked by eyes that couldn't look at mine.
"Do you think it's OK for me to love?"
He only then looked at me, fearful of my answer. I knew without him telling me that he'd been told 'no' by many, for a long time, and that his heart had started to believe that he was not worth love, worthy of love, capable of love.
I was careful.
"Yes." I said. I started crying myself.
"But others will tell you that it's not ok. Others might try to stop you from loving. But, of course, it's Ok to love."
He held his face in his hands and cried. Wept with relief.
Then he looked at me and asked quietly, "Will you tell him?"
"What!?!" I asked - shocked.
"Mom told me that God didn't want me to have a girlfriend. To have sex. Will you tell God that you think it's OK?"
I was shaken. I had to think. Too many emotions. I'd been told the same. For different reasons - but I'd been told the same. What to do? What to do? What to do?
There was only one thing to do.
I said, "We'll tell him together."
I took his hand and we bowed our heads. We sat in silence and then he whispered, "You go first."
So I prayed asking God to bless this man, to give him the opportunity to fall in love and be loved. And I asked God to continue to bless me and the relationship that I had. To bless love. The lovers. The loving.
Then he prayed, "God, I love You. I love my mom. So I know my heart works. Can you let it love someone else too?"
We sat quiet. Then he said, "Thank you."
I'm not sure who he thanked. I'm not sure it mattered.
I thought of him as I listened to these youngsters talk about boyfriends and chocolate hearts.
I thought of him.
I thought of his wife.
Happy Valentine's you two.
And if it ain't out of keeping with the situation.
Happy Valentine's God.