Friday, February 15, 2013

Taking Back Valentine's Day, Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged a post about "Taking Back Valentine’s Day." I actually wrote it on Wednesday, and it was supposed to go up on Thursday morning, but, of course, I wouldn't have been able to take the picture until after arriving at work, and so the post ended up getting bumped into irrelevance to the day after Valentine's Day. At any rate, it was not meant to be taken seriously. That idea of "taking back Valentine's Day" was merely a playful twist on my sincere philosophy that, although you may not always get what you want out of life for reasons that are out of your control, you can still take back control of the narrative of your life in how you respond. For example, maybe you're one of those people that hates Valentine's Day because it's a reminder that you don't have someone special in your life. Well, you can spend the day sulking about it, or you can own it by placing a positive spin on it. I bought some cheap flowers and chocolates for the workplace as my way of having a little fun with the day.

That morning did start out well. The ladies at work, having no idea who the flowers were from, had their own fun with them, divvying them up to wear on their heads. I was pleased that my small, whimsical gesture had helped to ever so slightly brighten someone else's day.

Then, about halfway into my workday, I heard the horrible news that Reeva Steenkamp had been murdered by her boyfriend. Suddenly, "taking back Valentine's Day" took on a whole different meaning. What response could I possibly offer now to make this not an awful day? It would take more than a small, whimsical gesture. Did I have any extraordinary whimsical gestures in me? I actually looked into hiring a skywriter to write a message dedicated to Steenkamp and to other victims of violence against women. But I couldn't think of anything proper to say, and, anyway, daylight would have been gone by the time I'd worked out the logistics. And, even if I'd had the words, the time, and the thousands of dollars to pull it off, such a stunt wouldn't have done anything to actually make things right (and might even have been distracting in a way that would have made things worse). Unless I could raise the dead or turn back time, this day was not within my power to fix.

And so I went home saddened at what I considered the worst Valentine's Day in memory. Emotionally, I still felt like doing something, but I ultimately convinced myself that I had best leave it alone. After all, this was not a day for or about me. It would be a day to grieve for Reeva Steenkamp, and, for the lovers out there who maybe hadn't even heard the news, it was still a day to celebrate romance—no need for me to spoil it.

Even so, for the rest of the day and the day after, I couldn't stop thinking about Reeva Steenkamp. Sadness at the life cut short. Outrage at the scumbag responsible. Disillusionment with life and humanity in general. And still there was nothing really I could do except continue to follow the updates. But, after a while, I didn't want to read any more stories distastefully eulogizing the famous suspect instead of the victim. And so I tried to find out as much as I could about Steenkamp herself, whom I had admittedly never even heard of prior to hearing that she had died.

Reading about her life was, again, sad, given the circumstances. But it also put things in perspective. Perhaps even more so than sadness, my initial feeling on hearing the news had been anger at the crime. And, yes, I still think anger is called for. But, in my call for justice, I had been guilty of much the same offense as the sensational news outlets reporting, focusing too much on the killer, when, really, the victim should always come first. Otherwise, justice is not even meaningful. And, as I came to know the life of Steenkamp better through bits and pieces found on the Internet, although the sadness remained, the disillusionment subsided, and I remembered again why I would ever do so silly a thing as buy Valentine's chocolates for coworkers I barely know. It dawned on me that death is only so sorrowful because life, in the first place, is such a mysteriously and profoundly beautiful thing. And, not to mythologize anyone, but Reeva Steenkamp's was one to be celebrated—a narrative defined far more by her dreams and accomplishments, by her character, and by the love she felt, and showed, than by any terrible thing that merely happened to her.

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