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More Thoughts on Love and Community

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch!

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Valentine's Day-Week makes me think each year of Mr. Hatch, the main character in one of our all-time-favorite children's books.  In the midst of this seasonal celebration of romantic love, Mr. Hatch helps me to remember that love is public, not just private.  

You can hear the entire story read out loud by actor Hector Elizondo here.  My brief summary here won't really do the book justice, as Paul Yalowitz's illustrations are as wonderful as Eileen Spinelli's text.  Basically, Mr. Hatch is a guy who "keeps to himself," working each day at the shoelace factory, eating lunch alone and never saying much to anyone, including the shopkeepers he visits each day on his way home from work.

Then, one day, out of the blue, Mr. Hatch receives a HUGE heart-shaped box of candy in the mail.  The attached note reads, "Somebody loves you!"  

Mr. Hatch can't figure out who would send such a thing to him.  He has no friends, no significant other.  But after puzzling about it for a while, he gives up and exclaims, "Why, I've go a secret admirer!"  Then he does something very unusual for him:  he laughs and dances and claps his hands.  Then he changes his shirt, puts on a yellow tie with blue polka dots, splashes on a little aftershave and goes out for a walk, hoping he'll meet the person who sent the chocolates.

Since he now looks at everyone he meets with interest and smiles at them, everyone changes how they respond to him.  He brings the chocolates to work and shares them with everyone.  He talks to the shopkeepers he visits on his way home and offers to help them in various ways.  He decides to bake brownies after dinner instead of just sitting and reading the paper.  Then, he decides to offer the brownies to the children in the neighborhood and they bring their parents and before long, Mr. Hatch is having a big party in his back yard.

Mr. Hatch lives like this for a few weeks until the mailman revisits him and confesses that he accidentally delivered the box of chocolates to the wrong person.  Mr. Hatch gives the empty box back and the little card that went along with it.  Then he says to himself, "Nobody loved me after all."  And so he goes back to his old ways, not smiling, not interacting, sitting alone.  Everyone notices the difference and is distressed.  

So, that Saturday morning, when Mr. Hatch goes outside to sweep his porch, he encounters boxes of chocolates and paper hearts and streamers and yard full of people holding up a big sign that reads, "Everybody Loves Mr. Hatch".  And as you might imagine, that makes all the difference.

When I was a teenager, I found Valentine's Day very stressful.  Each year, some group at my high school sold carnations, delivered in homeroom on Valentine's Day morning.  For the rest of the day, students carried these carnations around--some kids had huge bunches sent from friends and admirers and lots of other students didn't have any flowers at all.  I was so anxious about not getting any flowers my freshman year that my brother and all of his friends bought me flowers.  

I still remember what it felt like that day to walk around my high school with a huge bouquet.  Slightly embarrassed, a bit exposed.  Was it "cheating" to get carnations from your brother?  Would someone find out that these weren't "real" Valentines?  But in my heart, I was really, really pleased.  Somebody loved me--and at that moment, it didn't really matter who.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I know that romantic love is different from all the other kinds of love in the world.  I know that I'm incredibly lucky to have fallen in love early on in my life with someone who loves me back and who wants to spend his life with me.  I try not to take Dan's love for granted and I welcome even the artificial prompt of a "Hallmark Holiday" to tell him how much he means to me.  

But as important as romantic love is to me, I appreciate Mr. Hatch's reminder that in the end, love is what matters, however it comes to you.  It's pretty wonderful to be loved by a friend or a family member or even by a kid in the neighborhood or at man who runs the newsstand.  And all that community love begins by making eye contact, smiling and asking questions that express real interest in someone's life.  It doen't hurt to share some homemade brownies, either.

The best part about sending out love to the people around you?  It seems to magnify the love in your own heart.  As Liesl in "The Sound of Music" says, "Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay.  Love isn't love till you give it away!"  Who could you reach out to this week?

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