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Valentine’s Day, 2011

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Feb 10, 2011
Category: Beyond Classification

I had a mild bout of pneumonia a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t be worth mentioning — steroids and a ventilizer can cure most any lung problem — but it happened to be visited upon me at the same time that I was afflicted with asthmatic bronchitis. So I was coughing quite a bit.

One particularly nasty bout of coughing inspired our daughter to make a suggestion.
"Daddy, do you think you could go to another room to die?”
Her mother and I laughed and laughed.
The child joined in.
“I am funny,” she said, beaming.

Yes, she is. And also, recently, really good about getting her homework done and turning it in. And reading at night. And practicing piano. And just generally being an unbelievably great kid.
In the parenting game, I do my share to bend the twig toward excellence and decency and good humor, but the primary twig-bender is my wife, who comes home from the office and devotes most of the next three hours to our daughter. Then, as she puts the kid to bed, she sits in the darkened room and delivers another lecture in the never-ending series, “Bore Me to Sleep.”
It’s been a bitch of a winter, but I bask in the glow of these females, and as this most bogus of all our fake holidays approaches, I can’t help feeling cheerful.
Lord knows there are reasons not to be.
I just read that in China, where people rush to the cities for work and leave their kids behind, often in orphanages, the government estimates that 58 million children — almost 20% of all the kids in China, and about 50% of all kids in the countryside — no longer live with their parents.
I just read that President Obama’s budget proposal would cut federal heating assistance to the poor by 50% next year. (And his is the generous proposal. Republicans would eliminate almost all of this contingency fund.)
There have been 7 million housing foreclosures in our country since the economic crisis of 2008. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz predicts another 2 million this year. More gloom ahead: “A quarter of U.S. homes are underwater. Americans today are worse off than they were 10 to 12 years ago.”
But what can you do?
Well, you can do everything you can to avoid becoming a statistic.
This has been my resolution. I owe it to my wife and child that we don’t end up living in a tent in the park. And although this is the age of I’ve-got-mine-and-good-luck-to-you, I think I owe it to everyone else  — friends of this site very much included — to do well by doing good.
This commitment makes, I’ve noticed, for vivid days and nights — for greater aliveness, more in-the-moment presence.
Which is, of course, the greatest gift you can give other people. In “The Social Network,” there’s a memorable scene:
Gage: Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: [stares out the window] No.
Gage: Do you think I deserve it?
Mark Zuckerberg: [looks at Gage] What?
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Gage: Okay – no. You don’t think I deserve your attention.
Mark Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.
Mark Zuckerberg
: Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
He’s not present. In the movie, anyway.  All brains, no heart — a sad guy. In the movie, anyway.
So there’s no list of great Valentine’s Day gifts to be had here. Oh, if you must give music, I’m crazy about this. For a non-fiction book, this. For an inspiring and romantic photo-and-text book, this.
But, mostly, this Valentine’s Day feels to me like a chance for personal expression. A hand-written note, however brief. A meal you cook. A favor. A gesture. Something that says, simply, gratitude.