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Chesed: The L-word revisited 

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM surrounding Valentine’s Day decrees that unattached women are expected to dread the annual celebration of love and its seeming segregation of the world into two groups: couples and singles.

But my routine around town last week, along with stories recounted by friends and in the news, offers up a version of the L-word that unifies instead of segregates, ignoring what’s promoted by Match.com., jewelry store ads and imported roses for sale in the grocery store.

My Valentine’s celebration began last Tuesday morning, over weak coffee and heart-shaped sugar cookies, at a monthly gathering of some of the hippest women I know. Most are over 70. Many have seen 80 and beyond. Some have been friends for decades, attending church together, watching each other’s children grow up. In recent years some have re-entered single life after burying their husbands. This week, we attended a funeral, for the 49-year-old daughter of one the women in our group.

Despite the sad times, we’ve laughed a lot, like the time last year that two longtime friends tried to establish who was older—“Am I 90 or 91?”—before resorting to comparing their ages by years and months, similar to members of a preschool class.

Despite my relative youth, last year this circle of women welcomed me into their club as the baby of the group. Our goal is to study, to learn, and through that to support each other. We learn from theology, a group of mostly elderly southern women examining the roles of women in Biblical times and in contemporary times.

Last week, our little band examined the Hebrew principle of chesed—love that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Around the table we shared examples of chesed manifested among us. One woman’s nephew is sending her on a trip to Alaska, the realization of a lifelong dream. Another member left town on Valentine’s Day to visit family in Kentucky, a journey made possible by her out of town daughter traveling from the Midwest to meet her mother and handle all the driving.

An hour later, armed with a new vocabulary word, I ventured back into the world, and was soon overcome by examples of chesed unfolding through the rest of the week.

Little things like the bite-sized, foil wrapped chocolate Valentine presented as an after-lunch gift by the waiter at a Southside restaurant. Across the dining room a grey-haired couple, perhaps in their 70’s, seated side-by-side at their lunch for two, in the manner favored by teenaged couples in the throes of new romance.

Bigger things like the fundraiser sock hop (that I missed) hosted last Saturday by local rockstar Keith Kozel and spoken word diva Rushelle Frazier, to benefit [nine-one-two], a new art therapy nonprofit.

Thoughtful individual kindnesses, like the box of chocolate covered cherries that appeared on my front porch from two neighbors on Valentine’s Day night, or the manager of the mall store who waited with me until nearly midnight for the locksmith to arrive and liberate my keys from inside my locked car.

And in a category all its own, the momentum of support gathering around the sugar refinery explosion victims, as seen in the estimated $22,000 raised on Sunday from the BBQ benefit pulled together practically overnight by Gerald Schantz, owner of Gerald’s Diner.

With Valentine’s Day behind us, the heart-shaped candy boxes are long gone or marked down at the drug store, and the green shiny beads are starting to appear around town, along with chocolate bunnies, as we head toward St. Patrick’s Day and then Easter.

Lucky for me, the women in the circle will be gathering again next month for yet another pot of weak coffee and a study session, plus a healthy serving of chesed all around, available in every corner of the city regardless of the holiday we’re celebrating.

Email Robin at rgunnsav@bellsouth.net

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Robin Wright Gunn

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