Charlie Brown spends quite a bit of time in front of his mailbox in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. It never goes well for him, no matter how many times we watch the TV special. There is never a single Valentine to be found.
I was reminded of this again last week. My daughters and I had trekked to the bookstore, quite excited to discover “A Charlie Brown Valentine” carefully placed on the holiday display rack.
This is just one more peculiar pandemic-acquired tradition: the purchase of Charlie Brown books to accompany our viewing of the relevant Peanuts holiday TV special. We’ve awaited the Great Pumpkin, gathered around the popcorn-cluttered Thanksgiving table, been underwhelmed by sagging Christmas trees, been overwhelmed by “War and Peace” on New Year’s Eve, and soon we will seek out the Easter Beagle.
But for now, we’re in front of that mailbox, waiting to see if Charlie Brown will receive a Valentine.
For a character constantly riddled by disappointment, Charlie Brown sure does have a lot of hope. Maybe this time, he says. Maybe this time there will be a Valentine in the mailbox and I’ll be able to kick that football and the Little Red-Haired Girl will ask me to dance.
Maybe this time.
That’s why he brings a briefcase to the school Valentine’s Day party. Maybe this time he’ll get so many cards that he won’t be able to carry them all home!
My daughters laugh at the absurdity of Charlie Brown and his mailbox – especially when Snoopy pops out and gives him a kiss. They don’t know what a briefcase is or why the scene is funny, but they can deduce that the round-headed kid is out of place as a result. And – against all hope – my four-year-old roots for old Chuck to muster up the courage to talk to that curly-haired red-headed girl.
“She has curls like me, Daddy!’
I watch these Peanuts movies in a new way, now that I have two little pairs of eyes viewing them alongside me. And while I still laugh at all the same scenes from my own childhood, it’s impossible to miss the anxiety and self-doubt and near-paralysis that haunts good ol’ Charlie Brown.
No one gives him a Valentine. Is that funny, or just really sad?
And yet, he keeps getting back up; he keeps hoping for a new outcome, that the future will break with the patterns of the past. Though this hope is persistent, his patience grows tired.
And so, we find him checking that mailbox again and again and again.
Not so unlike our own habitual refreshing of Twitter or constant checking of emails or never-ending scroll through Instagram. We’re on our phones hoping for a text or an alert or maybe even a call. We stand in front of our own metaphoric mailboxes just waiting, waiting, waiting.
Maybe this time.
What is it we’re really after, though? Charlie Brown is looking for affirmation, affection, some external indicator that he is valued and loved. And aren’t those the very things we’re looking for on social media, in our inboxes and mailboxes and voicemails? Isn’t that what a retweet or a heart or thumbs up mean?
Someone has seen us. Someone values us – or, some part of us. Someone appreciates our very selves. We’ve added something of significance.
If those are the things we’re hoping for, I wonder if we’re looking in the wrong place. The momentary thrill of the proverbial Valentine-in-the-mailbox will only get us so far.
St. Paul writes in Romans: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rm 5:5)
That tells us two things: We do not hope in vain; and, we would do well to turn to the love of God, readily present in the hearts of those around us, for what we seek.
Not our phones. Not our watches. Not our work. Not our Charlie Brown mailboxes – whatever they may be for each of us.
Rather: God, God’s people and God’s creation.
And for that, we may very well need a dozen briefcases in order to carry all that love.
Eric A. Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian.