A Valentine’s Day Story from Lisa Napoli’s Radio Shangri-La

Here’s the fifth post in our Valentine’s Day series, to help you get ready for Valentine’s Day in a healthy and happy way. We love Lisa Napoli‘s writing, so we’re thrilled that she’s sharing a en excerpt from her book Radio Shangri-La with us. Enjoy!

The first time in my life that I wasn’t dreading Valentine’s Day was the winter of 2007, when I was volunteering in the Kingdom of Bhutan at the dawn of democratic rule there.  My work was at a youth-oriented radio station called Kuzoo FM, the nation’s first such media outlet; who had time to sulk or worry about being single and 43 in such a spectacular location and at such an exciting moment in time?

February 14th that year was an incredible day of revelation and reconciliation.  And it all had to do with a contest at the station called the Symphony of Love, which is also the name of a chapter from the book I wrote about my time in and around Bhutan.  Sitting in a bar on Valentine’s Day in a tiny Himalayan kingdom at the culmination of the contest, I was struck with peace and clarity over  with the events of my life:


Once, I’d been proposed to on Valentine’s Day by a man I adored; a year later he’d run away, with no explanation. Four years after that, the improbable occurred: As I meandered alone through Central Park on a snowy Valentine’s Day, I spotted him on a romantic walk with a beautiful red-haired woman, who I later learned was his new bride. Thrown into turmoil by the emotion of the coincidence, I found myself settling into acceptance, even feeling pleasure for him, over his new life. Right now, as another Valentine’s Day approached, I could acknowledge that it was okay that my fiancé had left, fine that he had—maybe, in fact, even better that he had. All these years I had believed that everyone else commanded stability, while I floundered about. That was ridiculous. How many loveless marriages had I witnessed, complicated relationships including children and tangled finances that made it difficult to escape? How many unhappy single people did I know who were waiting around to be rescued by someone, anyone before they allowed themselves to start living? Who did I know who had anything without compromise? Existing involved compromise. Life, particularly a love life, was far richer and more complicated than a fairy tale. Sometimes— more often than not—love came to you in a short fit of wonder, warmed you, enthused you, and then vanished as suddenly as it had arrived. And that was okay, too. Sitting here in this faraway radio station, where I’d just won a small victory, I could see now that I had it good in my own unique way. I was living a rich, full life. What more was there, really?

I might never see any of these people again after I left Bhutan and I wasn’t likely to accomplish anything grand during my time here. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I might not ever find the big love that had eluded me, and by now, it was pretty clear I wouldn’t have kids of my own; raising a child alone was out of the question, financially and logistically. But here, all around me, was love. Nothing mattered more. Not the romantic kind—that was nice, but it wasn’t forever. What was important, and abundant, was the love that filled the room right now. No Valentine’s Day I’d experienced had been as wondrous as this, so full and beautiful.

In a corner, Pema, Ngawang, and Pink sat sipping sugary wine coolers. They’d gone to Pink’s apartment to change after work, and were heading next to Club Destiny, the nightclub where Pink moonlit as a deejay. This was the first time I’d seen them out of their national garb, dressed up for “party night.” They looked like pretty twenty-something gals anywhere who were ready to hit the town: tight T-shirts embellished with bling, low-rise jeans, smears of unnecessary makeup on their pristine skin.

Despite their festive getups, they radiated glumness. I knew the syndrome: on this couple-crazy holiday, neither Pema nor Ngawang had boyfriends, and Pink was going through a divorce. The last time they’d gone out dancing, they complained the next day at work that there weren’t even boys they wanted to flirt with at the bar.

I considered giving them a big-sisterly lecture about how Valentine’s Day was just a silly marketing conspiracy to convince you that without a “special someone” you were inferior, incomplete. I thought of doing the “girl power” thing, telling them how lucky they were to be beautiful and young and employed in a profession people clambered to work in back where I was from. How they were lucky to be alive at a time when their country was opening up in new and exciting ways. To please not make the mistake I’d seen so many women make, delaying life while waiting for a man to ride into the picture so they could be half of a couple and not need to find themselves. I even contemplated telling them my own Valentine’s Day stories.

But all of this was talk, and talk they didn’t really want to hear. I myself couldn’t have appreciated this when I was their age. You had to suffer through a few Valentine’s Days before you could understand what really mattered, anyway. So I ordered the girls up another round of wine coolers, got myself a shot of Bhutan Highland whiskey. Together we swayed to the music of the karaoke machine. A little while later, we would all head over to Club Destiny to go dancing.

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One response to “A Valentine’s Day Story from Lisa Napoli’s Radio Shangri-La”

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