Of Love and Friends and Galentine’s Day
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past eight years, you’ve probably binge-watched Parks and Recreation at some point. Even though Season 1 was (rightfully) a bust, Seasons 2-7 quickly became a part of revered television history, and continue to be popular. (Thanks, Netflix.) Perhaps you were drawn to the show by Ron Swanson’s staunch libertarianism, or Tom’s constant self-aggrandizement, or Andy’s charming stupidity. Viewers tuned in for all kinds of reasons, but they stayed for only one: Leslie Knope.Our cultural understanding of friendship requires chemistry. And when we befriend people easily, it’s often because of how much we have in common: shared interests, similar personalities, and, increasingly, identical ideologies. Friendships can easily become shrines to ourselves.
Leslie is the stuff of television legends–and for good reason. She takes a job most people would find irrelevant and completely devotes herself to it. Leslie’s enthusiasm is infectious, her scope of vision is unparalleled, and her diligent organization is inspirational. Leslie is a goal-setter, and her goals are often high and lofty. She rarely achieves them, but her attempts accomplish so much that everyone counts it as a victory. Leslie doesn’t set a financial target for the diabetes telethon; instead, she sets out to beat diabetes. When the last telephone booth is removed from Pawnee, Leslie doesn’t just pave over the spot, she builds the state’s smallest park in the tiny space. She doesn’t book a local celebrity for the Harvest Festival, she lands Lil’ Sebastian. LIL’ SEBASTIAN, the ultimate celebrity miniature horse. Leslie Knope is a queen.
Leslie’s enthusiasm for pomp and celebration extends into every holiday. She excels at giving personalized Christmas gifts and remembers every insignificant anniversary of firsts with her friends. But most importantly, when the calendar of festivities fails her, Leslie embraces the opportunity to create her own holiday. And that is how Galentine’s Day was invented.
Galentine’s Day falls on February 13, right before Valentine’s Day. It’s a day for women to celebrate female friendship, a bond that rarely gets the kind of recognition it deserves. In the words of Leslie, Galentine’s Day is about ladies celebrating ladies. Women gather together for waffles, gifts, and general affirmation, basking in the glow of female camaraderie. Galentine’s Day celebrations are basically effortless, aren’t they?
We often think of friendship in this way, believing that if we’re patient and attentive, a good friend will land in our lives. We look for compatibility, testing the waters with mild secrets or a funny story with wide appeal, hoping for enthusiastic acceptance. Our cultural understanding of friendship requires chemistry. And when we befriend people easily, it’s often because of how much we have in common: shared interests, similar personalities, and, increasingly, identical ideologies. Friendships can easily become shrines to ourselves.
But Galentine’s Day festivities don’t happen magically. Leslie’s original celebration isn’t a team effort–it is solely produced by Leslie Knope. Leslie crocheted bouquets of flower pens for each of her friends. Leslie wrote 5,000 word essays praising each of them for their unique qualities and talents. Leslie crushed glass bottles of their favorite diet sodas and made mosaics of each of their faces. Leslie orchestrated the entire thing. This holiday did not spring, fully formed, from the minds of holiday muses. Leslie spent hours and hours carefully crafting an event to bless the women she loved.
These ladies don’t particularly deserve such celebration. They don’t respond to Leslie’s efforts with speeches of gratitude or wild demonstrations of equivalent affection. Leslie pays no mind to this lack of recognition. She understands that over time, love and affirmation and love pay dividends. These common characters–surly April, worldly Donna, beautiful Ann–aren’t unforgettable because they’re unique. They stick with us because they’re celebrated in every episode by Leslie Knope. Leslie understands that encouragement–in the form of words, gifts, time, and thoughtfulness–brings people together and makes them better, more worthy of celebration. Her investment in others may be the clearest example of her great vision. Leslie plainly sees what her friends can become when they are nurtured in love.
Good relationships take effort. They take thought and planning and attention. CS Lewis famously described true friendship as “the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary…the least natural of loves.” Leslie understands this, and that’s why she is a student of people. She memorizes their preferences, their quirks, their favorites. She is, as she once bragged to Ron, “a steel trap of friendship nuggets.” She pays attention, not so she can protect herself, not so she can have ready material for condemnation or mockery, but so she can shower others with love, just because they are present. Leslie’s team of friends is not made up of homogeneous personalities-these people disagree and fight and hurt each other’s feelings in big ways. But they also practice forgiveness, learn to unify when it matters, and love each other deeply.
My first thought was that everyone should befriend a Leslie Knope. But then I realized, there’s nothing magical about Leslie. You, dear reader, have everything you need to be Leslie Knope, to be the kind of friend Leslie was on Parks and Rec. You, after all, are a noble and poetic land-mermaid. It’s Galentine’s Day. Make it happy.