Monday, February 14, 2011
Before Hallmark, Love through the Ages
On this St. Valentine's Day, a tale from American novelist Keith Donohue's haunting Angels of Destruction, as told by Norah, who may or may not be an angel.
"The past is no more certain than the future. Little is known about the real Valentine, only this. There may have been two. Both were martyrs who died for what they believed. Both lived and died long ago. The first Valentine was a priest in the Roman times when the emperor outlawed marriages for young soldiers. This was done so that they would be more devoted to fighting than their sweethearts. But Valentine felt sorry for those men and married them in secret. When the emperor found out, he had Valentine killed! Off with his head, chop. Sometimes love means sacrifice."
"The Second Valentine was just a man who had been falsely imprisoned. He fell in love with the jailer's daughter and had to smuggle love letters in secret. He signed them, From 'Your Valentine.' These two stories are legends, and not much is known about Saint Valentine."
"The day of February fourteenth is related to love and fertility rites of the pagans. The pagans were people believe in more than one god or sometimes not at all. This is love and fertility rite is the time of the marriage of Zeus and Hera....It was also the feast of Lupercalia, when the boys of Rome ran naked...in the streets, striking women with a leather strap. This custom was continued by the Christians. In the Middle Ages, during the coldest part of long winters it became a day when men and women sent each other notes of their true love. These were the first valentines."
"It is a day to look forward to the end of winter and death and to celebrate a new beginning. The Middle Ages poet Chaucer said, "for this was on Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird chooses his mate.""
Learn more about Keith Donohue.
Isn't little Norah right, the past is no more certain than the future, but it is worth exploring so we don't just easily brush this day off as "Oh, that's just another Hallmark holiday." We can overlook the commercial aspect, which is ingrained into almost every aspect of American modern life.
Celebrate romantic love and the art of romance, which seems to be another dying American tradition. Courtship, does that word even exist in our modern age? Eating lunch Sunday at a restaurant, so many sweethearts were not engaged in conversation or looking into each other's eyes - they were looking at their gadgets. It kind of seemed to say, "Sorry, you can't hold my attention for a full meal. Let me check my e-mail!" Dick Powell may only have had eyes for Ruby Keeler in Dames and declared it in song, but eyes seem to stray toward an electronic in the company of others, romantic or mutual.
Look at your bird today, or consider this even if you don't have anyone in your nest: Give thanks that you have the right to choose your mate, which was not always the choice. Although not everyone yet can have their love recognized in the eyes of the law.
Today, give thanks for love.