Valentine's Day is upon us. For some, its a day of romance; flowers, candy, lingerie and passion. For others, its an evening of red flannel jammies, a large spoon and gourmet ice cream, Kleenex, and Bridges of Madison County. Some years I've spent Valentine’s Day pierced in ecstasy by Cupid's arrow. Others, you would find me hanging out in the front yard, a big neon bulls eye emblazoned on my chest, a sort of directional light, to help Cupid find me. Our celebrations rarely measure up to how the media portrays this day of love. Some of the cornball commercials on television are purely a gag-fest. You know the ones... "I'm here... I'll love you forever.... Here is half my heart.... You complete me..... I am nothing if not for you... " Yuck! Oddly, in retrospect, the warm PJ’s and ice cream haven’t been all that bad in comparison to some of the ghosts of Valentine's Day past. I personally think there has to be more to love and this Holiday than what's showcased in Victoria’s Secret, Hallmark, and Teleflora.
So, I did a little research.
The origins of Valentine’s Day are exceptionally beautiful. Their beginnings in both Christian and Roman tradition. I'm a sucker for ancient history- minus the lions in the coliseum gig. Legend spins several tales, specifically of St. Valentine, a martyred saint. One story tells of Valentine’s bravery as he defied Emperor Claudius II, who proclaimed, single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Risking his own safety, Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies, to accommodate young lovers. Another story, tells of a St. Valentine who attempted to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. Later, captured and imprisoned, he fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. This attentive, compassionate and beautiful young woman visited him during his confinement. Before his death, as a gift to her, it is believed he wrote a letter which he signed, “from your Valentine.” The first recorded Valentine greeting!
Sorting through the various tales, a solitary theme did arise. Valentine’s day wasn’t necessarily a celebration of passion, romance, chocolates, or lace garter belts, although there were some fertility ceremonies contained in some of the history. Mostly, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of Love. The kind of Love often disguised in sacrifice, justice, honor, service, and compassion. Love as a verb. The kind of Love that acts in ways and says, to others, I want you to know you are unique, special, and deserving.
Passion is a potent aphrodisiac. We feel rapture as this powerful drug surges through our bodies. The high is relatively short lived and not really a good marker of our true feelings for another. Jungian analyst , Robert Johnson, quotes, “The passion of romance is always directed at our own projections, our own expectations, our own fantasies. It is a love, not of another person, but of ourselves.” This wise analysis makes sense to me. Awhile back, a dear, therapist friend asked me to examine whether I was really ever in love with someone, or did I love the idea of that person. At first, this made no sense to me, and I accused him of talking in circles. Months later, a light bulb went on. Was I in love with this person? Or, was I passionate about all those expectations and fantasies that I had built around what I wanted him to be and my world to look like? Was I in love with the human being he was? Did I even know that person, or was he just a reflection of my ego?
Enlightened Love, the kind St. Valentine is accredited with, is a kind of power that awakens us to the existence of something outside of ourselves, our own world, and security. It is a transcendence of our own ego and a desire to connect with another, just as they are. It's the kind of Love that's a salve to the wounds of the world. A recognition that it is far more rewarding to extend love, for Love's sake, than expect a return on our investment. Once we know that Love, and come to know its power, we go to the ends of the earth to cultivate and share it. Most of us never really recognize it although it's inside of us and in front of us, always.
We know passion; our egos understand that well. It’s allure and thrill is exciting and makes for great storytelling. But, it pales in comparison to connecting in love. This desire to move beyond our ego, towards a higher knowing and purer Love, is why we were created in the first place.
Moving out of romance and our fantasies and expectations, to a place where we show Love to another, make their day, or let them know how important they are to this world, is a worthy intention for Valentine’s Day. We can make it a day of friendship, understanding, reaching out, and service as well.
I sent a Valentine letter to a wonderful 91 year old man who recently lost his wife of 65 years. His storytelling of their time together would seriously make for a blockbuster movie. What an honor it was to have him share that with me. He needs to know how much his wisdom and time have meant to me this past year. I designed my own Valentine cards and sent personal notes to a few people who have touched my life recently, my contribution to the perpetuation of this beautiful gift of Love. I’ll still probably curl up in the red jammies and sniffle over Bridges, but I know that’s just a part of the passion and allure of the Holiday, titillating and romancing my ego! I'm just a new soul learning the ways of Love. It will be a number of lifetimes before I am ready for sainthood.
Happy Valentines Day..... From Your Valentine...... with Love!