Dear Saint Valentine,
You’ve got to be taking a nap at this point, or its celestial equivalent. Evanescing briefly into a light-infused fog or racing around the firmament on fleet wings of lace. Tripping, tumbleweed-like, through fields of gold. Maybe it’s a purple velvet pillow you rest your halo’ed head upon. One can really only imagine what a needed siesta is like in the great beyond. Does one dream, and if so, how many clicks up is it from what we, at our mortal best, can do in the dreamscape?
In the pictures of yourself here on the material plane, you look like a lot of the other saints from my mother’s Book of Saints: holding a staff, bishop-y pouf hat, crimson robe, sometimes a bird in the hand. The church says you were decapitated for performing Christian marriages in Rome. Then, mysteriously and over time, your day evolved into something quite unrelated, the aftereffects of which are quite plain on planet Earth during the first two weeks of a 28-day lunar cycle known as February, a month actually named after the Roman purification festival of Februa held in ancient times from the 13th through the 15th of the month.
Come to think of it, our special days are really quite a jumble down here on Earth. Pagan festivals, Christian saints’ days, government holidays, days commemorating heroes and pilgrims and mothers. Regular days are named after planets and gods and goddesses, months named after whatever. The names of seasons don’t just come from old English words, but from old French ones and middle English ones. And this is how we keep track of time?
Anyway, here we are, squarely in the middle of the festival of Februa. We’ve just celebrated your personal holiday and are reeling in its aftermath, scratching our heads one more time about the value of romantic love. We idealize it, capitalize it, capitalize on it, even pay it the ultimate consumer tribute by giving it an official color (red), taste (chocolate), smell (rose), feel (satin-y) and sound (Pandora Rhythm & Blues Love Songs).
How must you feel about it? Sincerely, I want to know. The violent tornado of pink and red has spent itself, leaving mounds of vermillion and rose tissue and gold foil in garbage cans and dumpsters across America. Chocolate wrappers litter the rugs of bedrooms and living rooms, and roses, fresh from Colombian greenhouses, are just now finally relaxing enough, after the shock of international travel and jet lag, to blossom slowly and very, very shyly.
Are you privy to all this? I mean, I don’t know if heaven is divided into quadrants or layers or if it’s segregated, hierarchical, clannish, or just one big happy free for all. Can you feel the swell of one giant beating human heart, and also feel the difference in its beat on Valentine’s Day? Can you separate out the feelings of bunches of children making doily hearts and passing them out and in turn receiving them unanimously — from the feelings of that one little girl or boy passed over somehow? Can you feel the longing in all of us hell bent on idealism and expectation when right in front of us is a quieter, softer expression of love from a person whose heart might be true? What about simply surviving the advertising marauders whose clunky message is that that love doesn’t exist unless some material proof is anted in?
I guess it’s just what we do down here as Earthlings, as we sweetly, fumblingly struggle to understand the nature of love, loving and being loved. We look for clues and signs in words and deeds and gifts. We present each other with sweetness and sparkles and surprises. We stumble around trying to get it right, more apt to hear loudness instead of what’s soft. But really, as we already know from somewhere deep inside, the sweetest moments are small and quiet and humble and delicate. A gesture, a look, a love note when least expected, a hand taken and brought to the lips.
In her memoirs, my mother writes about giving birth to her first child, my brother Gael. She admits to knowing nothing — literally — about what having a child would entail. She knows only what my father has told her, that when it comes time, she will feel something called “contractions.” Well, she has the baby. And dad, of course, comes straightaway.
“The most precious thing I ever had,” she writes, “was a rosebud he brought from the garden.” And this, Valentine, is where real and romantic love, for me, come together. And whatever part you play in that, I thank you for.