February 2011

Valentine's Day

“Will you be my valentine?”  How well I remember those little heart shaped candies and the little red and white valentines we exchanged as young children.  I remember how my teacher in the second grade made us bring one for everyone in the class; there could be no playing favorites, and no one could be left out.  I remember thinking how unfair it was; I did’t want everyone in the class to be my valentine.  There was just one or two that would be right for me!

            Of course later on, asking someone to be my valentine took on a whole lot more seriousness.  You may or may not know that I met Nora on Valentine’s Day.  It was a blind date for a Valentine’s Day dance at my college fraternity.  (Yes, despite the stereotype, MIT had fraternities and we had dances, even Valentine’s Day parties!)  My fraternity brother, Bob Emerson, was dating a Wellesley girl named Sky Youtz (“Sky” was her nickname, an acronym for her full name: Saralinda Kaiser Youtz).  They “fixed me up” with one of Sky’s friends.  It was Nora.  Bob and Sky were not particularly religious at that time, but thought it would be funny to match his fraternity house Christian with her college dorm Christian.  Haha!  But wouldn’t you know it, three years later we were married (now 38 years ago).  I knew the minute I saw Nora come down the steps in her dorm that I wanted her to be my valentine!  It just took some time to convince her that I should be her valentine too.

            What is all this Valentine’s Day stuff?  I have had the idea that it honored some ancient Christian saint named Valentine.  But I didn’t know anything about him, so naturally I turned to the internet and Googled him and wound up in that virtual knowledge base called Wikipedia.  In the old days, I would have needed to go to the library and pull out a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  (What do peddlers sell now that you can’t peddle encyclopedias?)

            To my great disappointment, St. Valentine was apparently removed from the Roman Catholic list of Saints in 1969.  Apparently, he was more myth than history.  A traditional story about “St.” Valentine is that he was a Roman Christian in the third century.  Wikipedia writes: “He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stoned; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.”  (It takes a lot to kill a saint!)  I gather we have Geoffrey Chaucer (of “Canterbury Tales” fame) to thank for promoting romantic love in connection with Valentine.  And the rest, as they say, is “his-tory”.

            Frankly, I like the idea that an ancient Christian saint might be the patron of romantic love.  There have been all too many ancient ascetic Christians who seemed antagonistic to romantic love.  Yet all one needs to do is read one’s Bible (check out the “Song of Solomon” – that comes after Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes…).  Romantic love is pretty big in the Bible (beginning with Adam and Eve).  Certainly it has been subject to abuse (think Samson and Delilah or David and Bathsheba).  But it has also been celebrated and offered as a reflection of the love between God and us.

            I look forward to celebrating St. Valentine’s Day each year.  I celebrate it with Nora, romantically; but I also celebrate it with a whole host of people who are dear to me.  Maybe my school teacher had it right: I should and can have a valentine card for everyone in the class.  No one need be left out.  Isn’t that what Jesus taught: love God, then show it by loving your neighbor, and even your enemy.  That’s a tall order.  I still have my favorites; but I am trying to expand my circle of loving.  I may not like some people, but the call to love is a call to will and to work for the good of all others.  I can’t always manage my heart, but I can work on managing my attitude and my behavior.

            How about you?  Can we all be valentines?