Valentine’s Day has all of the expectant and obligatory momentum of a guilt trip. Participate not and one may be accused of heartlessness. Send a smarmy message and one might be construed as giving in to commercialism. And yet we teach even the children to send candy-grams and to give such cards to their friends, teachers, and... Well, one’s sincerity on the occasion is readily quite suspect. Thing is, Valentines might best be aimed at only one specific person by each of us; to let go many arrows with but one bow is rather Kostner-ish. Cupid lets loose shafts like Robin Hood!
M’Lady Nancy concurred. There seems to be a plethora of newspaper and TV advertisements for Valentines. And although we might celebrate any of the several mythologies as to its origins, it hardly is worth the fuss over something that one Priest Valentine did circa 400’s A.D. in defiance of Emperor Claudius 11 who enforced celibacy among his Legionnaires. Valentine married off young lovers, despite conscription. It was noble, compassionate, and filled with sensibility rather than sentiment. But our current commercial practice certainly plays on the sentimentality of it all.
So too for any obligation, tradition, custom. It is worth examining! Otherwise one may subscribe too unwittingly, too insincerely, too readily to societal demands. Yet all occasions warranting celebration are made so by years of enculturation. As such they have their significance. They have their undeniable truths. Penelope would rightfully be feeling overlooked were I to ignore her birthday, or not to wish her a merry Christmas. So it is. But the point is, if you’re going to do it, make it sincere. Keep it real. Else we but kowtow to society, go along with, and submit to the status quo. As it is, there are three if not more stories as to whom the real St. Valentine was!
Among the many artifacts re-discovered on this February 14th of my 40 day and 40 night mission is the flimsy square of an air mail card to M’Lady, dated 23 January, 1944, addressed to Miss Nancy Street, No. 5 R.A.F. Hospital, M. Egypt. It is post-marked from Mill Hill, London. The stamp is a 6d George V1 (a sixpenny). On opening it there is the proverbial pen-and-ink arrow through the red crayon heart. The feathered tail at the bottom left corner at once penetrates a smaller heart, and the big letters between the small and the much bigger red heart at the top right reads: ‘Guess Who! And How Many’. Top left hand corner is a poem: ‘The rose is red, the violet is blue, the grass is green, and so are you!’ At the bottom right is a more substantial endearment: ‘Ah sweet and gentle stranger, Amongst men of tearful woe, Do not err from by their manger, And those that love you so. Do not lose that smile from Ward One, Check that kind heart from a fancy; Don’t forget your boys can win One, But their names can’t all be Nancy!’
M’Lady, now at 90, then at 21 (to be precise,) looks up from re-reading it, and says, “From Mill Hill Hospital patients, where I worked before Cairo. Well, see, they had nothing better to do!”
We act often on impulse. It takes the measure of much time and truths to perhaps end up acting the exact same way, but at least thereby to act for real. And so: Happy Valentines!