Love Endures Even in this Cynical Age

©2011 By Bob Litton

Asians locate the emotions in the stomach.  Westerners claim they reside in the heart.  Or at least they did until a couple of centuries go.

For a long time now psychologists have been claiming the brain is the origin of our loves and hates.  No more than two years ago I read a news report that brain researchers had located the trigger of love in one tiny part of one’s gray matter…or perhaps it was a neutrino.

Such scientific nosiness will not deflect the romantic hard-core among us from persisting in pointing at Cupid’s golden- and silver-tipped arrows as the emotion stirrers.  We certainly don’t want to give up the magical challenges of glass mountains and reviving kisses — at least not as long as we are young enough to be revived.

I’m of an age where reminiscing and reflecting on love employs more time than pursuing it.

Why, just yesterday I was recalling my early grade school years when declarations of affection had to be committed to paper in an almost legalistic manner.  While the teacher was trying to demystify fractions for us, I and other boys would be inditing the most heartfelt of amorous missives to girls around us.  The little notes — with only the slightest variations — went something like this: “I like you. Do you like me? Answer yes or no.”  Right below these effusive sentences we would draw two little boxes with a “yes” written by one and a “no” written by the other.  We had absolutely no conception of the dilemma we were creating for the girls by our absolutist format.

Later, by the sixth grade, we had an even sillier fad going.  The girls would lend favorite boys small, merely decorative scarves to wear around our necks for a brief season.  Can’t remember if I was ever offered one or not: probably a case of selective amnesia.

Silly as that trend may seem, however, it is not too dissimilar to the way in which the emblem of love began.  An ancient Roman custom at the beginning of the feast of Lupercal was for young women to put slips of paper with their names on them in a big jar.  Young men would then draw their names and have to spend the entire feast period with the women whose names they had drawn.  This tradition continued after a fashion into the 14th century, when the young men started attaching the autographed slips of paper to their sleeves.  (Thus originated the modern comment, usually derogatory, about people “wearing their hearts on their sleeves”.)

As a child, I really did like Valentine’s Day.  Couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a holiday, unless the grownups considered the handing around of Valentine cards and cake would have been too complicated if we weren’t in school.  (The Alpine City Administration probably wonders why it’s not a holiday, too.)

It’s changed a lot just in my lifetime.  The card-giving has slackened off some, and they don’t show that movie, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, on TV as frequently as they used to every year.

Why should it be February 14, though?  Well, that’s not the birth date of the saint it’s supposedly named after: it’s his death date.

Actually, there are three St. Valentines, but the only one who concerns us here was a priest at Rome during the late third century.  Those were the days of Emperor Claudius II, not a very nice guy, who was having a problem recruiting soldiers for his unpopular military ventures.  He deduced that it was because Roman men did not want to leave their wives and sweethearts.  So, he abolished marriage.

Valentine and his colleague Marius secretly married young couples.  Upon hearing of this treasonable behavior, Claudius condemned Valentine to death.  One of my sources says Valentine was clubbed to death and another says he was burned at the stake.  It doesn’t really matter which, since the Catholic encyclopedia, although it acknowledges the saint as an actual martyr, claims the Claudius-versus-marriage business is “unhistorical”.

Another “unhistorical” yet still affecting chapter to Valentine’s story is that while he was in prison awaiting execution he cured his guard’s daughter of some disease.  Valentine and the girl thereupon became fast friends; and, on February 14 — the day he was to die — he left her a note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty, signing it: “Love from your Valentine”.

Some fables you’ve just got to hang onto with all your heart!

The Alpine Observer, February 13, 2003

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