Posts Tagged ‘Valentine’s Day’

A Retrospective of Love Poems

©1962, 1964, 2013, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Here it is Valentine’s Day morning and it just dawned on me that perhaps I should have resurrected some of my old love poems and included them in the February 11 post along with the essays.

Don’t expect seductive poems from me, people. When I was in a seducing mood in my youth, poetry was seldom on my mind, although I could be incidentally poetic in my conversations with or about a few coeds. For instance, one day while I was sitting in the student center lounge with a young man and a young woman — both acquaintances of several months — I looked at the woman and spontaneously said, “Rhonda, you’re Eve, the apple, and the serpent all rolled into one.”

The young man glanced at me and said, “You’re feeling poetic, aren’t you?”

“Not really,” I replied. “That thought just occurred to me.”

Another time shortly afterwards, I was dating a young lady with one of the most beautiful necks I have ever seen. While discussing her with a friend I mentioned her neck and told him that I had nicknamed her “Fawn”. A few weeks later, when I and “Fawn” walked into another student’s apartment where  a small party was happening, my friend, who was sitting on a couch near the door, announced, “Deerslayer!” I never mentioned to the young lady that I had given her a nickname, so of course she did not gather the allusion intended by my friend’s exclamation. I have since then regretted that I did not inform the lady of her nickname: I think it was not only apt but also complimentary.

I have no prejudice against “sweet” love poems. It is just that when my thoughts turn to romance it is usually after the affair is over, so the poems tend to be melancholic, ironic, or cynical. I must try to write a “sweet” before-the-affair love poem, just to see if I can do it without smearing the lines with licorice.

Well, enough of a preface. Here is the URL to those love poems I promised you. Just click on the post’s heading. Happy Valentine’s Day everybody!

https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/in-a-somewhat-romantic-mood/

Finis

A Retrospective of Valentine Day Essays

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All rights Reserved.

Well, no, the doldrums have not gone away already. On top of that, now I have a sinus infection to cope with.

Still, Valentine’s Day is almost on top of us; and, as usual, I feel I must say something concerning that fateful day. There’s a tone about this period of the month that appears to have a most negative effect on my health and attitude; I just had that insight a few minutes ago while I was gathering the URLs below: I seem to endure a low energy level around February 14, so I dig up old newspaper columns I have written and publish them here in “The Vanity Mirror”, in lieu of fresh writings.

I no longer spruce myself up for Valentine’s Day, no longer call a girlfriend…because there is no girlfriend. As Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) wrote in one of his best poems, “They flee from me that sometime did me seek”. It’s all part of the territory, along with a broken tooth, graying hair, an overly stout midsection…and an empty pocket. An ebullient personality and scintillating conversation cannot make up for all those deficits.

Nonetheless, you folks can still find something to peruse about Valentine’s Day in my “archives”; and, just for this year, I have made the reading easier for you by pulling together the URLs for those essays: here they are; enjoy!

https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/appreciating-valentines-day-2/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/a-valentine-for-quasimodo/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/love-endures-even-in-this-cynical-age/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/what-of-whom-do-we-love/

Be sweet to your Valentine…if you have one!
—BL

 

 

What I Learned About Girls: The Early Years

©2015 By Bob Litton

During a recent reverie I wished I could recall the moment when I realized the difference between boys and girls. Life has taught me, though, that such enlightenment is similar to another momentous event: exiting the birth canal. We repress the knowledge. At least did.

It had to be before kindergarten, because that was where I fell in love for the first time, with a girl who just happened to be the daughter of the woman who operated the kindergarten. My sweetheart stands on my left in the group photo below. Her home, in which we children gathered for our first taste of group dynamics, was just across the street and down a couple of houses from the elementary school we would be attending soon. Others in the photo were, I believe, younger and would follow us into grade school. I don’t recall that young lady’s name and indeed remember only one curious thing about her: In spite of the fact that she lived so near the elementary school, she was habitually late to the first class; while I, who lived just over half a mile away and walked to school, never was late.   I wonder now how that situation affected my future assessment of women’s dependability. Our “affair” did not extend beyond the first grade.

School Photo 1945

This was my kindergarten class of 1945.  My girlfriend and I are in the center of the back row, she to my left. A doll, eh?
                                                        

But I am getting ahead of myself. First there was Annette D. who, along with me, is featured in the two other photos in this blog post. Annette and her mother resided in the duplex apartment connected to the one where Mama and I—and occasionally one or the other of my two brothers—lived. When I was not playing with my friend Ronnie S. across the street or with a couple of other boys several houses down the block, Annette and I would play together. The “play”, as well as I can recall, usually involved listening to fairy tales on the radio program called “Let’s Pretend” and then reenacting the stories ourselves. One episode, which is the only one burned into my memory, was connected to “Sleeping Beauty”.  That story, of course, ended with an awakening kiss, which Annette insisted on. My first romantic kiss! I swear to you: She insisted on it!  I think the only fact of life I learned from that episode was that girls tend to sleep for a very, very long time; and the only way you can wake them up is to kiss them.

Another of Annette’s aspects I recall is her funny dance routines, when she would don one of her mother’s hats, a necklace, and maybe even her shoes (I cannot imagine now how that was possible, but the memory persists) and dance on their front porch.  I don’t recall how I reacted to such performances, but I certainly hope my comments were at least kind if not applauding.  Her “get-up”, I’m sure, was no more outlandish than my curling the brim of one of Pappy’s fedoras to transform it into a cowboy hat or attaching my cap pistol’s holster to one of Mama’s wide belts to create a “gun-belt”.  One evening, while Annette and I lay on a blanket out in the front yard, watching the stars, and our moms sat in folding chairs nearby, I heard the women discussing the possibility of our eventual marriage.  No way! I thought.

bob-photo-scan 4

Annette D. and I in a clinch circa 1944. I am certain the embrace was coached by our mothers, since my hand is comradely placed on Annette’s shoulder and her hand is hugging my arm in a firm grasp. Oh, how possessive girls can be!   By the way, you can tell that Dennis the Menace was patterned on me by the overalls and striped T-shirt I am wearing and the cottony hair.

Annette and I a few years later. You can see that our mothers were still hopeful

 Annette and I a few years later. You can see that our mothers were still hopeful. Oh, what a growth spurt I have made. And Mama got me all duded up. I feel certain she designed and made the two-tone coat with its weird collar and pockets, and the pleated pants. Nobody else would have done that. Annette looks like she can’t believe what she’s looking at.      
                                                                                        

I never met Annette’s dad, for he was killed at the beginning of World War II. I do remember accompanying her to a party for children of absent servicemen (I suppose as her guest, since my own father never served). Annette’s mother remarried; her second husband was an FBI agent. They moved into a house clear across town. The step-father, I found to be a pleasant person, but the only conversation I can recall sharing with him occurred when Mama and I went over to their home for a visit while I was en route to Okinawa and my first air force duty station. All I can recall of that conversation was his hypothesizing about what positive influence my being assigned to the USAF’s Security Service might have should I later seek employment with the government as a civilian. Before we sat down at the supper table, I glanced into one of Annette’s high school textbooks, which she had just plopped down on the coffee table, and recognized it as the same English Literature text I had studied my senior year; I deduced from that that Annette was one year younger than I. I had not seen her in more than a decade.

But back to grade school.

I must admit my affections ran madly rampant during those elementary school years. In the second and later grades I became accustomed to gauging girls by levels of prettiness.  Perhaps that was when I first realized that a girl could be something other than simply another brand of playmate.  Their variety and comeliness were as dizzying as that merry-go-round out on the playground.  I learned to be unfaithful. But, at the same time, I was shy and hush-hush about my amorous feelings.

Another of my silent girlfriends of that time, Lola V., was outstanding as far as dress was concerned.  I particularly enjoyed the days when she wore one of her brown, green and red plaid skirts and frilly-sleeved, white blouses.  I recall attending a party at Lola’s house on Hall Street, where we had to ascend several concrete steps to reach her door. It must have been a Valentine’s Day party, because one of the treats parceled out to Lola’s guests were those small heart-shaped mint candies with various, brief comments printed on them such as “I love you”. I recall sitting on one of the steps, holding a mint between my fingers, and wondering what it meant. That was the first time I ever saw such a candy, but I have encountered them quite often over the past sixty-eight years since then, and they always remind me of that day. I regret that I do not have a photo of Lola, nor of any of the girls I will mention from here on.

The only girl I really played with after school, though, was Alef B.  This girl’s home was within—or adjacent to—a cemetery about a third of a mile southwest of our apartment. I really cannot recall her home’s exact placement: my memory tells me that the house, with a flower shop attached, was only a short distance inside the main gate, but my memory, as I have since discovered, plays tricks on me.  Anyway, her father was a florist.  Alef and I walked home from school together at least once; I remember this clearly because we made a game of zig-zagging around some trees that had recently been planted in the verge beside Cole Park, Alef going in one direction, I in the other. Also, when I contracted measles and our apartment was quarantined for a week or more, Alef brought me some get-well letters from our classmates; it was the second grade and we were just learning to print on lined paper. The brief notes all said the same thing (probably copied off the blackboard where our teacher had written the original); but they pleased me anyway.

One really fun—and odd—adventure for Alef and me happened one day when I visited her at home. We listened to a couple of our favorite radio dramas and then decided to make some fudge. Unfortunately, there was no granulated sugar in any of the cabinets; however, Alef did find some brown sugar, so we tried it. Man, that candy was wild-tasting…and gooey!  She dipped out some on wax paper for me to take home. I ate some of it along the way, but it was too strong for me.

By the fourth grade, a girl named Betty T. caught my eye. Still, I was reticent, and before I could exit my shyness shell in Betty’s company, Mama had bought a small house out near White Rock Lake. As luck would have it, though, I did get to see Betty again the following year. It was at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium, where I had gone to attend the annual “children’s day” as put on by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Walter Hendl. A poem I had written won a school district-wide lyrics contest, and a class in Oak Cliff had garnered the music part of the competition.  As Mama and I were descending the auditorium’s steps after the performance, I heard someone shout out, “Look, there’s Bobby!”  Looking over to the right, I saw with delighted surprise Betty T. and one other girl whom I recognized then but cannot picture now. We exchanged greetings and the usual updates briefly and then parted. But I could not—actually did not want to—get Betty out of my mind. I called her a short time later and invited her to meet me at the Plaza theater—which was much closer to her home than to mine—the next Saturday for the children’s matinee. Her mother brought her to the show in their car and then left. It was a pleasant date…at any rate about as pleasant as any time sitting in a dark theater watching a serial episode, cartoons and a shoot-‘em-up can be pleasant. Not long after that I received a chrome-plated bracelet with my name printed on it at a shoe store where my mother had purchased some shoes for me. I sent it to Betty as a love token or perhaps as a “Let’s go steady!” signal, but she sent it back with a note saying her mother did not want her to accept gifts from boys. For whatever reason—most likely because of the miles that separated us—I did not call Betty again.

By the sixth grade, at my new school, competitiveness became the unexpressed law of the campus. Close friends became more important and close girlfriends even more important. Still, shyness hampered me. Perhaps our dancing lessons were partly responsible for that. I cannot recall if the square-dancing and the ballroom dancing were part of physical education classes or a separate part of the curriculum. Could it have been a “socialization” class, steering us toward the mating game?

Anyway, that was when I learned that some girls had warm, damp hands while other girls’ palms were cooler, drier. I much preferred to dance with the dry-hands maidens, one of whom was Evelyn M. She preferred me as a partner, too, although I cannot claim that my hand humidity was her reason. Evelyn’s looks were only average, and she was skinny, but she had one of the most out-going and caring personalities I have ever met. In addition to our frequent partnering during dance lessons, we went out trick-or-treating one Halloween night; and we also went as a date to some school party at White Rock Lake.

That party was the occasion for one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. I had a slight cold and had brought a white handkerchief with me. When we first arrived, Evelyn perceived that the bench she wanted to sit on was dusty, and she asked me if she could use my handkerchief to dust it off a bit; I let her have it. Later, when she came back to request the use of my handkerchief again, I was too reticent to let her know I had wiped my nose with it and I gave it to her. She came back shortly afterwards and, smiling, returned it to me while saying, “It’s been used.” O Mortification, how eternal you are!

Another of my favorite dance partners, for square-dancing, was Shirley C. This girl was pretty but was also a bit plump. However, that was okay, since I was not in love with her but appreciated her only as good company when the caller sang out, “A right and left around the ring/ While the roosters crow and the birdies sing” or “Everybody swing and whirl/Swing ’round and ’round with your pretty little girl”. Yeah, Shirley and I were good at that! Decades later, I saw Shirley at our 15th year high school class reunion. She was in fine physical shape and a true beauty. In fact, I noticed that day that there were a bunch of beautiful women in the class of ’58. It was a rare crop!

The only remaining memory from those elementary school years worth noting was the night I “fell in love at first (and only) sight” at a community room in Casa Linda Plaza. The place had only two rooms, I believe, not counting the restrooms; there were chairs placed around the walls, and the lighting was dim. On Saturday nights the place was transformed into a sort of junior nightclub. Somebody played 45 RPM records. We young folks sipped soda pop, chatted, and danced under the watchful eyes of a couple of adults. I went there only about three times, if my memory serves me well.

One of those nights I met a young lady whom I had never seen before. I do not know what school she attended; I did not even ask. But she was a beauty beyond compare, and I was fortunate enough to dance with her at least once, probably more. We left at the same time, each assuring the other we would be at the “club” the next Saturday night. As we approached the curb out in the parking area I saw a new, maroon, four-door car pull up, and the girl got into the back seat. The shopping center’s yellow lights gleamed on the car as it pulled away forever, and I thought of Cinderella’s pumpkin.

Finis

What Is Love?

By Bob Litton

To tell you the truth, I don’t know what love is in my own life.  What I have experienced in the past, and at times called “love”, I now look back on as some lesser emotion — like adolescent dependency or lust.

However, I have seen what I considered to be love — genuine love — in others’ lives.  In one instance, it was a little old lady who came to my brother’s carpet store to buy carpet to replace the worn-out floor covering in her living room.  Her husband had died a few months before.  When she started talking about how his cigarette ashes had dropped down on the carpet beside his easy chair, she choked up and, in a voice almost gasping for words, said, “He didn’t do it on purpose.  He didn’t know those ashes were spotting the carpet.”

Another time, I was watching a 60 Minutes segment about thalidomide children.  One of the victims, now a mature woman, had married and had two sons.  She had only stubs for legs. Like the two other thalidomide victims featured during the segment, she didn’t feel sorry for herself but seemed very well-adjusted and cheerful.

The most striking thing about her, however, was the way she met her husband.  She had been fitted with artificial legs and most of the time did quite well on them; but one time, when she was walking down a sidewalk, she fell and couldn’t get up.  A man came along and helped her get back on her legs.  Subsequently he became her husband.

Both of that woman’s sons loved her, and her husband loved her.  There was a difference, however, in that the boys had grown up knowing her as their only mother; so, in a sense, they had no choice but to love her.  Her husband, on the other hand, had had a choice, unless you hold that romantic love is inevitable and unavoidable.

Alpine Avalanche, February 15, 1996

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 new 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

What of Whom Do We Love?

©2011 By Bob Litton

“….Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”
                                             — from “Birches” by Robert Frost

I know Valentine’s Day is still nearly two weeks away, but I want to talk about Love.  Besides, my ol’ flame’s birthday is February 9th, so I’m not getting all that much ahead of myself.

You might legitimately question, “What does a taciturn old bachelor know about Love?”

Lots.

Just as much anyway as a person stranded in the desert can better describe the cause and effects of shade or the consistency and taste of water than someone for whom those elements are so common as to be contemptible.  The blind man, we all should know by now, both appreciates the advantages of vision more and develops other senses to a more heightened state than the man who sees.

I’ll never forget the simple talk on Love given at the 1980 Grandfalls-Royalty Chamber banquet by some preacher from Abilene, I believe.  Don’t misunderstand: It wasn’t a sermon, nor was it one of those joke-a-thon talks common to chamber of commerce banquets.  It was just a simple little essay on how the modern world militates against Love—and thereby against lovers.  Oh, there was some humor, of course, but it was no more and no less than the humor natural to life itself.  It was part of the substance, not the form.

He pointed out that homes no longer have parlors, those little rooms across the hall from the livingroom proper, rooms too small for anything but tête-à-têtes.  Many car designers, likewise, have sabotaged Love by substituting bucket seats for the old full-length seats.  And then there’s modern popular music—music too loud for softly murmured words and too spasmodic for close dancing.  It’s enough to make Cupid dump his quiver.

That Chamber talk was the only one the sense of which I’ve retained.

You know, I’m all the time noting these silver and golden wedding anniversaries in the daily papers.  Every once in a while, there will be a special write-up about a couple who are unusual in some way.  A few months ago, for instance, I saw a photo in the paper of an elderly black couple.  They looked elderly, all right, but they didn’t look 92 and 95, which is what the article said they were.  They said they had been married 70 odd years and never had a quarrel.  I wondered if they had ever spoken to each other.

My ol’ flame and I never quarreled either; we just called it quits.  Several times.  But we were only 18, 19 and then 20 years old, too.  As I grew older and reflected on the experience, I thought many a time that maybe we would have made it if we had been mature enough for what I call creative quarreling.  The first step is to recognize that one or both of you are emotionally upset about something the other has or has not done.  The second step is to declare from the start that neither of you is going to walk away in a pout and not speak to the other.  Anger okay, pouting no.  And the third step, probably the hardest, is to talk it out, realizing that you might come out of the discussion looking selfish or childish, but not nearly so selfish or childish as you will if you just pout.

Ol’ flame and I couldn’t do that.

I think the most important nutrient of Love is the desire to see one’s loved one fulfill their potential to the utmost, to be all they can be and want to be in their better self.  That seems easy on the surface, but often—if not in fact most of the time—our loved ones don’t know themselves what their better selves are or what they want to do.  Conversely, we sometimes impose our own expectations of what a person should aspire to upon them.  And worse yet, many a person is willing to sacrifice their own self-image to be whatever their loved one desires them to be.  As Elvis Presley’s old song put it, “Any way you want me, that’s how I will be.”  The number of stories and plays based upon the theme of the transmuting of the loved one into something not necessarily bad but against their nature is legion.  G.B. Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, rendered musically as “My Fair Lady”, is a good example.

It does in fact take a lot of patience to wait for a person to find themselves, to be constantly encouraging them to find themselves on their own.  “I’ll encourage you to be the best artist you can be, the best CPA you can be, the best athlete you can be, but I’m not going to tell you which to be!  Only you can decide that.”  (A career, by the way, is only one form of self-fulfillment; there are others, the most difficult perhaps simply being the best person one can be.)

That was another problem for ol’ flame and me.  It was one, however, for which we did not blame each other.  She put it most succinctly: “We met too soon.”

The Monahans News
    February 3, 1983

Finis

A Valentine for Quasimodo

©2011 By Bob Litton

Dear Readers: I am in a rut again, what with ordinary daily chores and involvement in community affairs. That is my excuse for this blog post, which is not fresh but rather a rerun of a column I wrote back in February 1982 and published in The Monahans News. I am reprinting it here partly as a stop-gap measure, to give me time to finish work on a very complicated post, and partly because, despite its original date, it is still timely. It is about Love — or the various emotions we call “love” — as depicted and contrasted in Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Since Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us, this essay is, I think, timely and always will be timely. I might publish yet another old Valentine’s Day column soon, for we still have nearly a month left before that fateful day. I have nothing fresh to say about “love”; I have already written all that I have known, thought or felt about the subject. I hope you will find the reading of the essay below beneficial in some way.
— BL

If there is anything people talk more about while they know less about it than Love, I don’t know what it would be.  A topic of such universal and timeless interest is certain to serve as matter for authors who want to fill up books.  And sure enough, Love has been the subject of many a volume as varying in seriousness and quality as the Bible and gothic romances.

One aspect of the subject that makes it never-ending is that most people cannot come to any definite agreement on what Love is.  The New Testament distinguishes between three types of Love: Agape (spiritual Love), Philia (brotherly Love), and Eros (erotic Love).*

Most romances, I believe, never really involve any of these, except maybe a few dashes of the last.  What they exploit is a vestigial adolescent Love—that period of our late childhood when we had few responsibilities, a lot of confused emotions, and a notion that anything involving ourselves is urgent.  Moreover, since during that time we are trying to establish an identity for ourselves, we sometimes grow so desperate in the search that we express a willingness to “be” whatever the object of our affection wants us to be if he or she will just love us.  Under the influence of fairy tales and romance novels, we get the idea that there is only one person on the planet for whom we are “meant”.  That’s the kind of Love we generally associate with St. Valentine’s Day.

Despite the absurdity of most romantic novels, however, one of the best analyses of Love, I believe, is to be found in Victor Hugo’s gothic tale of Love in all its forms—pure and perverted—The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  A new filming of Hugo’s classic especially for television was shown last week, and in at least two senses it was timely: Hunchback is an essay on Love in its most variable aspects, and one of its main characters is Quasimodo the hunchback, which is appropriate in this, the International Year of the Disabled.

Abandoned in infancy on the doorstep of  Notre Dame cathedral because of his deformity, Quasimodo is adopted by a young priest who, in his youth at least, idealistically follows Christ’s precept: “Even as you do unto the least of these, you have done unto me.”  The priest keeps Quasimodo fed and clothed and housed in the cathedral, and when the hunchback is old enough the priest gives him the task of ringing the cathedral bells.  Quasimodo grows to “love” the bells even though they eventually destroy his hearing.

The heroine of the tale is a gypsy girl, Esmeralda.  She becomes the “object of love” not only for Quasimodo and the priest but for a poet of the streets and a captain of the royal guard as well.  The priest is filled with uncontrollable lust for her, the captain rather off-handedly attempts to seduce her, and the hunchback—pet-like—adores her after she alone gives him a drink of water during an episode in which he is flogged before an unfeeling crowd.

The poet comes closest to treating her with moderation as simply a fellow human being.  Even he, however, when they first meet, assumes he is entitled to conjugal rights just because they are married.  (She married him in a pagan ceremony only to save him from being executed by the King of Thieves.)  She subdues her “husband’s” ardor by threatening him with a dagger, and from then on their relationship is of the brother-and-sister type.

Esmeralda, too, is afflicted with a false vision of Love, her idea in the beginning being something like the adolescent Love I mentioned earlier. She “falls in love” with the captain of the guard after he and his men save her from Quasimodo.  (The hunchback had been sent by the priest—by this time archdeacon of the cathedral—to abduct the girl.)  Esmeralda loves the captain because he is handsome, dashing, rides a white horse, and saves her.  (He is also an egocentric cad, but she doesn’t see that in him until it is too late.)

As for the priest, I think he probably would have been all right if he hadn’t become a churchman before he became a man.  In those days, though, the only choices for later sons of the gentry were to join the army or the church.  Anyway, he apparently took his studies quite seriously and became more a scholar than a human.  We might say his agape is misinformed, his philia is cut short in life, and his eros never had a chance.  By the time Esmeralda comes on the scene the archdeacon is so naïve about sexual Love that for him it can be nothing but lust.  He grows to hate the gypsy girl and to be jealous of her fancied lover, the captain.

It is Quasimodo who has the last say in Love, however.  Contrary to the film version, it is not Quasimodo who is thrown off the roof of the cathedral, but the archdeacon.  The hunchback pushes the priest while the latter is absorbed in watching the public hanging of Esmeralda.  As Quasimodo looks down on the mangled body of the archdeacon and the limp body of the hanged gypsy, he heaves a deep sigh and mutters, “There is all I ever loved!”

Nobody ever sees Quasimodo again, but a few centuries later two skeletons, one of a woman in the shreds of a white dress and the other of a deformed man, are found entwined together in a burial vault reserved for malefactors.  The man had evidently not been hanged but had come there to die.

If you haven’t read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, try it.  And if you do so, please note the ways in which violent acts done by any one character are caused by a confusion of the idea of Love.  Also, of course, you will see acts of kindness and courage as expressions of ideal Love.

                                                     – – The Monahans News, February 11, 1982

*AUTHOR’S NOTE:  In the second paragraph of this column I wrote that the New Testament, using the Greek terms, distinguishes between three kinds of Love: agape (spiritual love), philia (brotherly love) and eros (sexual love).  I don’t know where I obtained that information, but it’s wrong — at least to a large degree.  (That was in the days before the Internet and Wikipedia).  In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous chapter on Love, the only term used is agape.  In John 21:15-17, where Jesus asks Simon Peter if he loves him, Jesus twice uses the verb form of agape, and Simon uses the verb form of philia to affirmatively answer him.  The third time Jesus asks the question he uses the philia form.  This is a very interesting distinction that I doubt many ministers are even aware of, much less present to their congregations.
   The British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, in 1960, published a book titled The Four Loves in where he expatiates in great detail on agape, which he defines as “charity”; phileo, “friendship”; eros “romance”; and storge, “affection”.
   
An anonymous Internet fancier with the “handle” of  “Lone Dissenter” with more time on his/her hands than I have, reported on Yahoo! Answers that agape is used in the Bible 250 times, philia appears 83 times, storge is used 3 times…and eros never appears!
— BL

Finis

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