Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day - Love on Parade

The worldwide celebration of Valentine’s Day may legitimately be placed at the feet of the British, whose impact and influence over the last two hundred years planted the seeds of many contemporary popular practices in most of the countries that they entered (conquered?). Early Victorian practices for the Feast of St. Valentine – celebrated in the Anglican Church on February 14th – were carried overseas, and the natural appeal of the stories, myths, and rituals related to love and its expression ensured that it would endure in almost every culture.

What’s not to love about love? Song lyrics almost universally exploit its appeal, usually in extreme terms, ranging from discovery to betrayal to resolution. Popular song titles from the past that most of us will readily recognize include The Power of Love, Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, I Want to Know What Love Is, I Just Called to Say I Love You, How Deep Is Your Love, and so on. Some of the more interesting and humorous lyrics in this respect seem to come from the American country music repertoire, very few of which use the word “love” but all of which are about love: I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You, How Can I Miss You If You Don’t Go Away, I Changed Her Oil - She Changed my Life, The Heart Won’t Lie, You Had Me from Hello. (My personal favorite in this category is Dropkick Me, Jesus, Through the Goalposts of Life.)

One fascinating thing about love is the fact that we cannot describe its reality adequately through any of our normal means of communication. When we try to use words to express it to someone, we end up with piles of crumpled paper, or trashed emails or texts, or walking through multiple scenarios and practicing in front of a mirror. Those with the talent (and those without) attempt to enrich their written communication through poetry or verse. The great poets do a pretty good job of it:  How do I love thee? (Browning), The Road Not Taken (Frost), Sonnet 116 (Shakespeare). But most of us end up writing something that sounds like it belongs in a bad greeting card. Yet at the same time, and much more important in terms of our human experience, clarity of expression is a distant second to the fact that there simply is some kind of expression. The fact of making the attempt carries 90% of the weight. There must be consolation in that. The mystery of love is entered into via its expression. Any love-based relationship – spouse, friend, group, God – and by extension any thing, cause, or ideal that draws in our soul, defines and shapes us as human persons, ultimately drawn to the God who is Love.

For me, Shakespeare continues to be the most evocative, brilliant, and subtle expositor of love’s spinning dimensions, and so for this Valentine’s Day, his words may help tame the whirlwind.

Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.