Say one thing for the Romans, they loved to party — and partied to love. It’s believed by historians that Valentine’s Day began back in those crazy chariot days of about 300 B.C. A ritual in mid-February entailed sacrificing a dog or goat and using its skin to whip women, supposedly in an effort to increase their fertility.
That was later replaced with an ancient version of “The Dating Game,” where men and women were paired off, via random name drawing, to spend the holiday together doing things couples do, like shopping for furniture and goat-skin rugs at the Forum, I guess.
Then along came Pope Gelasius, who found all that nonsense. Around the year 500 A.D., he changed the holiday to a celebration of the martyr Valentine, who apparently did some match-making machinations of his own that crossed up Emperor Claudius II to the point where Valentine met his untimely demise.
Can’t you just feel the love?
Some consider Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to be the first giver of a valentine. This was about 1415 and he was locked up in the Tower of London at the time. For a guy who spent 24 years in confinement — as a royal, it was more like an extended holiday at the Four Seasons — Charles got around. He married three times. His first bride was 12. His final bride was 14; he was 46.
Nonetheless, Charles’ heart was in the right place. His initial valentine was said to have gone to teen bride No. 2 when he was 21 and full of desperate longing, “locked” in a series of grand English castles with hot- and cold-running servants.
Charles’ work of the quill was a poem “Farewell to Love,” but the goodbyes were a bit premature. He went on to write more than 500 similar poems during his 70 years.
So while you might not have found Charles desperately scanning the aisles of a Ye Olde Hallmark store looking for THE PERFECT EXPRESSION OF LOVE, you certainly did find the rest of us there. These days, Valentine’s Day is less an expression of love than an expression of how much you’re willing to spend on that love. By today, we will, collectively, have spent about $20 billion on all those balloons, candy, Teddy bears and fancy underwear.
Oftentimes, when we speak of love — or at least “The Princess Bride,” the unofficialfFilm of Valentine’s Day — we praise the virtue of “true love.”
But what is “true?” To be true is to be accurate or exact. It is perfect alignment or position. “True” is apt when discussing plumbing or some other aspect of home construction, but I would not attach it to love.
Love is a wanderer, a meanderer more likely to travel the crooked path than a straight line. Precious few of us have ever had the sweet fortune straightaway to find that single person who completes your soul.
Instead, love is a process, an elaborate game of hide-and-seek or charades. You might think you have it, but in time — a couple of months, couple of years, couple of decades — decoupling is the only right course.
And then, somewhere further down the path, you encounter that cloaked traveler again, treading unevenly and perhaps with some uncertainty. And you offer your company, to take up the journey together.
The path is long, friends, and it has beautiful meadows of wildflowers and twisted forests with trip-hazard roots and jutted rocks along the way. What you achieve along the way is measured by this ratio: The more you give, the more you receive.
The math, according to Crosby, Stills and Nash, goes like this: “They are one person. They are two alone. They are three together. They are for each other.”
It’s akin to this recent insight from my brother Paul. He was speaking of something else, but in this case it’s apropos. “Funny how life works out,” he said, “sometimes even when it doesn’t at other times so that it can work out eventually when it needs to.”
Yes, it is funny how life — love — works itself out. How, in that small space of the soul, emerging from its chrysalis, it twitches, stretches, then soars.
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.