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And the greatest is love …

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, February 10, 2005

For over 20 years, my most faithful Valentine has been my grandmother. On February 14 every year for as long as I can remember, a card would arrive at my house containing a $5 bill, a box of Whitman’s Samplers and a note saying Grandma and Grandpa were very proud of me.

Starting from the time of my infancy when I was clumsily stumbling around in diapers and continuing on to these more sophisticated college days in which I clumsily stumble around in dress shoes, my Grandma never missed a Valentine’s Day.

Grandmothers have a built-in tendency to lavish care, cash and candy on their grandkids. Just as the nightingale sings and the Chicago Cubs miss the playoffs, it’s the natural order of things. Your grandmother is probably thinking of you right now, possibly even putting a letter in the mail with a pink and red heart stamp on it, just like my Grandma is doing.

As I think about it, this is the main reason I’ve never understood the bitterness and hostility that Valentine’s Day inspires in some people.

Now don’t get me wrong – since I entered my “dating days” post-sophomore year of high school, I’ve spent almost every Valentine’s night without a special someone. In fact, I’m not sure if I can even refer to them as “dating days” since they lacked a significantly important aspect – dates.

Thus, I, too, understand that it’s no fun to be reminded of romance, Cupid and all that schmaltzy stuff when you’re spending the 14th alone. But the negative responses to Valentine’s Day are simply too much for me.

My personal pet peeve is the idea of “Anti-Valentine’s Day,” a concept I have heard much of since I arrived at Notre Dame. As far as I understand, this retaliatory “celebration” typically involves a gathering of single people who, if female, watch a Hugh Grant film, have a good cry and talk about how much boys stink. If the gathering is of single men, it’s essentially the same thing only with Bruce Willis movies, a good puke and talk about Anna Kournikova.

To my mind, however, the most insidious element of the Anti-Valentine’s concept is the suggestion that Valentine’s Day is purely contrived – a Hallmark Holiday, part of some sort of massive conspiracy designed to make money for the bloated roses-and-candy-industrial complex.

It’s not. It’s the Feast of St. Valentine.

The Catholic Encyclopedia speaks of recordings found in martyr books that list three Valentines, all of whom were martyred for their faith. The St. Val-entine we think of on the 14th seems to be a fusion of several stories.

My personal favorite tale of Valentine is this: during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, the Roman Empire needed soldiers. Claudius, fearing that the comforts of family life would dissuade his men from combat, cancelled all marriages and forbade further engagements.

St. Valentine, a Christian and priest in the Empire, defied Claudius’ orders and secretly married young couples. For this, he was beheaded on the 14th of February. Thus, the legend reminds us, St. Valentine made the ultimate sacrifice in affirmation of a simple idea: that love cannot and will not be defeated – not by edict, not by fear, not by the sinister doings of evil men, not even by threat of death.

What is the lesson in all of this for our much too cheaply given sentimental time?

We are guilty of reducing Valentine’s Day to dates, cards and couples, neglecting to recall the story of the man that this day is set aside to honor.

We concern ourselves on this day solely with statuses – single, couple, dating, broken-up – as if our plans for the evening had anything to do with the celebration of the Saint. We speak of love as something to be written on a card and bought from a stationery store. Some of us would be happy to ignore love altogether, especially on this feast day.

I have arrived at the conclusion, however, that the closest model of the true spirit of Valentine’s Day comes back to Grandma.

In his essay “Of Love,” Sir Francis Bacon speaks of an inclination in the hearts of men “toward love of others.”

If this capacity to love wasn’t directed to just one person – say, toward a significant other on Valentine’s Day – then, Bacon suggested, it could manifest itself as an even greater love of all people.

The proclivity to love could flow out of us in a broad stroke extended to everyone equally, as a small echo of the way God loves. When your grandmother sends you that card, when your elementary school teacher makes you bring in enough New Kids on the Block Valentines to give to one to everyone, it is in the spirit of this type of universal love. Preserving that spirit, as St. Valentine demonstrated, is worth the ultimate sacrifice.

Bob Masters is a senior English major and co-president of the Humor Artists club. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.