Thursday, February 11, 2010

my funny valentine or why valentine's day is corporate and that's ok

This is a defense of love.

Or maybe more appropriately "Eros." I will refer to it as such for the rest of this essay for simplicity's sake and also because this is how C.S. Lewis dubs it in his book The Four Loves, which forms the basis of my writing.

Every year as the calendar days begin to fall precipitously and dangerously toward February 14, Eros begins to take fire from all sides.

"Valentine's Day is so corporate and commercialized."  "It's nothing but a capitalist conspiracy among the greeting card companies to prop up a make-believe holiday to boost a slow month in sales."  (What?  So you're telling me I can't get a Black History Month card with a sweet picture of George Washington Carver recounting the numerous and glorious uses of the peanut?  And why is this the only thing I can remember from countless public school history classes taught during the month of February?)

So people declare their independence of the evil capitalist machinery, defy the man, and declare their own holidays.  Anti-Valentine's Day.  Ferris Wheel Day.  National Singlehood Awareness Day.  And on and on.  Mostly this is done out of the bitterness that one does not have an appointed valentine to celebrate the day with.  In my opinion though, the lady (or man) doth protest too much.  If anyone declares their worship for Eros, it is the unValentines.  There is no opt-out for love.  We will all love something.  The question is what.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now I could devote several hundred words to debunking the myth that the evil corporate behemoths of Hallmark and Godiva have manipulated our emotions by forcing their black holiday on us all.  But that's what Wikipedia is for.  And a quick reading of the Valentine's Day entry will show you that the name originates with early Christian martyrs and draws its romantic roots from the days of Geoffrey Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales.

But skip that and let's use a little rhetorical device we lawyers refer to as "assuming arguendo."  So I grant your point: Valentine's Day is a corporate sellout of a holiday foisted upon us as a cruel hoax to convince us to buy copious amounts of greeting cards and chocolates.  My response: So what?

Have you ever noticed that corporations always co-opt stuff that is awesome?  Like Christmas and love and puppies.  We just sat a Super Bowl last week that half the people in the audience were watching solely for the purpose of being sold products through ingenious advertising.  Thousands of people tuned in via the internet for the Steve Jobs to unleash his brilliant move forward in technology for a supersize iPod touch.  When is the last time you saw a corporation spending $2.5 million for a commercial advocating the many desirable qualities of strained peas?  Corporations don't make us want things.  They find things we already want and find ways to make money off selling it to us.

One thing we definitely want, have always wanted, and will always want for as long as the human race subsists is Eros.

So what defines our love/hate relationship with Eros?  Fear.  We are afraid.  And, on the one hand, we have good reason to fear.  Eros is a fearful and brutal master of our emotions, our physical and spiritual well-being.  Never do we feel closer to the truly divine, the unconditional state of love reserved for God Himself then when we declare of our beloved, "anything for you."  We have a healthy distrust of such heavenly, eternal feelings expressed on the drab, mortal earth.  As Lewis writes, "When natural things look most divine, the demoniac is just round the corner."

Yet Eros, fickle Eros, the subject of countless songs and limitless reveries, of all the types of love is the most transitory.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  For no reason but with much protestation.  As easily as one can fall in love without realizing the event is even taking place, the sudden realization of being out of love may come as the even greater surprise to the afflicted party.  This is our second fear and is both unwise and unvirtuous.  While the first was prudent for protecting our right relationship and allegiance with Love Himself, the second fear is a betrayal of that relationship and turning away from the spirit-discerning fire that God presents in the form of Eros.  Again, Lewis explains it much better than I could ever hope.
Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as 'Careful! This might lead you to suffering.' ... When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ.  If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.  I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less.

When I took my first job out of law school, I found myself for the first time with a 401k to manage and sitting in front of a financial adviser asking me the foreign yet primary philosophical question of my existence, "Would you like a low, moderate, or high risk of investment?"  You see, in life, there will be risk.  The only question is how much we will risk, how brave we will be.  There are more grievous sins in this life than cowardice.  Like foolishness.  The foolishness of believing that we can have one attitude toward Eros and our fellow human beings without having that attitude affect our relationship with God.  How can we ever lead ourselves to believe that we could take some safe route, low-risk strategy toward love in this life while expecting to be united to Love Himself in the next?
If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not.  We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour.  If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it. 

A survey of the biblical narrative leaves one thoroughly convinced that the story of human existence is the Love Story, the one of which all the Dear Johns and Valentine's Days of the world are but faint and imperfect shadows.  The mystery to which Saint Paul referred to as the fated marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church.  Love did not pursue us carefully but recklessly from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, from Mount Sinai to Mount Calvary.

We should not turn our backs on Saint Valentine's Day.  It is truly a holy day.  And in this world of hate, we could use a few more days to celebrate Love.

(This installment is a second excerpt from my future book, How to Date an Unattainable Woman and Other Things I Don't Know.  Previously excerpted here.)

2 comments:

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