Sunday, February 6, 2011

St. Valentines – The Saint, the Over-Priced Flowers and Love


  There has always been some confusion about St Valentine. The bottom line is that there seem to be a plethora of saints and martyrs all who were called Valentine and nobody can decide just which one of them it was that we can all hold responsible for having the world go crazy buying flowers, chocolates, going for candlelit dinners and sending anonymous cards to one another all in the name of love.

My favourite story is the legend that suggests St Val was actually a Catholic Bishop in Rome who lived during the reign of Claudius II, and that this Claudius guy got it into his head that an unmarried man made a better soldier than a married one. Hence, he forbade his subjects to marry. Bishop Valentine was having none of this, so he secretly performed marriages between young couples. Eventually, he got caught and Claudius threw him into jail with the order to have him beheaded.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Whilst in prison, Bishop Val fell in love himself with the blind daughter of the jailor. Because of his strong faith and the very fact that he loved the girl, her blindness was miraculously cured. However, Valentine may have been able to perform miracles for his beloved, but could not save himself. He was still condemned to death, and rumour has it that shortly before his execution he wrote her a note, signing it ‘from your Valentine’. And this, of course, is the phrase still used between lovers to this very day.
It is a tragic story, but we all like a little bit of tragedy, especially when it’s somebody else’s tragedy. But I have to say I’m also impressed by people who have the courage of their convictions, even if those convictions go against the flow. So St Val was a lover, not a fighter, and that seems to be why he was beheaded. I’m sure we can all relate to that one. So whenever Valentine’s Day comes around, I always think it’s worth celebrating love in general, whatever form shape or size it might come in.
But what is love when you think about it? Is it really the mad overpriced commercial frenzy of February 14? Maybe it is for some, but love is many things.
The Greeks managed to divide love into different expressions. First of all there is Eros. Eros is the ‘I’m in love’ sort of love. It’s the fuzzy buzz with the butterflies in your stomach. It’s the not being able to wait. It’s passionate, it’s hot, it’s about wanting to jump on top of your beloved and when you feel like this you really don’t want to do anything else except be in love. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But Eros is dependant upon being ‘all loved up’. Once the cracks begin to show, Eros begins to seep out through them. So basically, Eros is like a hook. It gets you in there and puts you on cloud nine, but it isn’t the basis for true love, and just as exhilarating as it may be, it is also just as likely to leave you disillusioned, disappointed or dejected. For that reason, I am convinced that my 12-year-old daughter’s love for Jedward will not turn out to be as lasting as she may currently believe.
Then there is Philia, the love we have for friends, the relationships we have to best friends and the sense of fulfilment we feel when surrounded by people who we cherish. Philia is magical, and yet, it too is sensitive to situations and experiences that can push friendships apart. The Greeks decided that, because Philia is based on give and take, that it isn’t really true love, but I love my friends to a fault and the Greeks are just too pernickety if you ask me.
They claim that Agape is the business when it comes to love. Agape is selfless love. This is what we also call ‘unconditional love’, and for this reason Agape is reckoned to be higher than the other two types of love because when you love somebody unconditionally it means that you are able to give love whether you get love back in return or not. This is the type of love that is often associated with parenting, even if I sometimes consider my role as a parent more as martyrdom than Agape, but then again, wasn’t Valentine a martyr too all because of love?
I tend to get confused. Was it Philia or Agape when I gave a jump start to a stranger during the bad weather? Does having a secret crush on my Yoga teacher really have to be Eros if I want it to be Philia? It gets confusing, but I do know that my heart swells up with love when I hear my son play the guitar in his bedroom, and it still misses a beat if I happen to bump into my beloved unexpectedly during the day.
Love is everywhere, and I am lucky enough to value how many people I love and in so many different ways and situations. I’ll tell you one thing though, no matter how much I love any of them, I refuse to buy over priced red roses just because we are remembering St Valentine. I definitely don’t want to be taken to dinner just for the sake of it, because token gestures of love don’t fit into any of the love types I’ve come across. But then again ‘Agape’, unconditional love, doesn’t that mean that I might just do all the flowers and dinner and cards just to please the one I love, in a selfless sort of way? Or worse, pretend it’s all because of my other half when really I’m just looking for an excuse not to be cynical. Because sometimes you need to give common sense a break. Yes that’s it. I want 12 of those over priced long stem roses please and a big box of heart shaped chocolates. That’s love for you!

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