Happy Valentine's Day! In honor of this day, which is actually the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius (go figure), Rozann Carter *reluctantly* braved the crowds to see this February's box office romance, "The Vow." Suspend your standard criticisms—there is a deeper spiritual truth within the intense fear of being forgotten, the plotline of this based-on-a-true-story film.
Welcome to February 14th.
To begin, I speak on behalf of the Valentine’s Day that you know… and most likely hate.
- I am aware that this day, in its full measure, takes its name from St. Valentine and that our notions of cupid, long stem roses, and expectation-induced acts of sugar-coated charity have little to do with the genuine witness of this 3rd century martyr and his particular charism. (There, choir. Take a seat.)
- Secondly, I concede that the compulsory acts of romance marketed by the likes of Hallmark, Brach’s, and Teleflora produce little more than cavities, papercuts, and a vase of “how many times do I have to tell him that I hate tulips” tulips-- all overwrought attempts at counterfeit thoughtfulness. True love? Not so much. (Belligerent single ladies, you can step off your soapbox.)
- Finally, I know that I am part of a target market, a demographic likely to shell out the requisite $10 to view the latest cinematic retelling of the original sappy love story, complete with shiny new cast members, a very minor deviation in plotline, a clockwork formula of predictability, and an explicit heartstring tug that takes full advantage of any innate bend toward sentimentality and emotivism. (I went to see The Vow this Valentine’s Day weekend, and I’d do it all again for the Milk Duds.)
The Vow, starring Dear John’s Channing Tatum and The Notebook’s Rachel McAdams, is Hollywood’s answer to the Valentine demand of 2012. As a fierce supporter of the Romantic film, I have heard all of the criticisms, the counter-arguments, the chiding. The same subset of our population who labels Valentine’s Day as a “hallmark holiday” refers to this genre of cinema as inexcusably cliché. They classify it in similar terms that they use to describe the dynamic behind the commercialization of Christmas: in systematizing and marketing a characteristic of the Divine (i.e. Joy, or in the case of Valentine’s Day, Love), it is cheapened and made into a kitschy imitation of what inspired it in the first place. I get all of that. But the cliché re-emerges because somewhere beneath those layers of conversation hearts, silly sappy phrases and predictability, there is an authenticity that has universal appeal and calls for our participation and imitation in spite of our lack of creativity. The task is not to discard the reality because it now smacks of oh-gag-get-a-room, but to take from it whatever it is that incites the cheesy love expressions and purify that as best we can.
(And here is a quick newsflash, Mr./Ms. Original: all of our efforts at love are eventually clichéd cheapenings and imitations. Are we done here? Okay, on to the The Vow.)
“Life's all about moments of impact, and how they change our lives forever. But what if one day you could no longer remember any of them?”
The movie unfolds in this manner—Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo’s (Channing Tatum) “once-in-a-lifetime love” is built upon a series of snapshots, coincidences, encounters and memories (which Leo periodically refers to as “moments of impact”), and in a split second, a car accident erases every trace of the relationship that grew from those experiences. Leo has effectively been forgotten by his wife (who suffered brain trauma), yet his own vivid memories remain; the love to which he has “fiercely” submitted for 5 years is gone and no amount of pleading and reminding will expedite the memories’ return. He remains outside of a love that he built, a complete stranger to his soulmate and a useless fixture in the exercise of his own mission and vocation. He then proceeds to offer all that he has in an effort to be remembered, potentially for the first time.
This feeling of being utterly and completely forgotten, the same emotion so aptly expressed by the desperate face of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life as he pleads with his friends to remember him despite his having “never existed,” touches upon an incredible emptiness and loneliness. To be loved is to be known, through and through, and to be forgotten is never to have been known. Even worse, it is to be left with the devastating, heart-wrenching nostalgia of having once been known.
Fear of being forgotten subconsciously undergirds much of our panic-ridden and hurried attempts to secure our plot in this world. It weaves its way into our relationships, our vocations, and our jealous, comparative efforts within our daily interactions. The Vow is a story about “moments of impact” that amount to serendipitous romantic experiences filling the pages of a particular love story, but these moments give sacramental evidence that “he” was here, “she” was here, “we” were here. Loss of that evidence seemingly amounts to final meaninglessness in love… and in life.
Or does it?
What, exactly, is it about being remembered? Why must we have had some effect or impact on someone? Is there, within this desperate fear of being forgotten, the possibility for a counteracting beauty and peace of having been ultimately known?
Divine metaphysics provides the answer. To exist is to “be,” to act as a participant in the sheer act of Being, Itself, which we know to be God. The very fact of your existence means that you are a thought within the Divine Mind, every fraction of an instant, every breath, waking and sleeping. And because “Being, Itself” goes by several names, one of which is “Love,” our being means that we are continuously loved into existence. We, as participants in the love reflected by the Trinity, are simultaneously recognized, gazed upon, and loved. We, at every moment, remembered or forgotten by this world which we scramble to effect, are known and loved with a knowledge so deep and a love so fervent that it vivifies our bodies and gives animation to our souls, traveling all the way into our desolate surroundings to provide us with a physical, gestural reminder: hands and feet nailed to a cross in an all-encompassing statement, “You will never be forgotten. I have carved you in the palm of my nail-pierced hand.”
The beauty of our free will affords us the liberty to ignore that saving gesture, but it cannot extract us from the love that first spoke the Incarnate Word in a great act of Divine knowing. Our ardent desire to be remembered, then, is utterly realized in Christ. However, this equal and opposite desire characterizes God’s every action in salvation history. We forget Him. “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me…?” (John 14:9)
And yet He reminds. He waits, offering snapshot after snapshot of His romantic gestures, courting us with a patience that endured the interrogation of Pilate and the betrayal of His closest friends, embracing us and drawing us into a life of love which our earthly glimpses can only provide a meager, waning reflection. Our remembrance of Christ is what His “Vow” awaits. He desires to be known, to be remembered, for our sake—to draw us into eternal life. And, for better or worse, He will fiercely honor that vow.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
(Eat your heart out, Channing Tatum.)
Rozann Carter is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.