Does Valentine's Day seem "forced" to you? Are the February 14th expressions of love a little too "cliché" for your taste? Maybe you should re-examine that taste— And we're not talking about learning to love conversation hearts. Rozann Carter explains.
I have those Jack Vettriano prints with beach ballroom dancers all over my apartment and a collection of chick flicks you couldn’t throw a rock over. I once bought a stack of old love letters from an antique store to use as a decorative paperweight. Basically, I am waiting to be discovered by Necco as the next great conversation heart writer. Move over, Russell Stover. Valentine’s Day love is sorta my “thing”.
At the same time, though, I recognize that this day sends single gals to lady’s night yoga classes with Kelly Clarkson man-eater songs blasting and has whining men comparing creative synonyms for “ridiculous”, “scripted” and “obligation.” It keeps engagement ring superstores wheeling-and-dealing and flower shops ordering roses by the truckload, and it usually incites at least one or two marquee-busting chick flicks to keep the popcorn money coming in. Unless you are Nicholas Sparks, chances are you have uttered something about commercialization and “Hallmark holidays” as you swipe your credit card at the local Walgreen’s, checking off another February to-do —albeit heart-shaped— box.
I respect that. I hear you. I know you are too authentic for Valentine’s Day. However, I would like to take this opportunity to be a contrarian. Father Steve has already spoken eloquently about St. Valentine, St. Cyril and St. Methodius. I will, instead, plead the cause of scripted love.
No, this is not because I love me some waxy chocolates. Valentine’s Day, in all it’s amateur cliché goodness, reinforces an aspect of love that is of utmost importance for longevity and abiding fulfillment: the sacramental gestures that display a love we have willfully chosen to revere when authentic emotion cannot be mustered.
Let me back up for a second: for most, February 14th means skyrocketed expectations that can only disappoint. This is because, although we would never admit it, we equate the fact and the degree of the romantic gesture with the authenticity of the feeling. Whether or not we actually want nasty candy that tastes like chalky bananas or a bouquet of spray-painted carnations, we want someone to love us so wholeheartedly that they cannot help but be ridiculous about it. We want to cause a love that incites, that stirs, that prompts inexplicable, almost stupid expression. This, this goosebump love, this is real— right? This is what we hope for, what we marry for, what will carry us through the long years until we are sitting side-by-side on a porch somewhere?
Stirring love is a grace. It is divine and supernatural—in the true sense of those words. Willful love, the love that the criticized version of Valentine’s Day embodies however imperfectly, is graceful. Praise the Lord if the timing of these two expressions of love coincides. But, give yourself a high five if it doesn’t, and you act anyway… without letting anyone know that you calculated that action. You are “willing the good of the other as other” without even knowing it.
One step further: Valentine’s Day burns not because we struggle with willful love, but because we struggle with the idea that someone else might have to will to love us. This “other” might come to a point where they are not motivated by butterflies, but by our dive-bombing carrier pigeons. Don’t bother, we say. If you’re not feeling it, I don’t want your forced expressions. I just had hoped you loved me enough to at least write your own message below the 15-stanza-ed gushfest on that gigantic, glittery monstrosity of a greeting card.
Ah, there it is: learning to submit lightheartedly to this imperfect expression and to revere the kind of love we are capable of, the kind that is encapsulated in these broken, human vessels and only gives fleeting glimpses of Love, Itself. It sanctifies because it prepares and humbles us, every day, to receive the undeserved love of Christ. This Love, from the cross, took nails in his hands while asking that the cup pass from his lips: the perfect juxtaposition of humanity and divinity that gave expression to all our feeble attempts at inconvenienced, even suffering love. It is even more beautiful because of the suffering, deeper because of the inconvenience, more Christ-like because of the commitment to act despite the lack of stirring emotion.
So, don’t be a hater. Literally. Celebrate the truth about love that is presented this quirky day. But be sure to turn the chocolates over and poke holes in them first. Nobody wins when someone inadvertently consumes a chocolate-covered cherry.
Rozann Carter is the Creative Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
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