Ye Olde Deare Herte-lings,
We are approaching midnight– the cold, cloudy moon-masking dawny twilight of our Valentine’s Day 2017. All of our warmth is on the inside.
Richard III would mock our holiday cheer and say the appropriate name for V-Day this year is “the biggest, baddest, worst ever winter of our discontent,” but we’re on Team Margaret and we’re the resistance against the old villain’s campaign to spread discontent throughout our queendom. We are the all-female Spring that will bury the discontent of villainous winter once and for all.
So let us begin to honor the holiday that reminds us of Spring and that Spring is on the horizon. And let us say together, “Now is the Saint Valentine’s Day of our content.” Do you know why I can say this? I can say this because, if all goes according to plan (…) in less than a week, I will be with my valentines. The apples of my eyes. The funny girls with the sweetest smiles. Yes, we are so lucky because, as fate would have it, we get to be together in February and March! Mummy’s bank account is all discontented about it right now, but Mummy is not really going to worry about the waters of March or the April drought; Mummy is going to enjoy getting to be with you and worry about the payback stuff later. And she’s going to make FOUR twelve-hour drives to make it happen. Not only am I having talks with my bank account about these upcoming trips; I am also having talks with my lower back account about this because I have been having Richard the Third-ian lower back trouble again (it all started with the epidural I had before giving birth to Elan, but I think in the last year or two, something was dislodged and never lodged again, to the winter, spring, summer, and fall of my back’s discontent).
Tonight, during the hours of our rest, we will welcome into our hearts and minds the spirit of the Saint of Courtly Love. Since I cannot tell you a “story from mouth” while we snuggle in bed together on The Eve of Saint V, I must write you a story here that can someday be read aloud.
Once upon a time, there were two saintly angels named Darentine and Valanah. It was a redundancy to call them “saintly angels” but the heavens were so insistent on their divine preciousness that the mortals knew to always, always think of them in the most effusive, exclamatory, and repetitive terms. It was not that the heavens meant to inflate their cherubic heads with delusions of grandeur; oh no, the heavens had no need for that! It was simply that the heavens had no way of communicating their perfection with mortals, and the only way mortals could communicate their praise of the two angelic saints was to reach at the divine spheres of their miraculous existence through the use of meager superlatives. Poor mortals, never able to grasp, even in symbolic form, the hearts of the saints!
Ah, but the immortal, beloved hearts of Saint Darentine and Saint Valanah were so full of heavenly substance that they empathized with the plight of even the most wretched of mortals, and, in a show of astounding mercy, they showered on the world their divine affections, in the likeness of God, and this is how the world of heartless mortals grew to glimpse and glean the nature of all-forgiving divine love.
The saintly sister saints were revered for the miraculous effects of the heavenly elixirs of their spirits, and so God ordained it that once a year, the Queens of Heart would come down from their heavenly step on the Throne of Thrones in order to fill the cold, empty chasms wherein mortals would have hearts if they could. And this is why mortals experience the bliss of heavenly love but only for a short while. It is the Cinderella Story of Glass-Slippered Mortality. Not all mortals were able to receive the elixir of the saints; most could not, and those who did only did so for a while before they forgot its nature (those are the mortals who looked for love again and again, never finding it). The mortals who tasted the elixir of the divine love of the saints were destined to one day overcome their mortality, by the Grace of God, at The Mighty Gates of The House of Love. This was known to early mortals as “The Original Open House,” and there was only one Real Estate Agent present – the Real Estate Agent in the Sky.
This is how Valentine’s Day came to be, the day, in a world where time exists, on which God would usher Saint Darentine and Saint Valanah, and their divine elixirs, into the world of mortals, where mortals would either learn about love or never know it, based on their propensity and attitude toward divine love.
The Elixir of the Saints, which was known to the mortals as a “kiss,” touched the hearts of the blessed, each year, leading them on the path to heavenly bliss. This tradition continued across the ages, until a mortal with close ties to the underworld by the name of Hershey from a molehill called Pennsylvania laid claim on their “kiss,” purporting to own it, making it a brand, and selling it to the most stupid and gullible of all the mortals. Every mortal who ate one of Hershey’s kisses became sick with what was known as Hershey Fever, which almost always led to heinously soft bowel movements which were followed usually by death. Fortunately, Hershey’s reign of terror on the bums of the mortals only lasted for one century. The Hershey Disaster would have been a catastrophe if it were not for the perfectly forgiving hearts of the saintly saints, who in the spirit of God, on hearing of this, paid a merciful and extensive visit to the Hershey Compound, melting the heart of the mortal named Hershey and restoring it with the elixir of their angelic kiss. Yes, the Sister Saints gave Hershey the biggest kiss of all: the gift of mortality. After Hershey was duly courted and received a divine kiss from heaven’s lips, Hershey’s kiss was never the same. From then on, Hershey vowed never to make another useless mortal dollar on the kiss and lived only for immaterial things divine, instead, serving the heavens by giving away divine kisses. This is the story of how Saint Darentine and Valanah taught Hershey to give a kiss by giving Hershey a kiss, and of how common mortal celebrations of Saint Valentine’s Day came to be.
I hope you enjoyed it. The part about the bums: that will be your favorite part. Yes, I enjoyed writing that line, too. It may seem silly to make up a Valentine’s Day myth about how the day came to be celebrated, but I think it’s appropriate, and I think every year our family should have the tradition of making up a new Saint Valentine’s Day myth. A myth can really reveal a lot about a given time period. But it can also be hard to decode. Consider the widely held myths surrounding the origins Valentine’s Day that prevail today.
So to some, the roots of Valentine’s Day as we now know it are grounded deep in Western Christianity, as a story of a Christian martyr. “Martyr” is the term we use to describe someone who has died for their beliefs. Joan of Arc is an example of a martyr; she is the martyr Mummy wears around her neck. I do so to remind myself to stay true to my beliefs in the face of fear, intimidation, or persecution. Thinking about others who have risked their lives to stand up for their beliefs helps me to be brave about standing up for my own.
Martyr or no martyr, Valentine’s Day is known to Christians as the Feast of Saint Valentine. Although we refer to one Saint Valentine, as in the singular; Saint Valentine is actually a multitudinous, probably trinitarian, entity. There are many versions of the story of Saint Valentine, but it’s somewhat acknowledged that there were at least two, and probably three, saints that, when their stories were combined over the ages, came to be known as Valentinus. There is also the early Christian Gnostic theologian, Valentinus, who built a school in Rome. He taught his followers, The Valentinians, that spiritual beings (as opposed to pagans and ordinary Christians) are those who possess gnosis (or, knowledge) of the divine. Hey, not so different than the story I made up about the Saint Sisters Who Taught Hershey How to Kiss. I like the “us” in Valentinus, and it captures the collective, sometimes chaotic and confusing, nature of storytelling. Some say that Valentine’s Day is connected to a Roman celebration called Lupercalia in which men drank and whipped women as a way of trying to increase fertility but others deny this. I’m not going to deny that there might be some connection of Valentine’s Day with “those wild and crazy Romans” who beat women but others deny this. The Latin term “valentia” refers to strength and capacity but, obviously, we know that men who beat women into submission, not fertility, are the farthest thing from strong and capable.
There are many versions of the story of Valentine. According to one, the saint, or saints, associated with the name Valentinus were imprisoned and persecuted for performing weddings in Rome for those who, by law, were forbidden to marry. That makes Valentinus a kind of heretical love-promoter and underground operator for those kept apart by the powers that be (or were) at the time. Not so long ago, women who wanted to marry other women, or people of different ethnic backgrounds, could not do so, and those who tried to perform interracial and same-sex marriages in the church were certainly ousted for doing so. Many churches today do not allow such marriages to take place, but some do. The church to which we belong follows the tradition of St. Valentine, and is pro-love, but many churches still stand in opposition to love. I think about Friar Laurence, too, who married Romeo and Juliet in secret without the knowledge or approval of their warring families in the hopes of restoring peace between them. What happens because of his efforts is tragic, but sometimes tragic circumstance is there to teach us something, and that’s how I see the story of Valentinus. Saint Valentine was executed for working against the corrupt forces to marry persecuted Christians, and he was persecuted in the end, according to Christian accounts, but now he and his efforts are celebrated, which indicates that perhaps humanity is capable of learning something over time. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if people didn’t have to be persecuted in order for humanity to learn, though. I guess it’s the nature of the beast– the one who clearly needs more nurture.
Literary accounts of Valentine also exist, dating way, way back to the 14th Century with the work of a fabulous (feb-ulous if you want to Februize it or feb-yule-us if you want to Mummify it or fénix if you want to Old English-ize it) fellow by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer. Mummy, despite being an English major, never became acquainted with Sir Chaucer until recently, via social media, when she saw parallels between her own experiments with language/grammar and the Old English (also known as OE) grammatical stylings of Chaucer. Chaucer is said to have romanticized Valentine’s Day. That means, his writing transformed it into something to be shared between lovers.
Try a little Chaucer, girls. Say this aloud:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd cometh there to chese his make.
For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Was that fun? I love the way our eyes and minds are challenged by Old English to reconnect with our familiar uses of language and encouraged to play with and go beyond the ramifications of today’s traditional grammar. That’s one of my absolutely favorite hobbies: Extreme Wordplay. Which reminds me, I once gave someone a black heart for Valentine’s Day that was filled with words written in silver. The words carried meaning, and I picked each word out carefully, and they were read and appreciated. Valentine’s Day can be a celebration of literacy, can’t it?! Which also reminds me that the two of you are giving adorable valentines to your friends tomorrow. You worked together to assemble them. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you this year, but you did such a good job working together on them, independently. I love the sisterly effort, and the ninjas are so gosh darn cute!
We don’t really know why we celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14th, but some suppose that the above reference by Chaucer, from his poem, The Parliament of Fowls (Parlement of Foules ), may have something to do with our modern traditions. I enjoy that “bryd,” which means “bird,” also looks like “bride.” There are some interesting articles out there on the subject.
I never cease to be fascinated by Valentine’s Day traditions, such as the European tradition of giving one’s beloved a key. This, of course, is meant to symbolize entry into the door of one’s heart. I would give you the key to mine, but my heart is not the kind that opens with a key: to you, it’s always unlocked and open.
A week or so ago, I had a day at work in which I was moving from room to room for about 30 minutes to a half an hour for teachers who needed to have conferences, and so I was singing songs and reading books aloud to students in each room. It was delightful, for both the students and for me, because, as you know, reading aloud and singing songs, especially to and with little ones like you, makes me gleeful. I read a book about Valentine’s Day with one of the younger classes, and I asked them, afterward, if they would all like to make valentines for their teacher to surprise her when she returned. They were SO excited about it. They sprang into action. Or more like into a valentine frenzy. I was the Head Heart Maker, and they waited in line to each get a heart. Some wanted a blue heart, some wanted a purple heart, some wanted an orange heart, some wanted more than one heart. I made as many as I could, and I made sure each kiddo had one. Then they decorated them with yarn and glue, and wrote messages on them for their teacher. We managed to cover her desk in valentines, drawing on the theme in the book, before she returned from her meeting. The most precious thing of all to me was to see how excited they were for her to come back to her desk and see them. It was touching, my loves, to see how much love all of the students felt when they were given an opportunity to express it. I hear a lot of mean and negative words come out of the mouths of the kids at school, so it was encouraging to see that, when given a common, specific, and loving purpose, they were able to set aside their habits and just focus on the common goal of doing something nice for someone else. What a great valentine gift that was for me– to be able to facilitate that.
One of the reasons I love working with young students is because, whenever they are sweet and loving, they remind me of you. Not being with you is so hard, but I am able to take joy in fostering joy whenever I can in the lives of little ones who are your age or close to it. Whenever I get a hug from a student, I think of you and feel the joy I feel when I am hugging you (or at least a little bit of it). I get A LOT of hugs during my day, and I swear to you, it is as though I am hugging you when I hug the little huggers back. Of course, no hug is as precious to me as the hugs I share with my most precious ones, but reminders of what is most precious to me are precious and I appreciate them fully. I do have trouble remembering names but I remember faces and spirits well. Because I often move from room to room, I am constantly greeting others. I think one of the best feelings in the world, for me, is to offer a kind and gracious greeting to someone, and to be greeted with kindness and joy in return. It’s such a simple thing, and yet it is so powerful.
Kind greetings remind me of Spring because the bright flowers that bloom during Spring seem as if they are welcoming us, especially the harbingers we call “daffodils.” I read that Saint Valentine is often associated with the advent of Spring, so that makes sense. Folklorically speaking, and according to a proverb, “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots.”
I was looking for Valentine’s Day poems to share with you. I came across one about an onion as a valentine, by a poet named Carol Ann Duffy. I like the idea of giving someone an onion on Valentine’s Day. I don’t really have someone to give an onion to right now, but, well, anyway… You can read the poem here: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/valentine
I also wrote two Valentine’s Day poems. Here is the one I wrote for the two of you:
Lily Rose Garden
In the garden that I grow
there is one lily and one rose;
there are two blossoms,
in the garden that I grow;
out of love not long ago,
I made one lily and one rose:
my sweet defense against my woes,
my emerald thumbs to rakes and hoes,
my lily rose at dawn, to sow,
my sunset rose did yawn– then rose;
my tender buds, my seamless gloves,
I, by the bed of lily, rose,
I, by them, bide them, hide from foes,
my morning glistening bliss, my glow,
my solace, poetry, and prose;
there is one lily and one rose
in the garden that I grow.
If I could, I would present you with the prettiest lily and the prettiest rose tomorrow when you stepped off the school bus. But, in the spirit of optimism, a poem about them will last longer.
I love you with all my lilyrose garden heart. With all of my heart.
With all my lev (Hebrew), with all my ib (Egyptian), with all my 心 (Chinese), with all my hṛd (Sanscrit), with all my moyo (Swahili), with all my herz (German), with all my coeur (French).
Enjoy your celebrations of courtly love. Sashay around in your sparkly red skirts. Feel contentment. Celebrate V-Day. And celebrate G-Day. Because you are my gals and my galentines, and we gals are beyond FEB-ulous.
One final note: Love is the most powerful shield. It will never desert you, so you must never desert Love.
Goodnight and good morning, dearest angels– my sweetest, funniest valentines.
Ye Olde Modor
The only abnormality is the incapacity to love.
– Anais Nin
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new.
– Ursula K. LeGuin
Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.
– Jean Anouilh
P.S. / UPDATE: Grrrls, I wrote this post on the Eve of V but could not post it up until now, long after Courtly Love Day passed, so I am going to share a few photos (below) of our Valentine’s Day Apart&Together. It was a good day for you and for me, and so: for us. I had students lining up to give me hugs and encountered heartwarming friendly faces. The kiddos were entertained by my ensemble. I was entertained by their reactions. One student said, “Let me guess; you’re trying to be a nerd today.” I said, “I don’t have to try; I’m a nerd every day.” Another student said, “You’re weird.” I said, “That’s me; I’m a weirdo.” A number of students told me they liked what I was wearing. My favorite comment was made by a girl at the end of the day who told me I looked like Super Mario. As in one of the Mario Brothers. Aunt Missy said I reminded her of a mime, and I think her description of my aesthetic is the most accurate. Of course, you two looked like princesses (i.e., Young Queens of Hearts). Your grandfather gave me flowers and truffles. He and I, in turn, gave Nana flowers and truffles, which I delivered to her at her office. That 85 year old gran of yours: having an office at 85! Gee whiz! What a lady! I had pizza for dinner with Aunt Missy, Uncle Brian, and Harpy. I missed you. I only ate one piece of chocolate. It was a piece of sponge candy.
Long live Februarius and Februalia!
When twilight drops her
And pins it with
Remember that you
have a friend
Though she may
– Anne of Green Gables
(Lucy Maud Montgomery)
Note: My darlings, I wrote this letter on February 13, 2017, but due to unfair life circumstances was not able to publish it until late in March.