Hi Friends. I’m going to let you in on a secret about this “Valentine’s Day” that we’re celebrating today. Got a minute?
It isn’t about the chocolate.
It also isn’t about making the right dinner reservation at the right place, purchasing the perfect piece of jewelry or tickets for a weekend getaway or flowers or art. Despite what the industrialized affection industry might have you believe, it isn’t even about the perfect card with the touching rhyme and the meaningful but impersonal sentiment. I figured I shouldn’t tell all this to the people I saw in the greeting card aisle at the grocery store last night, but I so wanted to tell them to move on. Get some avocados, or maybe some kale. Nothing says “I love you” quite like a hearty dose of potassium or B vitamins, right?
Nor is it about today, this very Thursday. Because y’all – whether it’s about your relationship to your spouse, your significant other, your friends, that hot one you’ve had your eye on at the coffee shop or art opening or wherever – LOVE has no more to do with February 14 than it did on the 13th or 15th, or on January 11th or November 23rd or any other date, for that matter.
If you’re reading this and suddenly panicking ‘cause you somehow managed to forget about today when all retail everywhere and ads are blaring it out at you – take a breath. Pull up a chair. Let’s talk.
First – a disclaimer. I’m single. (Maybe the avocados and kale have something to do with it?)
No, I’m not spending February 14 stewing in envy or resentment, but instead I’ll breathe deeply with a profound sense of relief. This is one of those commercial cultural holidays that I can dodge with a clear conscience and get absolutely no grief from anyone else. I get a socially-acceptable pass on the day. It’s a lot harder, after all, to say that as a Catholic, I’m not too big on Christmas without people looking at me funny. I’m a big fan of Jesus, but not so much the retail frenzy in His name. I’m way cool with love, too, just not with compulsory-shopping-love.
Valentine’s Day can mess with us all, partnered or not. Maybe we’re not clubbed to death and beheaded, the fate that befell St. Valentine himself, but it can still be pretty brutal. While we weren’t looking, we seem to have allowed commercial interests to tell us what love is, when to celebrate it, and how to show it to those we love. Whether it’s the jeweler or the purveyor of chocolate, this Thursday’s their “Black Friday” – and woe unto those who do not purchase accordingly!
The training starts early. I’ve been That Mom(TM) dashing down the pharmacy aisle at 8pm on February 13, frantically grabbing boxes of Power Ranger and Barbie prefab “valentines,” idly wondering whether the parochial school or other parents would freak out if we just skipped the canned gender roles implied by the cheap paper cards and allocated them randomly along the class list. Maybe it was Catholic guilt that led me one year to invest in little paper lace doilies, red and pink construction paper, glitter pens, and glue sticks, and park my eight-year old at the table for an evening that would’ve made his art teacher cringe. “Mom, why are we doing this?” he asked, and I really didn’t have a good answer. I don’t remember what I finally said, but it probably began and ended with “Because I said so and I’m the Mom and that’s why,” which was the answer I always cheerfully gave when I really had no valid answer at all. He always saw through it, of course.
Yet that’s how we start that teaching on “love” early with our kids, with lessons on compulsory performance and guilt. (And glue sticks.)
We LGBTQ folks walk an interesting path when it comes to the broader culture, in the community at large as well as in our Church. I remember a campaign called “Margins to the Mainstream” run by a lesbian group in Portland when I was but a baby dyke myself. With a few ads here and there in local papers and even a billboard, the goal was apparently to convince straight society that we were “just as good as them.” In other words, we could be just as heteronormative as the average heterosexual couple, minus … well, the “hetero” part of that equation. Even some of my straight friends were perplexed by that particular campaign. They saw our relationships, our lives, and our presence in the world as something different, something special. Why on earth would we aim only to want to fit into preexisting structures? Couldn’t we lead the way for a broader, more expansive interpretation of love, one that maybe they could aspire to as well?
The problem is compounded, of course, for those of us who remain in the Catholic Church. Where else is love celebrated and preached so thoroughly, so consistently – but wait, not for you! Fortunately, this year Valentine’s Day isn’t over the weekend, so perhaps we’ll be spared the end-of-Mass “let’s hear it for all of the married couples!” blessing – the one that serves best to shame those in marriages that the Church won’t recognize, or those whose marriages didn’t last. The Church throws up so many obstacles in front of love that poor St. Valentine might be excused for confusing it with the Emperor Claudius himself, who banned marriages and engagements in Rome in order to ensure he had enough men for his armies. St. Valentine, having none of that himself, continued to perform secretive weddings for lovers in defiance of Claudius’ orders.
Because Love is Love, y’all. Doesn’t matter what the king says, and truly – even if the princes (of the Church – our Bishops) don’t get it yet–Love is, in fact, Love. That’s why we shouldn’t let the calendar tell us when it’s appropriate to observe it, nor the retailers tell us how to celebrate it. You want to get a glue stick and glitter pens and make valentines? Go for it! But do it in May, or August, or hey – right in the middle of Lent, when we all could use some sort of affirmation, right? I bet even the most hardened cynic among us (who just might be me) would crack a smile upon receiving a Power Rangers valentine on the day after Ash Wednesday.
For those who are feeling pressure to perform today, cut yourselves a little slack. Tell your beloved that I said so. And for anyone who’s feeling lonely or isolated, slack goes well here, too. Ignore the ads and the chatter. Know that the chocolate will be half price tomorrow, so plan to stock up! I’ve got some friends whose relationships are struggling or have recently ended, so I’m making a point of reaching out to them. Regardless of your take on the day, or your plans for the evening, is there someone in your life who could use some extra love and kindness today? Do that. Jesus approves. And do it again tomorrow, too. And next week. Love is love.
I’m spending Valentine’s Day doing something I love – a road trip – to see someone I love, my beloved son (in whom I am well pleased). I didn’t get him a valentine. No chocolate, either. I’m delivering some food storage containers, his GPS watch for when he runs, and a favorite kitchen knife he wants. It’s Family Weekend at his college, and a few hundred miles on the open road, stereo blaring, work a dim memory for a few precious days – it’s my idea of a perfect day. No Hallmark, no diamonds – just another day in which I’m called to be that instrument of peace and love in the world. To my kid, but to everyone else I encounter then. That goes for you too. Let’s do it.
–Sarah Gregory, New Ways Ministry, February 14, 2019