Happy Valentine’s Day!!!
St. Valentine assuredly had no idea of how his generosity and integrity would morph into the sentimental holiday that helps to support card companies, candy-makers, restaurants and lingerie sales. It might have cheered him in his prison cell had he been able to look into a crystal ball to the future ---- or not. Valentine was a 3d-century clergyman --- probably a bishop. He ministered to persecuted Christians, and fell afoul of the Roman political powers. He was imprisoned and wrote notes from his prison cell signed, “Your Valentine”. And he was executed on February 14th, 269 AD in Rome.* He had Agape love for people in general, not Eros or romantic love, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Anything that spreads any kind of real love in this contentious world is a very good thing. So send those chocolates, the red satin hearts, the frilly camisole or a sunshine lamp. Go out to dinner and enjoy. Even better, extend your concern to those not in your immediate circle; feeding the hungry, comforting the sad and praying for the world. Celebrate the bishop who did what bishops are supposed to do ---- LOVE the people around them.
February is nearly half over although there is one more day in the month than usual. Leap Year, which supposedly balances the calendar every four years, has always held the strange lore that women may step out of their constricted roles and ask someone to marry them on February 29th. In the comic strip, Lil Abner** Sadie Hawkins Day was held (I think) during Leap Year ---- a race whereby Daisy Mae always chased Lil Abner. Usually he escaped the bonds of matrimony by running faster and more deviously. This is probably totally irrelevant today; most women no longer feel that their roles are constricted, and they will ask whomever they choose to ask whatever. There seems to be a lot more honesty and openness in gender roles, though there is still a long way to go, especially in the areas of people’s minds that remain biased toward the idea that women – and men --- can only appropriately function in certain prescribed slots.
I’m not sure why there is so much negative humor around marriage. For years, jokes have indicated that men would be happier were they not “caught” and that women spend all of their time trying to catch a man ala Lil Abner. (My personal opinion, in hindsight, is that both men and women should probably learn to experience life on their own before taking on a relationship, but that isn’t always how events go.) It is true that real scientific studies show that both men and women are happier with life in general if they eventually have loving, caring partners with whom they can share the good and bad times. Statistically, it is better for one’s health. This may not be true for everyone, but certainly for most of those answering the surveys. Perhaps the negative humor speaks to all of the unhappy or dull marriages that exist because people jump into a relationship too soon, without thinking things through and then feel trapped. Life, with the wrong person across the breakfast table, can be stultifying indeed.
Marriage maintenance can be likened to cars, tractors or homes. A multitude of things can go wrong with our vehicles and not paying attention will eventually mess up the performance and life span of a car. In our houses, if the roof leaks, the structural frame will eventually collapse. This is also true of relationships. If a marriage is sullied by inattention, selfishness, disrespect or neglect, it too may well fall apart leaving shattered dreams and sad people.
I will insert here that some marriages, made in haste or for reasons that seem good at the time, but aren’t, probably should be dissolved. When there is chronic infidelity, abuse or total estrangement in terms of life-goals, that marriage becomes a mockery of the real thing. But I also think many couples don’t try hard enough to make their wedding vows real.
As one of my favorite quotations puts it: “You know Bendigo, it is the easiest thing in the world to forget a man’s/woman’s responsibilities, chuck it all and go following some red wagon……..but the world isn’t built around people who do what they want to do at the time, regardless of who gets hurt. It is built by people who do what they should do.” *** It may be a difficult concept for some, but love, in addition to feelings, is actually a decision to be made. Feelings can be chancy, transient, and unreliable ---- emotions of the moment. A decision to honor, cherish and care for has a staying quality that stands against the world and all its difficulties.
I’ve mentioned before that Kerm and I were active, lots of years ago, in National Marriage Encounter. It was an inter-faith organization that addressed many of the issues that can be found in any marriage. This program surely isn’t a cure-all but it did emphasize four things: 1) A way of communication that works for both, 2) Transparency and honesty about one’s feelings, 3) Finding a strong spiritual life together and 4) Taking an occasional inventory. Perhaps a good way to judge how well a marriage is working is to ask the question: “How much quality time do you spend with the person you supposedly care about the most?” We learned more about ourselves and each other by participating in this group --- and also made some fine friends ----- the affirming and supporting kind.
Speaking of relationships, February is full of family birthdays. The special days for two daughters-in-law, one granddaughter, a nephew-in-law, a cousin and a friend all fall into this short month. There used to be more; my sister and her husband both had February birthdays as did my father-in-law. But those individuals are no longer with us, and we can only think wistfully of how we celebrated with them at one time. I often wonder about people who don’t bother to make their birthdays special. Do they not believe they are worth celebrating? If people don’t value themselves enough to be glad they were born, then---- hmmm ---- I believe they need to work on attitude and self-care. Celebrating is neither prideful nor indulgent; it speaks gratitude!
Even when we were grown-up adults my mother (as long as she could and as long as we were in the vicinity) asked us what kind of cake we’d like ---- and baked it. I always chose a yellow sponge cake with mandarin orange-pudding filling. Our birthdays were usually family gatherings; not glitzy or expensive. We did make an exception in the area of glitz for my mother’s 80th birthday. She was born on December 25th, and so for years, was short-changed in celebrating. On her 80th birthday we scheduled a party a day or two later than Christmas, in a fine restaurant’s party room. After that, we made sure she had a party for every birthday, often with the whole clan.
Life gets busy and many of us have trouble finding time and thought for maintenance. It is easy to take the people in our lives for granted. Life is comfortable and surely they know how we feel about them. Maybe not! Life today is such that it erodes nearly everyone’s self-confidence. Feeling special --- feeling that one makes a difference --- is rare, so any occasion that helps a person feel worthy and loved is good. A birthday shouldn’t be ignored or forgotten. It is at least worth a magnificent cookie or a bouquet of field daisies if not an entire brass band. Send birthday greetings; send valentines; let people know they are special to you. And for your own birthday, buy a few balloons, dance around the room and take some time to think about why you should be glad you are alive. L’Chiam!!
Meanwhile, the winter moves on toward the season of Lent, then in three weeks Daylight Savings Time, and, on March 20th, the vernal equinox. Regardless of that pampered “Phil” the ground hog, spring will come in its usual time. I think the foot of snow that arrived last Friday and the messy weather this week was proof that winter has not loosened its grip. It was kind of nice to have a real snow day; we had no reason to go out and we could spend the day watching the snow come down as we cozily sat inside, reading a good book. Well, inside except for refilling the feeders three times!
Even now though, there are some seasonal changes that --- if one looks ---- can be seen. The light lasts longer each day. On mild days, the cats are unusually playful --- making leaps onto window screens and pouncing on any leaf that moves. Those owl eggs have undoubtedly hatched and small owlets are snuggled in the nest, bills open wide as they badger their parents with: “bring more mice and hurry up!” Maple sap has begun running through the lengths of pipes and into the vats for boiling down into our favorite syrup. In sheltered places, the ground ivy is green. And though it is a tad early for turkey families, we have an optimistic tom turkey with his harem of hens feeding in our back yard.
In spite of icy precipitation, may everyone find this morning a little brighter than usual and may each of us get a little candy heart tomorrow that says: I LUV U!! So much happening --- no time for mid-February gloom!
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*- Information found in Wikipedia resource.
**- Lil Abner --- comic strip created by Al Capp, American cartoonist and humorist best known for his comic strip, Lil Abner.
***- Bendigo Shafter by Louis L’Amour