Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Love is a Verb: A Valentine's Post

The History of Valentine’s Day
"The story of St. Valentine has two different versions - the Protestant and the Catholic one. Both versions agree upon Saint Valentine being a bishop who held secret marriage ceremonies of soldiers in opposition to Claudius II who had prohibited marriage for young men and was executed by the latter. ... When Claudius became the emperor, he felt that married men were more emotionally attached to their families, and thus, will not make good soldiers. He believed that marriage made the men weak. So he issued an edict forbidding marriage to assure quality soldiers....The ban on marriage was a great shock for the Romans. But they dared not voice their protest against the mighty emperor. The kindly bishop Valentine also realized the injustice of the decree. He saw the trauma of young lovers who gave up all hopes of being united in marriage. He planned to counter the monarch's orders in secrecy. Whenever lovers thought of marrying, they went to Valentine who met them afterwards in a secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. And thus he secretly performed many marriages for young lovers. But such things cannot remain hidden for long. It was only a matter of time before Claudius came to know of this "friend of lovers," and had him arrested." ~History Of Valentine's Day

There is much unknown about Saint Valentine (well, there were more than one), but I like this story of him taking great risk to marry lovers in secret. It makes me feel gratitude for those who have gone against convention to challenge our notions of who is "allowed" to marry. I like knowing the root of things - words, practices, things we've grown up with and never questioned. And doing a bit of research about Valentine's Day, I've found some bits and pieces I'd like to weave together and share with y'all. Such as St. Valentine signing a love letter just before his execution “From Your Valentine.” It's not clear whether it was a love letter of the romantic, religious, or another kind, but I don't think this is important. What I appreciate is the image of love letters that have been carried into and out of prisons for centuries, unbound by the walls and wire meant to keep us apart.

I like to take this day to make care packages for loved ones far away – sharing music, poems, herbal concoctions, etc. Valentine’s Day can be a celebration of love in its many forms, to take the time to express our love and appreciation for those who hold a meaningful place in our lives. Check out these sweet CARE (about you) PACKAGES my friends created!

Now, I know that there are some folks out there who want nothing to do with Valentine’s Day. Who feel weighed down by the pressure to feel or act a certain way on this one day, or who don’t want any part of the consumerism that swallows up the holiday. Valentine’s Day can also alienate folks due to its obsession with heterosexual and/or monogamous relationships. It can make you feel incredibly lonely if you're single and don't want to be, or make you feel horrible if you're with someone and you're intuition is telling you something's not right. Well, you have options. A friend of mine once attended a “Pathetic Losers” party for singles on Valentine's Day, where they shared their romance horror stories. She said she’d never laughed so hard before in her life. You can also join the folks observing Singles Awareness Day on Valentines, or have an “Anti-Valentine’s Day Party,” aka “Anti-V.D. Day.” I didn’t make it up - you can do a search and find all kinds of ideas for throwing such a party. You can hole up and make some vinegar valentines, such as the ones at Be My Anti-Valentine (“This year, don't say it with flowers: say it with bile.”) 
Getting married is like saying “We're in love, let's call the cops!” http://stellamarrs.com, Vinegar Valentines past and present, and clear communication about boundaries via a nice cross-stitch.

But rather than hate on the day, why not reclaim it?! There’s plenty of hate and insecurity and worry in the world. Loved ones separated by distance and borders, the walls of prisons and detention centers, nursing homes and psych hospitals. Families separated by narrow-mindedness and judgment - not accepting each other based on who we are and who we love. Why not take Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to spread some l-o-v-e?! Who amongst us couldn't use a bit more love coming our way?! There’s no need to go buy mass-produced cards, chocolates, roses, diamonds, stuffed animals, and other products that thrive on exploitation (human rights abuses, slavery, environmental degradation, etc.). Make something with your own hands, write your own words.

The Secret to Finding the Perfect Valentine's Day Gift for the Person You Love has loads of ideas, and I'd add to their list of 76 Romantic Movies for Guys and Girls: Love and Basketball, Shortbus, Like Water for Chocolate/Como Agua Para Chocolate, Something New, and Easy (the one with Marguerite Moreau and Brían F. O'Byrne).  (Most of the films are uber-hetero, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below!)  
What are you going to create, watch, do? I've also written the following blog posts filled with chocolatey, aphrodisiacy, Valentiney recipes: Chocolate Explosion and Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes.

This year I'm exploring love in its many forms, to see love as freedom and expansiveness. What does liberatory love look like to you? Feel like to you? 

I've been a part of communities that are completely dedicated to social justice, yet when "comrades" are betraying their partner's trust, cheating on them and drawing others into this deception, all of a sudden convictions about responsibility, accountability, and integrity somehow completely dissolve. If someone spoke or acted in a racist or homophobic way, then it was our place as friends to deal with it, break it down together. When someone was being abusive towards their partner, though, somehow that was perceived as a personal issue, completely unrelated to their other relationships and rest of our lives. Nope. That's just not how it works. And it's incredibly disappointing and disheartening to bear witness to all this. I want liberation and love in all the interconnected realms of my life, in all my relations. No exceptions, especially in intimate partnerships.

So...self-love, love of community, romantic love, faraway-friend-long-distance love, ancestral love, spiritual love, old-friend-from-way-back love, earth-connection love, family love (blood, adoptive, or chosen), puppy-cuddle love, fierce-protection-mother-lioness love... What kind of love is present in your life? What kind do you want to give more of and receive more of? Welcome it.

So, however you choose to celebrate, Happy Valentine's Day. Or "Día del Amor y la Amistad" (Day of Love and Friendship) in Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and others. Dia dos Namorados (lit. "Day of the Enamored", or "Boyfriends'/Girlfriends' Day") in Brasil, and "Día del Cariño"(Day of the Affection) in Guatemala....

Some of my favorite quotes about love:

Love is a verb: the will to nurture spiritual growth of others and self
- inspired by All About Love
by bell hooks.

Absence makes the heart grow fungus.

“All loves have much in common, and any one will offer a useful, if not painless, education in the limitations and possibilities of being human. If you give your committed love to a person, an idea, or a cause, even should that person, idea, or cause be taken from you, or proven false, you will be a better lover – of anyone, of anything – for the experience.” Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir By Kate Braestrup

...From Your Valentine

More Valentine's-inspired blog posts:
Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes
Love & Migration: Migration is Beautiful & Natural. So is Solidarity.
V-Day: One Billion Rising and Man Prayer (Un Billón de Pie y Oración de un Hombre)

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