I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. Mostly it’s because I’m not a sentimental person. It’s a character flaw: I’m not particularly proud of it, but there it is.
I like spending money as much as the next profligate; no one who knows me could say I’m cheap, but I also resist spending money on ephemera as a way of showing people I love them. I know, it’s silly, but there it is. Again.
I’m also wary of the exaltation and exploitation of romantic love that characterizes our culture. I think it contributes to the deforming and diminishing of our capacity for fruitful, lasting relationships.
And I don’t like ‘holidays’ manufactured primarily to be sold to women and driven by a pernicious female stereotype—our emotional desperation to be loved and cherished uniquely by a Very Special Someone.
All this, my friends tell me, is to read way too much into a simple day of sappy, silly, affectionate frivolity: I ought to lighten up. They are undoubtedly correct. But… well, I said it already, there it is.
So I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I decided this year that instead of sniffing disapprovingly about it (see all of the above), I’d re-make it for my own purposes as a day—or at least an hour—for examining my conscience about whether I even love other people at all, or whether, when push comes to shove, I really love only myself.
Of course, the answer was a foregone conclusion. Frantic self-preoccupation is a permanent squatter in the house of my heart. It’s unlikely I’ll ever evict it on this side of the grave. There’s a way in which it’s just a fact that I love only myself, and it was almost a waste of time to examine myself about it.
I needed to set the bar a lot lower and ask a different question. Have I loved others in this way: by inflicting on them as little harm as possible?
Don’t laugh. The truth is that I usually find even this low level love to be immensely challenging. Maybe not so much in the doing harm department—as a witty writer recently observed about himself, I’ve never been much more than a run-of-the-mill harm-doer (mostly from lack of opportunity). But I’m a pretty competitive harm-sayer, and I’m a first-rate harm-thinker, especially when I hear someone spouting stuff I think is wicked nonsense. So you see, even with the bar set at such a modest height, I rarely reach it.
Every now and then, however, I do have an inkling of something else, fleeting instances of something ‘more.’ Not true Christian charity by any stretch, seeing Christ in my neighbor or loving the other as I love myself, but as that same writer put it, more like a sense that ‘here is a human being burdened enough without my piling on.’
There’s an opening in this sensibility. An opening, not an achievement, and by no means a conversion. But something. And if this opening is all there ever is in me, I’m hoping it might be enough to spare me on the last day when, St John of the Cross says, we will be examined on love, on love and nothing more.
Happy Valentine’s Day.