Maybe it’s the cheerfulness of the red and pink in contrast to the dreary time of year, but I love Valentine’s Day even though it’s largely a Hallmark holiday. The day’s origins are rather ambiguous. Several men by that name were martyred in Christianity’s early centuries, and one legend says that while in prison awaiting death, a note was sent to the jailer’s daughter signed “from your Valentine.” Also, similar to what happened with other holidays, a Roman feast called Lupercalia fell in mid-February, so perhaps St. Valentine and gestures of love were emphasized to replace the pagan observance. Because of this murkiness, the feast of St. Valentine was dropped from the Church’s official calendar of saints in 1969, but the spirit of the day continues.
I loved making Valentine cards with my kids in the days when they exchanged them with classmates. Our box of glitter, rubber stamps and ink, stickers, red paper and doilies are still in the basement closet, and although I made a quick little card to enclose with a package for our college son, there’s been no time lately for crafts and creativity. Not wanting to let the day go unnoticed, I reached back to an older memory and purchased the same iced heart-shaped cookies from Busken Bakery that my maternal grandma brought us when I was a kid. I packed them in lunches this morning with fond recollection of her steadfast devotion and love.
On this day of flowers and chocolate, news reports about the sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office to protest mountain top removal of coal from the Appalachian Mountains provide useful caution against the temptation to sentimentalize love and its expression. Dorothy Day often quoted a character from The Brothers Karamzov who said, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” In an interview, writer and environmental advocate Wendell Berry, who has spent the last two nights at the governor’s office, stated his belief that “the real, authentic motive is doing what is right” and his hope that people would be attracted to doing the right thing even though change takes time. Sounds like an apt sentiment for Valentine’s Day and everyday.