Chaucer and Valentine’s Day

The Invention of Love …

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Because of the rampant commercialism associated with the holiday, Valentine’s Day is considered a “Hallmark holiday,” a day selected by a blindfolded intern at Hallmark HQ and pegged as one we consumers are told to celebrate by spending. It isn’t.

In the grocery store last week, the center of which is holiday-red right now and overstuffed with heart-shaped balloons and streamers, as if the store manager himself demanded a ticket-tape parade for Cupid, I walked past a fellow shopper who, shaking her head, declared out loud, “Valentine’s Day! Already?” because that is what we say when we view holiday decorations in stores nowadays. (Each reminder of time’s passage is responded to as a newly experienced emotional trauma in our culture, each time we encounter it.) It was February 10, the decorations had been up in this particular store since January 2, and there was no hint of irony in the person’s exclamation.

Starting in the late 1700s, publishers started to print and sell Valentine’s Day-oriented books, usually guides for young men to use in composing their love notes. On this much, most cultural historians seem to agree. The disagreements begin with who Valentine might have been and why February 14 is his feast day and extend to the question about what any of this has to do with chalky heart-shaped candies and smooching.
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A Valentine’s Day Disaster

It was as if every wish I had made in childhood for a hole in the ground to open up and rescue me had been answered in reverse …

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I bear a scar from the first Valentine’s Day that I had a reason to celebrate as Valentine’s Day, as a part of a couple.

Until my current relationship, my romantic history was a long walk alone in an empty field, punctuated by moments in which I interrupted someone else’s walk, attempted to try a relationship, and discovered that I try people’s patience instead. (All the women I have dated are brilliant and accomplished and I was lucky to get to know them; I was stuck at age 15 for an astonishingly long time, however.)

My love right now, my soul mate, Jen, is quite brilliant and accomplished, and for the first time in my life, four-plus years now, I am an equal partner and have opened myself up to having an equal partner. Not too bad for a 48-year-old 15-year-old.
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A Valentine’s Tale

I bear a scar from the first Valentine’s Day that I had a reason to celebrate as Valentine’s Day, as a part of a couple. Until my current relationship, my romantic history was a long walk alone in an empty field, punctuated by moments in which I interrupted someone else’s walk, attempted to try a relationship, and discovered that I try people’s patience instead. (All the women I have dated are brilliant and accomplished, and I was lucky to get to know them; I was stuck at age 15 for an astonishingly long time, however.)

My love right now, my soul mate, Jen, is quite brilliant and accomplished, and for the first time in my life, almost three years now, I am an equal partner and have opened myself up to having an equal partner. Not too bad for a 46-year-old 15-year-old.
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Love: A Valentine, Pt. 1

[This was originally posted in November 2013.]

Today at a car dealer I saw the sharpest and softest demonstration of love.

My friend and I were waiting for her car to be serviced, so we sat in the waiting room to discuss the things good friends discuss in waiting rooms.

An elderly woman, still wearing her winter coat indoors, was sitting alone across from us, barking inarticulate sounds to herself. Sometimes, when she would hear laughter, she would rock forward, and, with a smile on her face, direct some louder sounds in the direction of the others, as if she was participating in the joking and merriment. Then she would slump back and the stream of non-language would continue, sometimes in a sing-song, sometimes with a note of fear and anger. Was she alone here? Had she wandered in off the street? That was not possible, as the street was Route 9.

The sing-song was almost alphabetical, “Baa-baa-bah! Daa-da. Ha-ha-hah! Mmm-maa-maa, nnnn-naaa-naa?” There would be minutes of this, and then, on hearing more laughter from the customers, she would sit forward again and direct another non-sentence at us. No one was paying her any mind, but no one was paying any attention, either.

I took an improvisation class once and one exercise was to “converse” with another classmate in gibberish. (Like the late Sid Caesar.) I was very bad at it, or so I thought, because my gibberish sounded too close to actual language. Portraying a traffic cop, my gibberish sounded like, “No nhy NI nulled nou nover?” It seemed to me, a non-doctor, that this woman had suffered a stroke at some time and maybe was suffering dementia, too, since her gibberish retained the sound of a basic sentence structure, but minus any content or context.

Her husband returned from the parts and service counter. “They are almost done, sweets,” I heard him say while standing in front of her. She took his hands, swung them a bit, happy to see him again. He sat with her. She appeared to be telling him about her day. Her voice grew louder, took on an angry tone: “Why are we still here?” was my interpretation of what she was saying, but we were in a car dealership, after all, so maybe that was what I wanted to say to my friend.

The husband rested his head in his hand for a minute. This was a half-hour of my day, but this is his entire life right now. Both the wife and husband appeared to be in their 70s.

He left again to check on the progress of their car. She continued talking in her sing-song. When he returned, he informed her that it was time to leave, urged her to her feet, and she grew seemingly angry—at being asked to leave the only home she had ever known, even if she had been there for a total of 45 minutes or so. She used a declarative tone—”Bye-bye-bye-my-my-my-die-die-die”—and even stamped a foot, but then she leaned around him to announce, “Bye-bye-bye-hi-hi-hi” to each of us in the room. And then she started to take her coat off. He re-closed it and gently pulled her hood up.

The word “patience” is overused by 40-somethings like my friend and me when we are lucky enough to witness proceedings such as the above. “Such patience,” some would say.

It took the elderly husband three dance maneuvers to get his wife to face the door and walk through it; twice, she walked up to it and then turned back around into the room. He smiled at the room several times; he neither tried to engage any of us nor shrug away his wife’s loudness.

“Patience” does not describe what every waking moment and probably a few sleeping ones are like for this gentleman. There is a better word to describe it.

When they left, my friend uttered that word: “That is lovely.” I agreed, “That’s love.”