Today is Valentine’s Day, the day when men stand stupefied before rows of greeting cards and shuffle in place as they queue up outside florist shops for last-minute bouquets. If you’ve had any experience with this, as I have, then you know how pathetic the pickings are by 5:00 pm.
Most women, if they are giving a card and gift to their beloved, have bought them already and are waiting for the big exchange. Since Valentine’s Day falls on Sunday this year, the exchange doesn’t have to be over dinner. It can take place anytime, anywhere, which reminds me of the marriage proposal I witnessed once at a lily pond at the New York Botanical Garden. The guy got down on one knee, the girl wiped away tears, and the dragonflies fluttered their gossamer wings in the August heat. It was all very romantic.
For those of us whose Valentine’s Day may not be filled with gossamer wings, you can take solace knowing that the real St. Valentine suffered martyrdom at the hands of Emperor Claudius II (“Gothicus”) in 270 AD by being beaten with clubs and then beheaded. Claudius was thorough as well as cruel. St. Valentine’s crime was twofold, as was his death: giving aid to Christians and refusing to renounce his faith in favor of the Roman deities.
So blood lay at the heart of Valentine’s Day even before Al Capone’s infamous massacre. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who’s experienced a crush or taken the time to look past their nose. In fact, I have a three-year-old grandson who turns blood red at the mention of a certain girl with a blonde ponytail, the daughter of a family friend. If he could read, no doubt he would be scandalized that I mention it. I, however, have no such qualms. What are grandfathers for?
And therein lies the rub: the relationship between blood and love. As the narrator of The Gringo puts it, “… the only prerequisite to understanding that marriage is war is a frontal lobe, which made him wonder whether St. Paul even had one. It could have been damaged when the horse threw him on the road to Damascus, but only an idiot would claim that love is patient, kind, and endures forever. He believed that love, if it were anything at all, was violent. Why else were ‘marital’ and ‘martial’ so close?” The guy who asks this is enamored of a Mayan girl and pursued by the FBI through the jungles of Guatemala for drug trafficking, but that’s another story.
I told someone once that the best part of our relationship was its “electricity,” by which I meant craziness. It was true, although, sadly, I was old enough to know better. In hindsight, it would have been better had the relationship been powered by anything other than an electric current. Another time I was threatened with a knife, although I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it was part of that marital-martial algorithm. Again, I wasn’t twenty something. But perhaps as the classic Hollywood film actress, Greta Garbo, believed, this focus on blood (i.e., sex, violence) and love has become a distinctly American phenomenon. “In America, an obsession,” she mused. “In other parts of the world, a fact.”
Whether obsession or fact, American or not, this blood-love, marital-martial thing is embarrassing at best, especially if you’re left shuffling in line in the cold. At worst, it ends in drama like Tristan und Isolde or the last scene of Hamlet, which takes us back to Al Capone and his “big, red valentine.” Serious people don’t take it seriously while still acknowledging the need for a little spark in the relationship.
Of course, once you look past your nose you discover a world of difference between a spark and an electrical storm. Knowing and acting on that difference will keep you alive, which is nothing to sneeze at. If you’re older, experienced, and wise, you know this. If younger, inexperienced, and impulsive, you get the lesson hammered into you until one day you run out of excuses or money, maybe both. And then you figure out that it’s better to settle down and not take yourself so seriously. If you’re somewhere in between, then, as the nursery rhyme goes about those without a “ha-penny,” God bless you.
It’s time to take it easy.
Image credits: feature by Scott Webb from Burst; couple by Candace McDaniel from StockSnap. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”