The world is dressed up in rosy red and pretty pink, awaiting the arrival of Valentine’s Day. We all know the story of its patron saint, bishop of Interamna (Terni, Italy), 200 AD, a compassionate priest who lived and died for the love of his fellow man.
The date of his execution by emperor Claudius ll was 14 February and 200 years later, in 496 AD, pope Gelasius named the day to be St Valentine’s Day. Valentine had offered his jailer’s daughter a word of affection, which he signed, “From your Valentine” — and ever since the custom of young men offering young women greetings of affection, signed exactly the way St Valentine did.
With the centuries the tradition spread around the world, as a feast for love and lovers. Despite the present commercialism that has replaced the noble sentiments, more cards are sent on Valentine’s Day than any other day of the year.
Time is on a race with itself, it seems. We just welcomed the new year clinging to each other for support as we moved into the darkness of the unknown, with trembling hope for peace and here is that popular feast knocking on our doors.
What is the great god of war doing at present? He should take a nap as the world finds some joy on this special day. Cupid is standing by ready to aim his arrow at hearts tender with love and longing.
Where are the lovers? He sees mounds of chocolates, fields of flowers, heart-shaped cakes and candies, but where is the love — the genuine love that exists among humans, even just for a day? Business has been slow for Cupid for some time, but he has never seen so much greed, deceit, shame, jealousy, rage, anger, despair and grief.
What about joy, mirth, happiness, pleasure, compassion and love? How will the world go around without love?
Love has always been part of homo-sapiens’ emotions since the dawn of human culture and ever since has been the central preoccupation in individual human lives. It is essential for our survival. What would St Valentine say? We must find it, or where and how we lost it.
Analysts believe that signs of deterioration began to appear after the two wars of the last century. That could not be. There were times when we had peace, when we were happy, when we made progress, there was no change.
It is said, and rightly so, that the only constant thing in life, is change. Yes, but love — how can love ever change?
The dulling of sensibilities date back to the early 1970s with the feminist movement and the changing role of women in society. They gloried in anti-love, preferring friendship with no commitment. Friendship is good, but romantic love is the spice of life. No, said the feminists. Women have goals and ambitions, beyond traditional romances. So they effectively dumped love, missing out on an essential dimension of the human experience.
Aversion to love is unfortunate: “Love is one of the bonds which enable us to function and societies to flourish,” writes historian Thomas Sowell of Stanford University. In fact, the ability of someone to love another was an expression of personal autonomy and power. No one can control it, not government, not tradition, not religion.
Perhaps millennials, young and carefree, love to party, surely they will celebrate the feast of love.
Children of divorced parents, many millennials perceive love as a luxury they cannot afford, or as a foolish enterprise. Are divorce rates that high? Worldwide they are 4.08 per 1,000, while in the US 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. “Down with love” say millennials, “it is so annoying; a waste of time”. They believe love is impractical, silly and a sign of vulnerability. Shocking. What about the “young man’s thoughts turn to love”? It is for the young to experience the pounding heart, the knees weakening, the sweaty palms, the stutter, the stammer.
That is all “uncool”, say the youth of today.
A US poll by Pew Research Centre for 18 to 29 year olds found that 60 per cent of respondents are not interested in commitment.
One cannot help but feel sad for our youth born in a world marred by adults’ greed, fraud, dishonesty, and war.
The love of man killing man is the most detrimental of all human behaviour.
Valentine without love is a drastic change in our century, although we shall go through the motion of wearing red and dining out and munching on chocolates, but the romantic gaze into another’s eyes, the touch of the hand, the tender smile is what we see on the screen.
Millions are haunted by nuclear weapons, biochemical arms, man-made diseases, especially the young. How can we plant the seed of love in their hearts?
Our hope is that a day that we celebrate the noblest of feelings, love for a friend, a parent, a partner, a neighbour, will ignite romantic love, which has survived by humans for so long, let not humans render it extinct, or they themselves will be less than human.
Come Valentine’s Day we shall rejoice, we shall indulge in chocolates, also in compassion, kindness… the best expression of affection and we shall glorify romantic love and most especially love for our fellow man as did St Valentine.
We shall keep Cupid busy with his bow and arrow. Saint Valentine will look upon us and smile.
“Man is Man’s ABC, and there is none that can read God aright unless he spell Man.”
Frances Quarles (1592-1644)
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly