Who Loves Ya, Baby?

The true origins of celebrating the notion of romantic love on February 14 are not well documented, though the exchange of elaborate, handmade gifts between paramours was well established by the middle of the eighteenth century in England, and began to really take off in the United States once Esther Howland (herself now considered something of a saint by the American Greeting Card Association) began selling mass-produced Valentine’s cards in the 1840s.

An estimated one billion Valentine’s cards are sent each year, with a surprisingly negligible effect on the degree of love or open-heartedness in the world.

Our confusions and infelicities around love and the heart may well stem (here in the West, anyway) from the fact that Eros, the Greek god of getting-it-on, was a dude with a bow and arrow. And while the Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia on February 15 in ritual supplication for fertility of the land as well as their women, their pagan fertility party was hijacked in 498 A.D. by the Catholic church, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 a Christian feast day in honor of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

In time the church’s mid-February feast day came to be associated with St. Valentine, whose true identity is a subject of debate, but was most probably the Roman priest Valentinus, who was put to death in 270 A.D. by Emperor Claudius II, over his displeasure at the priest’s practice of secretly marrying young Roman lovers in defiance of the emperor’s decree banning marriage for young men. Claudius believed bachelors made better soldiers.

Fast forward to our present enlightened era and consider the news in India (a place, admittedly, relatively new to the intoxicating comforts and convenience of Western ways), where a Hindu sect known as Shiv Sena vowed to intimidate young couples taking Valentine’s Day too much to heart.

Or consider the story of Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who is on a hunger strike to protest abuse during more than six years in what Harper’s magazine blogger Scott Horton astutely calls the U.S. Ministry of Love.

Or consider this injunction, inspired by His Holiness, the 14 Dalai Lama of Tibet, known for (among many things) saying his religion is kindness:

No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up

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