He would have become the hero, but he wasn’t sure that he was ready. He wasn’t quite sure if he was capable or even willing. He’d been poor and been preyed upon for much too long. It made him selfish. It made him angry. He’d lost his wife during the war because he wouldn’t be a soldier, and he’d given up his son because he needed power more than love. He would spend the rest of life conflicted, but the rest of his life as King.

His struggle was nuanced. He’d loved deeply, but had been abandoned. He’d chosen poverty because he was principled and wouldn’t do what powerful people did, but they made him a coward. Over time, his insecurity made him evil and reckless. He became a man who had nothing to lose and a man consumed with power.

(Rumpelstiltskin’s always been my favorite character on Once Upon a Time.)

The origins of Valentine’s Day are convoluted and curious. It’s linked to the Roman Empire, Catholicism, and the Middle Ages. It was engineered by a) 2-3 saints with similar monikers and martyrdoms, b) an 1840’s entrepreneur and card-maker, c) the “redemption” of a pagan holiday, and d) European birds’ mating season in the fall of the Roman empire.

In the Catholic tradition, saints Valentine and Valentinus were both executed. One was a 3rd Century priest who lived under the rule of Emperor Claudius II during a time of war. Claudius believed that single men without families made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage for all single men of a certain age. Valentine, horrified by the decree, continued performing marriages in secret. Once discovered, he was executed.

The other saint is rumored to have sent the first valentine from the prison where he was kept. During his time he helped Christians escape from their Roman prisons. During his confinement, he’s rumored to have fallen in love with the jailor’s daughter. Once discovered, he was executed.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February 1) to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or of his burial, 2) to redeem Lupercalia, a fertility festival that was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, or 3) to celebrate/honor birds’ mating season in Europe during the Middle Ages. Or perhaps a combination of all three.

Esther A. Howland is known as the “Mother of Valentine” because during the 1840s, she sold the first mass-produced Valentine cards. The holiday is celebrated around the world. Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, and Australia all have Valentine’s Day traditions. Although international in effect, it’s significantly marred by western consumerism:

  • It’s estimated that more than 180 million Valentine’s day cards are exchanged each year.
  • In 2016 we spent 19.7 billion dollars during the holiday, 4.5 of the 19.7 billion on jewelry.
  • The average amount spent per person is $147.
  • Adults aged 25-34 years old spend the most on Valentine’s Day gifts.
  • 85% of Valentine’s Day cards are purchased by women.
  • The holiday is the second largest card-sending holiday next to Christmas.

The night was Chicago cold. The breeze, the thickness of the chill, and the wind sent a shiver from the tips of my ears to the edges of my toes. We had walked for hours, walked for miles. I had fallen in love within 48 hours, but I hadn’t said it. I wasn’t romantic. I wasn’t even passionate (not about love, at least). I was dogmatic and practical, rationalizing this new, first, unexplained, and unexpected love.

I knew that I loved him on our third date. We’d gone to the grocery store to get snacks for our walk, and he refused to buy anything with more than 90 mg of sodium. Later that day I ripped the sleeve on my warmest winter coat, and he took a needle and thread and sewed it back for me.

I knew that I loved him on our second date. He’d gone into a diatribe about dilapidated buildings and urban blight and why people throw away things because they are old, even when they aren’t broken. And when they are broken, why don’t we try to fix them?

The pizza was cold now, but we lingered. I talked about checkers; he talked about the art of losing gracefully.

No, love wouldn’t cure cancer or restore my faith in God. It wouldn’t reconcile my insecurity or end systemic and institutionalized oppression. But it wasn’t convenient, insufficient, or opaque. I believed.

How do you celebrate and honor love in our time of cholera?