Valentine’s Day Alert, Anywhere USA: A woman punches another woman to seize the last red-flocked candy box at the drug store. Children fear going to school for they might not get as many valentine cards as some other kids.
What used to be honorable behavior during an onslaught of the citadel, has become ‘aggression normale’? in Buy-Me-Land. What used to be a place of learning for the kidlettes, has in some places become a daily injection of the poison called, ‘If I don’t have proof from all others by acclamation, I am a nobody.’
Commerce can be admired for advertising those many artifacts which help people to better live; those remedios and medicines that are thereby shown within reach of some and the many.
But, how can we understand the kind of commerce that $ee$ only it$elf and nothing more… and by $o doing, $teals the bedrock of our culture by covering over the real stories that sustain us?
Few artists and creators I’ve known have ever brought forth work of depth by strategizing money first, and meaning second. Quite the contrary, meaning goes first… and meaning goes second, as well.
Thus I put the Holiday Advertising Behemoth on the couch with its Presenting Symptom: Cardboard everything. I listen to its pressured speech, it’s lack of cohesive underlayment, it’s concern with image, and I write in my casebook: Diagnosis: Malignant narcissism. Outcome: Loss of meaning.
Narcissism is not falling in love with oneself; it is falling for ‘the false self”… the one which has no real heart, a cardboard self that can only mimic tenderness and toughness, but has no winged soul.
Thus a culture diagnosed with narcissism is not in love with itself, as suggested by the reductive epithet, ‘me-ism.’ A narcissistic culture is in love with a false self, one that is not real, one that is perceived to have no real issues, no reliable gifts, no real harms and thereby, no real solutions.
But, there is ever hope. Prognosis for an ill culture? It depends… mostly on cultura cura, how smaller healthier cultures within the ill culture will expand outward to heal the larger society.
One of the first ways to destroy a culture and a people, is to destroy their stories. One of the first ways a culture that has become ill can be restored is by adding back the stories that are sustaining to its people.
Thus, let us speak about other stories underlying Valentine’s Day besides death-by-sugar, and aside from poor St. Valentine hoisted into position over the pre-Christian deity but later unceremoniously demoted to ‘may not have been a real person”? and ‘may never have actually lived.’
And isn’t that the core concern of living in an ill culture that is supposed to nourish us… to not be forced into squandering a life, living as though one had never lived, as though one had not been a real person, as though one had missed what a true heart really meant.
All the more reason to have good news… yes, there is a story about Valentine’s that is a rich one, a story that is neither cutesy nor bitter… and thereby quick and evaporative. Rather, it is a real story that has the red blood of real life in it.
THE TRUE STORY OF VALENTINE: EROS
In my old country immigrant family, Valentine, also known as True Love, also known as Eros, is the story of a crippled child; one whom no matter how rejected he has been, no matter how spurned, the Immaculate Love inside him simply would not die.
This child Eros, made of True Love, shows up in many forms in our lives, and there have been times when I have been graced to have touched and cared for him several times in my own.
Just this morning I thought I met him again. I was standing on the porch facing the small lake I live on here in the Rockies. Every morning I try to live the Angelus, an ancient prayer said three times a day… literally meaning, ‘The Call to the Angels.’ It is a prayer during which I lift up my loved ones, the loved ones of others, and unknown souls as well, over the lake… so all the great powers of heaven and earth can see them. I ask that each person be given what is most needed, whatever will most nourish, most negate fear, most repair, most grant flashes of inspiration.
Often, birds fly right by at eye level as I pray: I could reach out and practically pet them as they go by; black, white and gray Canada geese so aerobically fit that they sing while they flap, five beats to the bar; the blue herons with their spindly feet straight out behind like chicken-legged outriggers; and the white Mexican pelicans who float through the air with their huge chests puffed out looking like majestic flying fortresses.
Thus, while I was praying this morning, I saw at the water’s edge, a fine young mallard. But then, I saw that one of his bright orange legs was bent sideways… No matter how long you live in any wilds, no matter how many animals you have had to put down in your lifetime, the wounded innocent still catches your heart.
The mallard’s injury was old. His leg had healed crookedly. But there he was nevertheless, wearing his fine white necklace and his dark green hood. My heart rose to see that he was strutting about on the rocky shore like he was Master of the Universe, even so. Like he had every right. Like he, in some essential ‘mallard heart,’ was ever whole.
Then I thought of the story of ‘the crippled child’ and Valentine’s Day. In ancient Greece, this child called Eros, was a young male who represented what in our family was called, ‘Limitless Love and Unending Courage.’ The Romans called him Cupid. Eros and Cupid are often portrayed as clean, plump cherubs, sweet as Mazola oil, holding red hearts that have no aortas for supplying blood nor superior vena cavas for carrying it.
But the commercial magnates seem not to remember that Eros, although indeed a child, was not a rosy cherub. Eros was like the crippled mallard…. and like most of us are in some way or other: he had been hard beset.
We’ve seen Eros portrayed in modernist paintings as a little prince in a blue silk suit with blue eyes and pale blue skin that has never seen daylight. However, in our deeply ethnic family, as with the ancients, Eros is understood as a street urchin. He was likely a dark-skinned child, scruffy, dirty-faced with grimy hands and matted black hair. There’s little doubt that he was often engaged in street scuffles over a bread crust, a dot of rice, a kernel of maize.
Some in our family say that he carried a wistful sense from having been turned away from so many doors… because so many people would not allow Limitless Love and Unending Courage into their hearts.
Instead, they were waiting for the shiny clean version to show up, the sick cultural version of love, one that might look polished on the outside, but is without true heart on the inside.
Thus, we understood that Eros often went hungry, that he was bewildered by those who turned him away, that because he was not given shelter, that Limitless Love was homeless.
It was said that some were unreasonably harsh with Eros and lifted him by the arm or threw him away from their doorposts, and thus injured him so that he limped. I remember my grandmother saying we would recognize true love had come to us, as much by Love’s imperfections, as by Love’s perfect depth.
But, the most miraculous thing about hard-scrabble Eros… was that not only did he endure: the miracle is, that despite the hardships, torments and injuries to his spirit, his eyes remained clear and not hooded … that he allowed his heart to be mended up over and over again… and that Eros continued to love with everything in him… all and everything that he could.
The miracle is that Eros kept knocking at every door, every door, no matter if the door belonged to a hovel, or to a castle. ‘Here I am,’ he would cry, ‘Limitless Love! Unending Courage! Please, let me in?’
Limitless Love! Unending Courage! Indeed, a cultural cure… the exact words to chisel on every cultural edifice, on the lintel of every publishing house, every theatre, school, temple, every meeting place, every congress, web portal, every home, shelter, over every heart.
The word erotic comes to us from Eros’s name. The words eros and erotic, though they include sensual love, are rooted in a far greater idea– that the instinct to love and to be loved remains alive in souls no matter what. No matter what doors have opened and shut, no matter which persons have turned away or been turned away. The heart of Love continues onward with eyes that are clear and far-seeing.
Some people wish each other love on Valentine’s Day. Some wish prosperity, health and wealth. I would wish all those onto all persons, but one more, the most critical. I would wish remembering.
Remembering that Love is not fancy, and thus to take care to adorn Love carefully, so as to not occlude its humble street origins… that Love does not stay alive by asking ‘how much’ but by ‘how well and how deeply?’
Like the street urchin Eros, the mallard and I, and you too, and our cultures we love: well, we have all been thrown down hard somewhere in life, and often more than once in this lifetime. But, also we are, I think, somehow ever being knitted back up in mysterious ways, often by others, sometimes by strangers, certainly by your cultura cura, those tiny groups that carry the healing herbs and ideas and give them out freely, albeit imperfectly often enough.
We ourselves and our cultures are all left with a scar or a limp that shows we have mangled or managed our way through a great something. And, we are still here. Crookedy here and there. But in some greater self, whole, with Love.
Thus in the spirit of a real and sustaining story that underliesValentine’s Day, I lift you up over the lake to ask that you be brought comfort and encouragement if and as you need it. I mean to ‘remember’ to you that despite whichever challenges you may have, you were born with Unending Courage and Limitless Love to use as brightly as you wish– as deeply as you dare– during your one precious and wild lifetime on this earth.
So, Blessed Valentine’s Day, from Eros, from the mallard, and from me y un mas… and one more…. puede tu madre ser bendecida para traerle a la tierra… may your mother be blessed also, for bringing you to earth
… for you and your brand of Love are so needed in our world.
©2007 C.P. Estés, All Rights Reserved.
This work has run yearly on St. Valentine’s Day at The Moderate Voice for many years. The Lost Story of St. Valentine was my first column when I came on board TMV on February 14, 2007.