Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
February 11, 2003
Hominy & Hash

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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- This time of year, I usually write about St. Valentine -- just in case there's someone out there who doesn't know the man behind the legend. Instead of telling the age old tale I grew up with, I decided to check early Church records looking for a new slant.

I discovered almost instantly the monk imprisoned was there not for being a Christian, but for secretly performing marriage ceremonies. Emperor Claudius II determined married men would not make very good soldiers so he banned marriage. The young lovers with a will found a way because of Valentine, whom he then imprisoned.

Claudius thought he'd convert Valentine to paganism and in a reverse twist, Valentine tried to convert Claudius to Christianity. He failed; he was stoned and beheaded. This was in the year AD 269, on February 14, traditionally (and coincidentally) the day each year birds fly off in a mating game.

The story of Valentine doesn't stop there. Another man named Valentine, also under the rule of Claudius, was a Catholic Bishop of Terni. He, too, was beheaded. And then, far off in Africa another Valentine of history or legend was jailed, and while there (before he, too, lost his head) wrote letters to the jailer's daughter. Will the real Valentine please stand up?

I can no longer trust that the first Valentine ever sent in the name of love was a name scratched on a leaf that blew into a prisoner's cell and, as the story goes, a bird carried it to Valentine's loved ones telling them he was thinking of them with love. It's a nice story and officially or not, Valentine is the Patron Saint of Lovers.

Ah, but love! Now, there's a word like "mother," universally revered. But, on Valentine's Day, it's not mother love we're celebrating. It's love that is indefinable. We can't say what love is, but we've written volumes on what love is not:

"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." Shakespeare.

"I'm sorry that I spelled the word; I hate to go above you." Whittier.

"Love is not all: it is not meat ... nor a roof against the rain." Edna St. Vincent Millay.

"Love envieth not. Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. St. Paul, Epistles.

Love is not something you choose, although many have chosen to try. Love is something you fall into and, believe it or not, no one - that's no one - can decide exactly when they will fall in love, or, fall out of love. It's most magical when you can say fate played a hand in it ... Kismet, to give it a more universal touch.

"Only a fool would seek happiness and pass by love in the pursuit." Unknown.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning has never been upstaged in ways of expressing love; as for defining it, though, I'm not so sure. In one line she writes: "I love you with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints," and I can't see what love is when I read that.

What I can understand is the love I felt for St. Valentine, wasting away in a Third Century prison, longing for his friends, garnering sympathetic thoughts from those who hear the story, clutching his heart to keep it from breaking.

Is that the love Mrs. Browning seemed to lose with her lost saints? That sinking, melting, feeling that leaves you powerless? Well, perhaps I'm getting close.

I know this. Once you've fallen, you know it. And you know it when you see it in others. "Hello Young Lovers," words penned by Oscar Hammerstein II for "The King and I" spell out that sentiment. "I know how it feels to have wings on your heels and to fly down the street in a trance, you fly down the street on the chance that you'll meet -- and you meet, not really by chance."

We know it when we see it but how easily we can miss it. In the 1870's, Susan Marr Spalding wrote what could be written today about fate, in fact, it's called "Fate."

"Two shall be born the whole wide world apart,
And speak in different tongues and have no thought
Each of the other's being, and no heed.
And these, o'er unknown seas to unknown lands
Shall cross, escaping wreck, defying death;
And all unconsciously shape every act
And bend each wandering step to this one end -
That one day out of darkness they shall meet
And read life's meaning in each other's eyes.
And two shall walk some narrow way of life
So nearly side by side that, should one turn
Ever so little space to left or right
Their needs must stand acknowledged face to face.
And yet, with wistful eyes that never meet
And groping hands that never clasp
And lips calling in vain to ears that never hear
They seek each other all their weary days
And die unsatisfied. And this is fate.

Love is not a Valentine card or a big candy heart, it's certainly not Cupid shooting an arrow. These are only reminders of the moments when it came to us ... those precious, fleeting, moments that leveled unaccountably into something we can't explain, but we wouldn't have missed for the world.

Edna St. Vincent Millay ended the poem alluded to earlier with these words: ..."I might be driven to sell your love for peace, or trade the memory of this night for food. It may well be. I do not think I would."

This leads me to one final thought: I do not think anyone reciting regrets from his deathbed has ever said he regrets falling in love. And if there are those who reach the nether regions of their lives and cannot honestly understand what is written here, I can only say, be patient.

It will happen. And when it does, you will know it.

Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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