Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love. How controversial can THAT be? It wasn’t invented by Hallmark, as many jaded folks feel about the whole affair. It does support the florist industry, not a bad thing, small flower shops could not thrive without it. And along with Halloween it probably keeps the candy industry afloat too. (There might be some controversy there, but as always, buy local and buy healthy.)

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Tin heart from Mexico

The most accepted version of how Valentine’s Day came into being is the story of a priest named Valentine. In the third century Emperor Claudius II decided single men were better soldiers then married men so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine felt this was grossly unfair and, defying Claudius, performed marriages in secret. He was caught and sentenced to death. As the story goes, he either struck up a friendship or fell in love with (depending on the version you read) the jailer’s young daughter and wrote his young friend a letter before being executed…. often referred to as the first Valentine.

There’s not a lot of hard evidence for this story, likely passed down originally by oral tradition, but having all the elements of a good story – rebellion in the name of love against an evil emperor, it has stuck.

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Paper mache heart decoration

Before the martyrdom of Valentine the feast of Lupercalia was celebrated from February 13 to 15. “Men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain…young women would actually line up for the men to hit them. They believed this would make them fertile.” This strange ritual was followed by a matchmaking lottery. Young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be coupled up for the duration of the festival, or longer. (1)

These two stories, blended together and soften over the centuries, thanks to Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the poets of the world, became today’s Valentine’s Day. Losing the early pagan mating rituals, and rarely seen as a Christian celebration, it became a day for children to hand out funny Valentines to friends and couples to find time to acknowledge and express their love for one another with flowers, candy, dinner out or whatever. Not a bad thing!

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A vintage cardboard decoration

Growing up, our family celebrated all the traditional American holidays. Somehow Mom found time between working full-time, raising three kids, and fulfilling the responsibilities of a typical housewife in the 50s and 60s, to do a little decorating, make a special dinner and, always, a special dessert for every holiday from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day and beyond. Christmas was a grander affair and Easter involved the extra tasks of buying Easter outfits and putting together Easter baskets.

Maybe because it was low-keyed, and definitely a family affair, I’ve always liked Valentine’s Day and never thought of it as a holiday exclusively for couples.  My brothers must have been influenced in the same way, because over the years I occasional receive Valentines from each of them, and I’m guessing not too many men send Valentines to their sisters! (Aren’t I lucky!)

As a single adult I pretty much did what mom did…decorate a little, make a special dinner, send Valentines to friends and family. I still do, most years. Mike greatly appreciates it all and it remains a low-keyed time to simply celebrate love, both within our marriage and beyond.

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delicate embroidery on a linen handkerchief

But this celebration of love has deeper meaning to me now than it did growing up. Call it Divine Love, Universal Love, Cosmic Love, or just Love with a capital “L”, it is a force greater than the lust of the early Roman couples or the amorous feelings of a condemned priest. It is the love felt when a mother looks into the face of her new born, when a friend holds the hand of a dying friend, or a spouse tenderly cares for their mate who does not recognize them any more. It is the warmth one feels with a long-time friend, or a spouse, when you share a moment of laughter at some ‘in joke’ and realize how deep and how lasting your relationship is. It is the compassion of a police officer who buys a homeless person a pair of shoes, or a child who saves her allowance and raises money to help people in a country he or she has never been to. This love is beyond romantic love. It is unconditional, made up of compassion, empathy, appreciation, respect. It is inclusive, accepting another person because you see beyond their actions, or their beliefs. Ignoring the differences that make them “other”, you see them with an understanding heart, not a critical mind. And you care about them.

This love has seemingly gone missing when you read the headlines. But it is alive and well in small compassionate acts of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, as well as every day deeds of kindness. It is alive when people take action from their hearts. It is in the stories that don’t make the headlines.

We can, and need to, nurture it and celebrate this love everyday. It’s what the world needs now, more than ever.

To celebrate it is perhaps an act of rebellion against the hatred being taught and glorified. This celebration of universal love for all, I think, would make the rebellious priest Valentine, who lost his life to help other’s celebrate their love, very happy!

Happy Valentines Day!

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(1) National Public Radio story on the origins of Valentine’s Day 

 

 

 

 

A Gift of Reflections…For My Husband

It’s a dark and rainy day here in the woods, I’m home sick with some flu-like misery. And it is our 25th Anniversary. At ‘our age’ many friends have been married at least a decade or longer than we have, we married ‘late’. Still, on this, our “silver” anniversary, I’ll indulge myself by sharing a few reflections of the journey.

on our wedding day with nieces Katina and Kira

on our wedding day with nieces Katina and Kira

When I met Mike a mutual friend said to me “what you see is what you get”. He went on to say Mike was not pretentious. With a slight air he implied Mike was not an intellect, nor very sophisticated, just a guy living in the woods. Our friend was right, Mike is not pretentious, but he was also wrong, what I saw was not what I got. I ‘got’ so much more. I’ve had the privilege of spending the past 25 years with someone who, having no pre-conceived ideas or expectations about me, or marriage, has been the perfect mate on this uncharted voyage.

2008

2008

We joke about how Mike was indeed a ‘bear’ living in the woods, working in the woods, emerging to play long games of Pac-Man on one quarter (to the amazement of the on-looking young boys) at Penny Saver (the corner store), and hanging out at friends’ houses, often showing up at dinner with a carton of ice cream under his arm, to the delight of the children of the house. Seemingly the quintessential ‘bachelor’, he kept his own counsel. Few knew of Mike’s profound sense of loyalty and perseverance, qualities that make him a good worker, a good participant in community causes, and most of all, an extraordinary husband. There is a deeply spiritual side to Mike that, even now, few of his ‘buddies’ know of. When asked, he will say that spiritual quality has been the shared foundation of our marriage.

Mike sharing his birthday with mom

Mike sharing his birthday with mom 2012

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2010

Like most marriages, ours has been through multiple challenges, and difficult times. Health challenges, financial challenges, family challenges, you name it, we’ve had our share, and recently, perhaps more than our share. I’ve woken up in recovery rooms to see Mike’s face following more surgeries than I can count. For the past 7 years, after she lost her driver’s license and showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, my mother has been the ‘third’ member of our marriage. Going to Seattle once or twice a week we helped her remain in her home for as long as possible. She spent weekends with us once or twice a month. Many a Saturday night Mom and Mike played a mean game of gin rummy. We took her on mini-vacations. Two years ago, on this day, our 23rd anniversary, we moved mom from her home. Our care involvement continued as we visited her and over saw her new life, while dismantling her old life, emptying her home of 42 years, preparing it for sale.

We’ve literally built our life together, adding a meditation building, chicken coops, and other ‘out buildings’ to our living space. There have been wonderful vacations throughout the northwest, including a ‘big’ trip to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Our family has consisted, over the years, of 5 dogs, 3 foster dogs, countless ducks and chickens, and a few cats.

So what have I learned on this shared journey?

First, the adages are true.

We do not go to bed angry. Never. We tried it a few times, it didn’t work.

Difficulties in a marriage either make it stronger or tear it apart. An oft repeated adage, I can only say it is a choice. Acknowledging that when going through the most challenging of times it is human nature for some of our best and worse traits to come up, is the first step to letting those times be a time of drawing closer together. It is a time to practice forgiveness.

Opposites attract….thank goodness! Who would want to be married to someone like themselves! Not me! Frustrating as it is at times that Mike constantly does things, hears things, thinks things so diabolically the opposite of what I would do, or say, or how I meant it….I am grateful for the humble reminder that my perspective is just that, my perspective.

Another baseline for us has been the 4 Cs – Commitment, Communication, Compassion and Cooperation. I have these posted above my desk, and recently noticed Mike also had these four words posted above his desk (if you saw his desk you would understand how it went unnoticed by me for years….but that’s another story!). I could write about each of these and why they are so important in a marriage, but most of my readers don’t need the explanations.

John Gottman, and his wife Julie Schwartz, University of Washington researchers, built their careers and reputations being the first folks to look at what makes a successful marriage. They interviewed thousands of people who have been married a long time. They have much to say in their books and workshops about what makes happy, lasting, marriages, but a few basics of their research, not surprisingly, showed four important and consistent components in a happy marriage….humor, forgiveness, respect and friendship. The traits that make for lasting friendships make for successful marriages. I consider these the top four traits of our life together.

Mike said I should include this recent picture of us at the beach as an indication of the humor in our life.                    We are indeed Mr & Mrs Dork

Mike said I should include this recent picture of us at the beach as an indication of the humor in our life. We are indeed Mr & Mrs Dork

I remember reading an earlier interview of Gottman about his work. He said when interviewing couples, if they said “we have a pretty good marriage”, he considered it a happy, successful marriage.

We have a “pretty good marriage”.

Happy Anniversary Mike!

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(Once again challenged, plans to go on an anniversary get away were scrapped due to my needing to get an MRI and have doctor appointments due to possible reoccurrence of cancer. Then the “cancer” plans were scrapped by this flu-bug. Today Mike stayed home from work to keep me company while I moan and groan about feeling lousy and my lot in life…….and that is what a pretty good marriage is about!)

 

 

 

Anniversary flowers. Mostly Mike is a traditionist, one of his favorite songs is "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof! That means flowers on anniversaries, this year being no exception!

Mike is a traditionist, in fact one of his favorite songs is “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof! That means flowers on anniversaries, this year being no exception!