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St. Valentine lost his head over love

If you’re among those waiting within a fog of hope for a romantic valentine overture of some sort, take heart.

Our Feb. 14 day of love didn’t originate with romantic, or eros, love, but rather with a third-century saint who gave his life for a love for humankind.

St. Valentine lost his head at the hands of Claudius. Apparently, it was Chaucer, that old romantic, who turned the name of Valentine into a synonym for romantic love during the 14th century and sentenced men around the globe to forever remember one more date in the year with gifts and candy, or else.

In days of yore, it was believed that mid-February marked the time for birds of a feather to choose a mate for spring courtship. Chaucer thought the time appropriate for humans and poetry, too. Chaucer’s young man’s fancy produced “The Parliament of Fowls,” a lengthy poem that speaks of a beautiful garden — neither too hot nor cold, with a gentle breeze — full of flowers and boughs, of sweet string music, and birds with angelic voices. Pretty doggone romantic, if you ask me.

As a single person with no current romantic sprout in my garden, it’s easy to poke fun or become cynical, and I don’t mean to, much. I’m just not sure I’d recognize Cupid if he flew up with a calling card and skewered me in the solar plexus. I might even grab my flyswatter by mistake. Over a lifetime of observance in my own relationships and others’, I believe we fall less in love and more as robotic prey to the multitude of retailers, candy makers and lingerie designers. The true meaning of love, after all, isn’t stuff, unless it’s the stuff of need. Truth stretches far afield and stands the test. True love should at least be attempted every day of the year. Too much work? A simple “do unto others” comes to mind. Maybe with practice I’ll get closer.

One historical rendering of the Roman Saint Valentinus reports that before being beaten and beheaded as a martyr, he restored the sight of his jailer’s daughter, to whom he wrote a farewell letter and signed it, “From your Valentine.” He set the course for Chaucer to take that and race through the centuries with it as a declaration of the most sacrificial love — the giving of one life for another. Now Valentine wannabes everywhere signify their undying devotion to a loved one invoking the title, not realizing the seriousness of their fate. Valentine died for his belief and love for others, because early Romans held a particularly heinous distaste for Christians and did not want their Roman soldiers becoming devoted to wives, sweethearts and families.

My sister, Nancy, and I recently sent texts to one another with earlier photographs of us snuggling our first Valentine, our Daddy. Dad faithfully brought home a heart-shaped box of chocolates for Mom and for each of his two girls. Mom’s was the biggest. This small, but significant annual gesture stuck with me and helped strengthen my comfort level and confidence in their marriage bond, even when things weren’t always simpatico between them. After I was grown, I watched love take on more practical forms like faithfulness and devotion during hard times.

So, Valentine’s Day declarations should abound in this age of “enlightenment,” should they not? A motive born of sincerity instead of rote obligation accomplishes more. Try sending truffles to a political foe and see what happens. Love is mostly counterintuitive. I guess that’s what makes the longevity of it so trying. It helps to have an example.

For the next week, I will offer a few lines of Chaucer’s poem to anyone sending me a friendly email. If it’s unfriendly, I’ll double it.

On this St. Valentine’s Day, may the light of agape love burn away someone else’s fog.

Peggy Dover is a closet-with-door-ajar romantic. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.