If you’re puzzled by relationships…
Our first Valentine’s Day together, Steve and I attended a presentation on raptors at the Volo Bog Nature Center. We got to hear about and see up close some beautiful birds of prey and learn more about their habits and how they differ from what the presenter called “sissy birds” – birds who migrate to avoid our Northern winters. Then we went and had sushi at a nearby restaurant. The next Valentine’s Day, we went to a presentation on animal mating habits at the McHenry County Conservation District education center. They provided some great chocolate snacks, warm drinks, a slide show on various courtship behaviors, and a candlelit ski trail hike. They played a recording of coyote calls to try to entice some real responses, but there were none. Still, the eerie, cold hillside was suitably mysterious and romantic for those of us who are simply in love with nature. This morning, we took off from Milwaukee to Madison for our weekly Naturalist Enrichment course at the Arboretum of UW Madison. We heard a professor from the zoology department give a presentation entitled “Why Do Birds Sing?” One of the main purposes for bird song is, of course, to attract a mate. Thus, the Valentine’s Day connection was made again. Steve asked a question of the presenter to try to find some explanation for the early morning activity of birds in our neighborhood. “What’s the best time of day to sing a love song?” Several audible chuckles and giggles were heard in the audience, which is predominantly silver-haired and female. The presenter talked about the morning chorus and the ability for sound to be carried further in the chilly predawn air. I smiled down at my notes and pressed my knee against his leg. After the talk was over, a nice lady with short, white hair and a thickly knit sweater came over and leaned across me. To Steve, she said, “You can sing your love song ANY TIME you want!”
I love hanging out with retired professors! And I love that my daughter lives just a few blocks away from the Arboretum and invited us over for “breakfish” afterwards. Valentine’s hugs all around and more conversation about her upcoming wedding. Very satisfying way to spend the day, indeed.
Nerd love and natural love to everyone! What a wonderful world!
Valentine’s Day. A Hallmark holiday. Is it even connected to anything in history? The Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentines’ Day from its calendar in 1969 because there was nothing known about the 3 St. Valentines that had been venerated except that one of them was martyred on February 14th. Chaucer had started the whole romantic connection by writing this verse in 1382 as part of a poem to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”
Okay. So what?
Eventually socialization takes over. We establish a day on the calendar to honor Love and allow traditions to flourish. It’s good for the economy. See also Mother’s Day and Sweetest Day. We grow increasingly attached to our traditions and habits and compartmentalize the celebration of Love to coincide with the day. That’s what I would call sentimental. It’s about the past and nostalgia.
But why not forget February 14, the calendar, and time itself, since they are merely social constructs, and instead try to honor every moment as we live it? The Bell of Mindfulness rings for this moment only. What are you feeling? What is happening around you? Are you fully aware of the miracle of living right now? If in your awareness, you choose to employ an “outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace” of being mindful, then that’s what I would call a sacrament.
And if the whole thing just strikes you as absurd and unrealistic, then you might be what I would call cynical. You might connect the day with massacres and treat your loved ones to:
Whatever your particular taste tends to on Valentine’s Day, I hope you enjoy the flavor!!
Yesterday, I read a travel post about a European romantic trend called Love Locks. Apparently, an Italian novel whose title translates to “I Need You” has spawned the custom of lovers affixing padlocks to public fences, bridges, gates and whatnot as a sign of their everlasting love. This idea really rubs me the wrong way, so I’m sorting out my thoughts to figure out why. Of course, this is about me, not about judging any of the couples who have participated in this ritual nor about anyone else who thinks it’s romantic. So, what do I know about me?
First of all, I worry about the accumulation of stuff. Seeing all those padlocks encrusting a surface reminds me of the proliferation of manufactured gadgets and things that we humans often allow to run unchecked. Apparently, many city officials also consider them “an eyesore”. It occurs to me that if they were something natural or biodegradable (like flower petals or garlands?), I would probably not feel this instant repulsion. This may be just the surface of the aesthetic mismatch, however.
Second, I think a lot about symbolism. What does a padlock say about love? In all fairness, I have not read the novel, so I am probably missing the finer points. I understand the desire for security in a relationship. I was married for 24 years, “until death”, and I positively flourished under the safety of that bond. But now that Jim has slipped all surly bonds, I think that anything everlasting must be a bit more mutable than metal, more plastic than any tangible material. The words of a song by John Denver keep floating to the surface of my consciousness. The title of the song is “Perhaps Love”. Here’s a bit of the chorus: “Some say love is holding on and some say letting go; and some say love is everything and some say they don’t know”. I guess I have to say that lately I’ve been sitting in the “letting go” camp. Out of necessity, obviously. I did the struggle of holding on. I found it to be an ego thing, ultimately unsustainable. Letting go, opening up, imagining expansiveness is a way to include a lot more without confining it to an embrace. I believe love wants to include a lot more by nature.
Two nights before my love died was Valentine’s Day. We celebrated at home with champagne and salmon in the company of two of our daughters. My oldest brought out a book of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and read this one (Love Sonnet #92):
My love, should I die and you don’t,
let us give grief no more ground:
my love, should you die and I don’t,
there is no piece of land like this on which we’ve lived.
Dust in the wheat, sand in the desert sands,
time, errant water, the wandering wind
carried us away like a navigator seed.
In such times, we may well not have met.
The meadow in which we did meet,
oh tiny infinity, we give back.
But this love, Love, has had no end,
and so, as it had no birth,
it has no death. It is like a long river
that changes only its shores and its banks.
Translation: Terence Clarke
I cannot imagine trying to put a padlock on a wheat field or on the desert sands, on the wind or on a river. I cannot imagine putting a padlock on time, even though that’s a concept we made up, just like the padlock, as a way to try to control things. I do know that the impulse to lock down an experience is very human and very old. The ancient story of the Transfiguration of Jesus comes to mind. Jesus and three of his disciples (Peter, James and John) climb a mountain, and there the disciples have an experience of seeing Jesus in glowing white raiment talking to Moses and Elijah. Good old impetuous Peter gets all excited and bursts out with an idea. “Let’s build three booths (or tabernacles)! We can put each of you in one and hang on to this experience for a while longer, perhaps invite others….” He is silenced by a booming voice from the clouds. “Listen!” When the cloud lifts, Jesus stands alone, and they decide to keep quiet instead.
I am beginning to recognize a kind of flow, a yin and yang of contrasting energies, in myself. I think it has something to do with my biological cycle, but it also manifests in a mood cycle. I feel that expansive, fecund, open sense bubbling up in me, settling me down, inviting me to nurture and set free. Then, a while later, I feel a feisty urge to grab hold and wrestle with my circumstances and force them to conform to some idea in my brain. I could say that I am still loving with both energies. I used to tell my children that I disciplined them because I loved them, and I believe that’s true, but I think there’s an ego love and a non-ego love. They are both part of me. One is not “right” and the other “wrong”, but I think that the non-ego kind is more beneficial in the universe.
Valentine’s Day is a few weeks away. It’s a time when many people are thinking about love, romantic love. I keep challenging myself to think bigger, to open up. I hear the voice booming from the clouds, from the trees, from the water and the air. It asks me to Listen. So I guess it’s time to shut up.