The Exchange of Self

February 13th, 2009

“The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” -Victor Hugo

Holidays magnify the best and the worst of our relationships. There may be no holiday that reflects this more brilliantly than Valentine’s Day. I spent many years in my 25 year marriage waiting for just the right gift, or the right words on the right card to show me how much my husband appreciated and loved me – I believed then that single moments or holidays done right could heal the long standing differences between us. The years that worked the best were the ones where we were already on solid and intimate ground. The years when we were estranged or exhausted, Valentine’s Day served only to illuminate our distance. The good ones and the bad ones have both taught me about reasonable expectations in relationships and for Valentine’s Day.

Collectively we are heavily invested in this holiday of love. Worldwide spending is over $28 billion and here in the US sales are expected to top $13 billion. That is a lot of love to be celebrating, given that so many of us are broke and afraid for how long it will take to prop up our ailing economy. This is a testimony to the fact that our need for love, both giving and receiving it, is as basic a need as our needs for food and water. Humans thrive on love, our existence without meaningful relationships is a shadow of what we were put on earth to do.

The origins of the holiday have something to teach us about what the holiday is for. Our day of love, originated from early pagan fertility rites that were adopted by the Christian church, St Valentine was thought to be a 3rd century Roman priest who married young lovers in defiance of the law. Locked up for his misdeeds, he fell for the jailer’s blind daughter, sending her notes ‘from your Valentine.’ One story says that his love for her restored her sight. The day was named to commemorate his memory.

We all need a saint of love to open our eyes to what really matters in our lives and to show us that the imperfect nature of loving each other is enough. If St Valentine can bring you anything that will not wilt or shatter with time, it is this- that loving people is not a whimsy and although the early stages of deep lust and infatuation is the best love drug on earth, it is not love itself. The real love that St Valentines went to prison to promote is the kind where people promise a lifetime of support, a ready ear and a willing heart, day after day. Real love is not for the faint of heart or for those who think that a bunch of roses will make up for months of not showing up in the trenches.

The fertility rituals the Christian church has been trying to purify since 478AD is also at the heart of this holiday. Physical intimate love is the most mysterious and life changing experiences available to us mortals. Sharing deep and passionate love with someone that you also negotiate daily chores with is a miracle and wonder that goes beyond our capacity to language. Frequently I am overwhelmed with the divergent women who live in me, as the sexy one, though sometimes hard to find, amazes me with her ability for imagination and risk taking. Without any overt exhibitionism I know I would be happier if I could get the responsible me to let go like the sexy me a little more often.

Whether or not you plan to boost our economy and your relationships with gifts and flowers this year, celebrate your love this year by bringing St Valentine’s wisdom of eye opening love into every day. Decide what you need love to be in your life and give that to the people that make your life meaningful. Life is made precious by the exchange of ourselves, not our stuff. Give the real thing and be surprised by what comes back to you. May your heart be pierced and opened wide.

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