There is a great deal of lore surrounding the day when we traditionally acknowledge those we love with flowers, cards, candy, and the like. It is not the mythological Cupid who is the central figure of this occasion, but St. Valentine about whom little is known, but much is speculated.
One story claims Valentine was a priest who was put to death because he aided those who were to be martyred. Another posits that he was martyred himself because he performed marriages despite the fact that the emperor, Claudius II, forbid them on the grounds that unmarried men made better soldiers. A third tale states that while awaiting his execution in prison, Valentine converted the jailor by restoring the sight of the man’s young daughter.
Although stories like these are likely to be more fancy than fact, they point to the deeper meaning of love. Expressing love through the giving of gifts is a good thing; the world would be a better place if romance took center stage more often. But what the myths surrounding St. Valentine suggest is that love is more about self-giving than gift-giving, more about what we are willing to do for those in need than how we feel about them.
With his typical biting wit, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw describes the radical nature of self-giving love:
“The true joy in life is being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a
Mighty one. The being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap
heap. The being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of
ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to
making you happy.”
Taking care of ourselves, honoring our limits, and knowing when to say “no” is important. But Shaw is stating a radical rather than a reasonable truth; namely, the willingness to spend ourselves for the good of others, to give without counting the cost is the way to a joyful life.
Valentine’s Day is a good day to show and tell those special people in our lives that we love them. But every day is a good day to do something, no matter what the personal cost, for those who don’t realize they are loveable. Reaching out to them may not only transform their lives, but it can also give the giver true joy and lasting happiness.