Humans are peculiarly complex creatures. We are graced with sentiency and reasoning that greatly exceed other animalsí logic, yet we retain our primal instincts. The biological urges to procreate and protect oneís mate combine with human emotional attachment to create the feeling that is love. Love is mankindís greatest blessing and greatest curse and the most defining aspect of human nature. Love is the indescribable sensation that the strictest rules cannot control, the most advanced sciences cannot replicate, and the wisest sages cannot explain. As human beings suffering from a substantial amount of hubris, we cannot help but revere ourselves and that which separates us from our fellow animals.
Saint Valentineís Day, universally accepted in Western culture as a day for celebrating love, has a history of being misinterpreted since its founding in the fifth century. Pope Gelasius, having had the decency to outlaw the disgusting pagan Lucrian festival to honor fertility and sensual pleasure because it contradicted all respectable Christian values, saw that the corrupted, morally weak people of Rome still wanted to rejoice in their emotions. Hoping to satisfy the Roman mobís sappy, romantic side, Gelasius chose the Christian martyr Saint Valentine, a bishop who was arrested for marrying young couples in secret and against the Roman tyrannyís will. While detained, the bishop supposedly fell in love with the prison wardenís daughter and signed his last note to her, ďFrom your Valentine.Ē Unfortunately for Gelasius, the saintís memorable farewell inspired interest among Roman Christians in value romantic trysts, premarital relationships, and other taboo, anti-Christian behavior. Even during the height of the Catholic Churchís power, human corruption triumphed over human ideals.
In modern America, the tradition of celebrating true love has become a commercialized institution characterized by the greeting card, candy, and floral industries coaxing innocent, normally practical people into spending obscene amounts of money on gifts that the recipient will forget very soon after they are thrown away, eaten, or rot until they die. Spending a special day with a special person may enough to fill a few lucky people with bliss, but for many others who, for some reason, do not have someone to spend it with, Valentineís Day is only a reminder of their misery and frustration in the absence of a romantic companion.
A survey taken on any Valentineís Day will reveal that for every happy pair, there is at least one unhappy single. Maybe they have recently broken up with their 'better half.' Maybe they have tried in vain for what seems like eons to start a relationship. Maybe they have lost a loved one recently. Myriads of people feel pain because they do not have someone to share mutually loving feelings with. For someone in this unfair yet very common situation, looking around and seeing flimsy, pink-and-red decorations and meaningless paper hearts in shop windows and couples expressing far more affection than they should in public, it seems that the sole purpose of Valentineís Day is to infuriate and depress single people.
One may argue the positive attributes of the holiday - for example, that it encourages partners to express their love for each other. But if they are truly in love, they should not need prompting to say so. Does setting one day aside for showing extra love imply only lukewarm affection during the other 364 days of the year? If so, then why would people desire a romantic relationship in the first place? The paradox is inherent in celebrating love: Setting one day apart from others to declare eternal, steady devotion is sheer hypocrisy, because the very next day, the proclaimer is less devoted.
In America, any respectable meaning Valentineís Day once held has gradually disappeared along with the prefix 'Saint' from the holidayís name. To the American single person, the fourteenth of February and its associated customs mock true love and all of our hopes to find it. Rather than give hope to the outsider, Valentineís Day brings only agony, despair, and disgust. In our quest for profits we have corrupted the celebration of love, the very essence of humanity.
To my new friend, the excited reader:
Imagine you are asleep. On second thought, donít do that. I donít want you to slip into unconsciousness, as you would no longer be an excited reader, and therefore no longer my friend. I value my friends too much (no matter how undeveloped our relationship may be) to voluntarily lose one to an involuntary, suggested, possibly even hypnotic state. Iíd much prefer that we all sat down to a nice turkey-and-stuffing dinner and got to know one another before you turn into an imaginary sleep zombie. So, instead, imagine you are Ďinconveniently predisposedí - for example, youíre chained to the wall of a murky dungeon at the bottom of a Medieval cathedral in which the ceiling is decorated with a delightful English Gothic fan arch design, but the lighting is too poor to fully appreciate it. To make things worse, this particular English Gothic dungeon is in France, and you donít speak any French.
So here you are, with your arms and legs bound to the wall of the darkest and most obscure room available (the first chapel on the left is booked for an interfaith ping-pong tournament) in this architectural masterpiece that now cowers in the shadow of its ancient glory, wondering why on earth an undergraduate applicant would possibly want to conjure these images into your head, when all of a sudden, this ferocious run-on sentence sneaks up and bites me in the rear end.
All of a sudden, you come to your senses and resign from the admissions committee because of all those inane essay submissions. Just kidding - youíre still here! Right? Hello? ...Anyway, since this is my essay and Iím the one who has been putting the paragraphs on the paper and the pictures in your mind, itís only fair that I offer you a decent, if not particularly profound, explanation for my overenthusiastic mental scene construction.
After all, Iím not describing my own aspirations for the future (although I would like to be fluent in French someday); Iím not describing my favorite subject of study (although I am fascinated by classic architecture); Iím not describing my worst fear (but intentional run-on sentences really can be a figurative pain in the butt). I havenít even mentioned the unexplainable, contradictory phenomena of pragmatic perfectionism, complex immaturity, or occasionally pessimistic idealism that help to define my personality. All I really wanted in having you imagine the despondent scene a few paragraphs earlier was sympathy for my situation.
What situation, you ask? Well, several weeks ago, I set out to write an essay for my college applications. The problem is that my essay is due tomorrow, and I have yet to settle on a topic. I really have no idea what to write about. Perhaps a summary of my mission in life, or an adjective-filled description of myself, or a discussion on the beautifully dynamic motion of strawberry Jell-O...
(c) Jeff Kessler 2001-2002