Valentine’s Day– despite its roots in a decidedly dark origin story– is a holiday that has been commercialized into a monopoly fixated on romantic love. To those who are single, or those who are swimming the oceans of grief, it can be an isolating storm of grotesque sentimentality and farce.
Infatuation, that stomach-lurch when your newly minted lover is close by, is rightly compared with fireworks. An impressive, all-dominating show that jolts your body to attention. But following the glorious display of wonder, the remnants fizzle and plop to the ground in unceremonious dismissal.
The very expression, “I fell in love with him,” implies something happened TO you; an uncontrollable state that you stumbled upon and had no control over.
However, if you can fall INTO love, you can just as readily and easily fall OUT of it.
Take a stroll down the card aisle at Target. Try to sort out a specimen that will accompany your flowers. It will 95% of the time reiterate this sentiment. Love as a feeling, not as a verb.
I’m not condemning the holiday. I’m all about celebrating the vast experiences we relish as humans, the abiding relationships that form from us being drawn to another’s beauty of personhood and depth of soul.
But I do find the association between severed roses and Valentine’s Day an odd and fitting commentary.
Imagine yourself at the florist’s booth. Your eyes sifting through the line of bouquets, seeking the freshest, most richly hued, most bounteous assembly to bring home to your significant other.
You skip over the buds that are drooping, browning over. You consider the rose, in its full-bloom glory, a flower with petals soft as silk and a scent that must have intoxicated noses back in a world where indoor plumbing, frequent showers and deodorant didn’t exist.
Shipping systems strive for the perfect formula to keep these delicate flowers in their most desirous state. Science transports the cut-flowers across thousands of miles, preserving them in a constant temperature from the farm to the stores, a sort of suspended animation to promote their aesthetic state. Don’t expose it to harsh weather conditions, keep it constantly dipped in water and nutritious flower food, wear gloves so as not to allow the oils from your fingers to dampen the petals.
It is only fitting that this delicate, tenuous, blink-and-you’ll-miss it flower stands as tribute to the holiday surrounding romantic love.
It doesn’t last, nor is it meant to. We can artificially prolong its glamour, but it will still rot within a week’s time. No matter how glittering or bright the package that it came wrapped in.
If we want roses to last, what do we do? We TEND to them. We use our actions. We plant them in soil. We tenderly water them, give them sunlight, coax roots into being. We shelter them in a frost. We shape, cultivate, and invest our time and effort into them.
There is a song from Fiddler on the Roof that unpacks this. Tevye’s oldest daughter has just approached him with the village tailor, asking for his blessing in their marriage. He acquiesces, but also experiences a crisis of sorts, and goes to his wife Golde to sort it out.
It seems like such an odd question to ask your spouse after 25 years of arranged marriage. But it unwraps the message that, despite two strangers meeting on a wedding day, a common vision unites two people of different temperaments. (Which if you know ANYTHING about Golde and Tevye, they are vastly different, as the musical comically plays upon.)
Ralph Waldo Emerson also explores this same question, “do you love me?” in his essay on the nature of friendship.
“Friendship requires that rare mean betwixt likeness and unlikeness. Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo. There must be very two, before there can be very one. Let it be an alliance of two, large, formidable natures, mutually beheld, mutually feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity which beneath these disparities unites them.”
As we toss our Valentine’s roses into the trash this week, let us remember the passion behind it all. Passion–at least that as marketed in our culture, romance novels and Hollywood films– is eros. A babbling brook, stimulating and noisy, drawing much attention to itself, but ultimately shallow, a creek whose bed dries up in a drought. We want passion like a river. Deep, abiding, substantial, meaningful.
It takes blood, sweat, tears to nourish a garden. But oh, how vastly rewarding it is, how GLORIOUS the passion that comes from sharing a common vision with your love who is your fellow traveler on this journey of sanctification in light of the eternal God.