The Secret of Valentine's Day

I know it's overplayed, I know it's at least one part commerce, but I love Valentine's Day. I thought pretty much everyone did. But when I asked a bunch of friends about it, they all said: "Actually Valentine's Day doesn't mean anything to me."

If this in the attitude that is growing prevalent, maybe it's time we remembered exactly who Saint Valentine was. I do this as a public service.

Valentine was a kindly old priest who lived during the third century in Rome. His life was distinguished by a very special love of God, so much that it uplifted him, literally. Once he came into the top of a tree, being stared at by a starling burrowed into Valentine's beard. She would circle around him and bring him flowers whenever he sat and thought about love.

One day he had an insight: What good is love if it does not result in action? And with that he decided to help others become as happy as he was. He started with a young man who had been turned out of medical college because he was frail and bent, and was judged unable to withstand the rigors of study. Valentine journeyed to the college to plead the young man's case. But the physicians were adamant: "We wouldn't take him back if you carried him on your shoulders."

So Valentine went home and nursed the young man. A year later they went back to the college. The physicians barely recognized the young man standing there straight and tall. But it was what he carried on his shoulders that sent them reeling: Valentine, who said, "You didn't say what you'd do if he carried me." The young man was re admitted, and he thrived.

Now Valentine knew that some people have other callings. such as having families. But sometimes they bump into their fear. Once Valentine noticed that every Sunday in church there was a young man who always stood alone and cast shy glances at a young woman, also alone. Valentine decided they needed extra study, in the rectory, with wine and cake, And so he taught them Scripture with special attention to Rachel, and Issac and Rebecca. The young couple began to walk home together. And , well, years later they named their fifth son Valentine.

Valentine had been in love once himself, but the woman had left him. He'd fallen to his knees in anguish and asked for help. He became to her a dearer friend, and good thing too. For she had married a rich man who was not kind to her, and she was often sad. Valentine knew that one cure for inner pain is to look outward and see the pain of others. Valentine advised the woman to take her riches and open a home for Rome's orphans. Well, she did, and it began to make her happy.

One day and orphan came to Valentine and said, "I want to send my love to our foundress, but I don't know how to write." Valentine said, "I'll write it for you," He leaned down and tore a piece of lace off the border of his robe. Then he called to the starling to peck his arm. He dabbed a stick in the pinprick of blood and wrote on the lace, "I love you." And so began the custom of declaring one's love in writing in red and florid scrip, on paper as delicate as a doily.

Valentine's sweetness spread. He taught many children to write letters of love. And as he lay dying in ripe old age, his last words were these: "At the center of all is love." When he breathed his last, church bells rang throughout the city, and children chanted, "A saint is dead!" And soon husbands returned to abandoned wives, loves letters lost in the post for years were found and delivered just in time...

The people asked the Pope to make Valentine a saint. "I know this man," the Pope said. And he told a story about the last plague, and how a doctor who risked his life to treat the poor, and how he never would have made it to medical college with out being healed himself by an old fellow named... Valentine.

That settled it. One the day Valentine was made a saint, the Pope told the children of Rome that Valentine's life reminds us to love thy neighbor. And he told them to make Valentine's feast day one of love declared and deployed. And through the years came the customs of marking Valentine's Day with cards and notes... and bringing flowers... and even tying on balloons, to remember the love that lifted Valentine's heart.

And so regard its central fact:
Love is two things, word and act.
And kindly take this wee admission:
I made it up with out permission.
Poor Valentine had little fame
History barely tells his name.
But who knows? It could be true.
And Happy Saint Valentine's from me to you.

By Peggy Noonan
for Redbook February 1999
pg 172

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