Some people hate Valentine’s Day. They see it coming and they hiss and boo and say that it’s stupid. Even under threat of the dog house, they say it’s a made-up Hallmark holiday driven by sales, not to be taken seriously. I used to be such a person, but given the way the pandemic has neutered nearly every ceremony and campaign, I am less inclined to act insulted. The day will outlast the sparkly card, I now suspect. This year, I am glad the day is coming, if only because it means that the wheel is still turning, and we are still invested in love, whatever it means.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, one of the oldest stories in the English language to mention Saint Valentine’s Day as a day meant for lovers (over 600 years ago, long before Hallmark), three male eagles vie for the heart of a female finer than any other eagle to have ever lived in all the world. Naturally, each male bows low and promises at once to be faithful to this vision of a bird, or else let himself be destroyed. The scene is a temple in a vast and wondrous woodland, where every bird gathers each year on Valentine’s Day, we are told. All the other birds, from the cuckoo to the peacock to the goose, weigh in on the eagles’ proposals and a cacophonous squabbling follows. How can they know for sure which eagle’s promise is true? Insults are hurled in every direction and the birds are divided in frustration and discord. Finally, the goddess of Nature herself intervenes and insists that the choice lies with the female to love whom she pleases. The blushing female instead asks for time, for one year, to digest all that has passed, and to make her decision with confidence. Nature rebukes the protesting males and tells them that “the same delay is served upon you all.”
Since the last Valentine’s Day to pass, Nature has served a similar delay to suitors the world over. The meeting places have all been closed for nearly a year already, and many of us are hopeful that the beautiful eagle will return and a new parliament will form and we can return to our squawking and squabbling over who deserves her, like old times. But then, of course, we will have to accept her decision.
This year of waiting, for me at least, has been a significant opportunity for meditation. It feels less and less like waiting each day. I was single last Valentine’s Day, and mildly frustrated. I will no doubt remain single for this one. But for the first time in my life, I am actually fine with that. Suddenly, I have seen what a hopeful fool I have been.
I remember one frigid winter in my childhood when Valentine’s came around. I went to a small public school in a tiny town, and everyone in my class wrote a few runty and misspelled words into cutesy colourful handmade cards. We wrote one for each other kid, because we had to, according to the teacher. Of course, there were one or two girls that I really wanted to write a card for, but the whole class? C’mon, even the kid who beat me up at recess and stole my Pokémon cards? Really?
But, man, what a treat to read them all! Suddenly, I was alright with the routine. XoxO means hugs and kisses? And Kelly wrote that in my card? Oh man. Did she know that’s what X’s and O’s mean? I would have died if she really hugged and kissed me once, never mind twice, big and small. O, and how I wish I could spy back into that classroom on that day to see who else was blushing as red as I was while we were all darting our eyes down at the cards and up at one another like deer bracing to bound straight out through the windows in fear. But, somehow we stayed put. The classes concluded, and I had to walk home — alone.
Normally, I took the bus, but I was supposed to stay at my friend Jimmy’s house, which was in town. I do not know why Jimmy was not with me; probably he was hidden away somewhere off of the Indian trail kissing and hugging his girlfriend in the bushes, the lucky dog. I had all of my cards with me, all of them, just pressed against my chest in my arms. I did not put them in my backpack because I was about ten years old and I was just an idiot kid. Maybe I wanted to feel the love pour out from the cards and through my coat into my heart the way it did in all those Disney movies that raised me, I don’t know. But what I do know is that when I passed the fire hall, a wind gathered down the Station Road and threw one pink and sparkly card from my clutches. Of course, I tried to grab it, and then the wind took all of the cards, casting them in fleeting spirals all over the sidewalk and the snowbank, into the salty slush on the road. Some even flew over the fence, into the frozen swamp.
Well, if I didn’t break down and cry, right on the spot. Ten years old and miserably collapsed in my green snowsuit in the cold, all because my kind words were lost in the wind. How silly, how cute, and what a shame. Only with time would I learn that it wasn’t the cards that really mattered.
This Valentine’s will be easier. The choosey female can take as long as she wants. She is not required to write everyone cards anymore. As Nature decrees to Chaucer’s parliament of birds: “there is no alternative.” It’s all the squabbling that is so funny, when we find the time to look back. The wheel of love has been turning for a very long time, and on occasion we get pinched beneath it. That’s alright though, because we might ride it high above everything from time to time, too.
I realize now that it is my own expectations that I have hated and found stupid. I’ve been miffed all this time because I know in my heart how dreadfully I wished to be loved. Valentine’s Day is a hopeful day, and it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves. It is not a crime to wish the best of it, but it is endearing.
So whatever your feelings in the past about Valentine’s Day have been, I would ask you simply to cool your heart this year. Hope, sure, but do not expect the candlelit dinner and the poem, nor let yourself scoff at the day as a frivolous invention of greeting card companies and chocolatiers. Only be grateful that the occasion keeps returning, keeps inspiring and frustrating the birds of every flock, and keeps things compelling. Love comes back around, in myriad forms, with or without cards and candies, but it comes back around in its own time and of its own volition.
Surely, I am not the only one who has made peace with this lately. Ten years old was a little too soon to start crying like I was missing out, I think. One year without going on a date is not too long to wait, either, it turns out. And one Valentine’s Day gone wrong is hopefully not cause enough to form a rift between partners. It’s just a day like any other, sure. It comes and it goes, but some of us choose to make it special and bestow it meaning, the same way we choose to love one another: by Nature. Who are we, then, to protest?
Kyle McKinnon is an intern at Accenti, and currently studying English Literature at Bishop’s University. Having long admired the limitless beauty of nature, music and storytelling, he has travelled throughout Canada and Europe, listening keenly to the stories told with sincerity and compassion. Formerly apprenticed as a home-builder, he is sure to measure his words twice and to cut them once.