The traditional American song, “Careless Love,” recorded many times, but owned by Bessie Smith, speaks to what can happen when an accelerated heart rate combines with being struck suddenly blind, staring at a light all around one person.
“Love, oh love, oh careless love/You fly through my head like wine/You’ve wrecked the life of many a poor soul/And you nearly spoiled this life of mine.”
This love-with-consequences theme goes back to the man who gives his name to the holiday tomorrow. St. Valentine believed in love so fervently that he fearlessly married Christian couples in ancient Rome when doing so was a capital offense.
He was arrested but was spared when Emperor Claudius II took a liking to him. Still a fool for love, Valentine tried to convert the emperor, which didn’t go down too well — the emperor had Valentine beaten with clubs, stoned and then publicly beheaded.
Some honor the martyr to love on Valentine’s Day by celebrating with trysts at motels where the bed is shaped like a heart, the tub is a giant cocktail glass and there’s a complimentary bottle of wine of uncertain vintage. The fortunate ones, at least.
The triumph of hope over experience has often been a definition of a second or third or Elizabeth Taylor-number of marriages, but it can also be a working explanation for love in general. Think of Romeo and Juliet, Heloise and Abelard, Tristan and Isolde, Donald Trump and Donald Trump.
The great 20th century philosopher, Satchel Paige, once said, “Love like you’ve never been hurt.” (Another maxim by Mr. Paige, which is somewhat related to the topic at hand, is, “Dance like nobody’s watching.”) His counsel to give your all to the love of someone with full knowledge there will be unpleasant or even dangerous consequences from family and/or society, and somehow putting all that from your mind, is one of the bravest acts a person can perform.
That courage is truly what makes the world go ‘round.
Love is also, at times, the best refuge from a swirl of events that are as baffling as they are frightening. Matthew Arnold knew this. In “Dover Beach,” he wrote:
“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
Love conquers all, wrote another poet, Virgil, more than 2,000 years ago. Even with the ignorant armies of the night clashing around us.
Happy Valentine’s Day.