The first thing we need to do today is say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to this wild, wonderful woman!! I wish I was there to celebrate with you, but next year we’ll have two parties!
I like parties of all kinds, especially if they’re happening at my house. I have a bit of an “issue” with dishes — actually, it’s the other people in my household who think my dishes are an issue, which kind of makes it their issue, not mine, right?! — so hosting parties lets me justify stockpiling dinner service for 70. (Not really, but this is what I tell myself). Coming from a gigantic family on my mom’s side, I think it’s in my DNA to feel like I’m not really cooking unless it’s for the 82nd Airborne…and everyone knows you can’t fight the DNA.
But while I’ve hosted parties for many different occasions, the Almost Valentine’s Birthday Baby Margarita Fiesta was as close as I ever got to hosting a Valentine’s party. There’s something forced about Valentine’s Day that I don’t like, the same way there’s something forced about Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and basically every other holiday that the American Consumer Machine has gotten hold of. I hope I’ve made it clear to my children that if they’re calling me on Mother’s Day because they feel obligated to, rather than because they’d like to speak to me, please don’t! I hate the idea of obligatory acts of love, almost as much as I hate forced romance.
If this sounds like I am anti-love, I’m not, not in the least. It’s just that, much like the entire wedding industry, I think Valentine’s Day is very far removed from the actual point. It has become all about the trappings — the dutiful dispatching of flowers, cards, candy — than about the reality of actually caring about someone.
I think there’s something really toxic about the whole Valentine’s/wedding/love industry, in that it sets impossibly high standards for what a relationship should look like, and unfortunately, women seem to be embracing the ridiculousness wholeheartedly. This whole notion of “I want to be treated like a princess” is absurd: first of all, what does that even mean? That you want to make innumerable public appearances and have your every move scrutinized by the press? And secondly, we all get it, you’re a special snowflake. But being female doesn’t entitle you to behave like a self-absorbed twit, not even on your wedding day.
The media doesn’t help, and never has. From ridiculous premises to impossible sex scenes, you’re left feeling inadequate if your life isn’t non-stop roses and elevator shenanigans. I tried to watch the movie Love Story one day when I was home with the flu, and the so-called “witty banter” from the high maintenance pain-in-the-ass character played by Ali McGraw was simply unbearable. Ten minutes into it, I was snorting Theraflu and chasing it with chopped up Advil, hoping to black out.
I’m a little less critical when it comes to music, probably because music doesn’t require me to sit still for an hour and a half. My ultimate play list of love songs would include everything from Simon (Devoted to You) to Springsteen (I Wish I Was Blind), Clapton (Anything for Your Love) to the Cox Family (I’m Not So Far Away). Music allows you to connect to a time and place in a way that movies cannot — play “Faithfully” anywhere, and everyone my age will be immediately transported back to the middle school dance.
When I was a teenager, I went to live in Austria knowing three words of German: bitte (please), danke (thanks) and schwimflossen (swimflippers). As you’d imagine, that last one came in handy in land-locked Vienna.
I learned German from a variety of sources – books, conversation, signs on the street – but most of my vocabulary came from music, because I could listen to a cassette and read the lyrics that came with it…and, as we already know, I am powerless in the face of song lyrics.
One of the shows that was touring in Vienna at the time was Les Miserables, and after seeing it, I got the cassette. I’ve never seen it in English and only know the songs in German; as a result, I can say a lot of very impractical things, like Komm, Cosette, wie wild die Schatten wandern. As I’ve yet to meet anyone named Cosette, much less find it necessary to remark on how the shadows are moving, I can’t say that this has been a beneficial addition to my vocabulary, but other lyrics have proved more useful — and one passage from the German Les Mis has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. This is at the very end, if I’m remembering correctly, sung by Fantine and Éponine and Valjean:
Und vergeßt nicht, die Wahrheit steht geschrieben
Zu lieben einen Menschen heißt: das Antlitz Gottes sehen.
Roughly translated, it means “Don’t forget, the truth has been written, to love another person is to see the face of God.” Now there’s a lyric I can get behind.
[Editorial aside: some song lyrics really ARE more useful than others. One time in Rome, I could not get the bathtub faucet to turn off, and even with the drain open, the tub was in danger of overflowing. I called the front desk and requested that a porter come up, subito, but once he arrived, I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain the problem to him. So I made a grand sweeping gesture with my arm and started singing, Vide o’ mare, quante bello! He immediately understood that I wasn’t really asking him to look upon the beauty of the sea, started laughing, and shut off the faucet. Useful, no?!?]
The whole biblical message is about love, really, because love is what allows us to live in community with one another. Sometimes that love is fairly mild — just a recognition that we share the bonds of humanity — and sometimes it’s passionate and fiery and reshapes us in ways we couldn’t imagine. But it’s all love, and in loving other people — in putting their happiness and well-being on par with our own, if not above it — our actions align with God’s intention, and we are allowed glimpses of the divine.
Speaking of glimpses of the divine, here’s a passage one of my professors calls the Moon of Yahweh, Exodus 33:17-23, from the King James Bible:
And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
My wish for you, for me, and for all of humanity, is that whatever love looks like in your life, I hope you feel it this Valentine’s Day, and every day.