I have always loved me some Tina Turner. But when Ms. Turner soulfully sings What’s love got to do with it, I confess that she loses me when she asks, “What’s love but a second-hand emotion?” I think that love might be the life of a community and fear might be its death.
This week as a big part of the world is preparing for the orgy of Valentine’s Day, even in those countries where the holiday is not celebrated, I will be writing about love. The patron saint of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, young people, travelers, and lovers, Valentine of Rome’s life is largely a mystery. Still, there is a huge industry that has grown up around the day he is assumed to have been killed by clubbing and beheading at the order of a third century Roman emperor. Nothing says love like losing your head. Or bees.
There is a massive international floral industry that prepares for Valentine’s Day. From Central and South America, the American Southwest, South Asia, and the Middle East, roses arrive in the US by massive air transport for the weeks leading up to February 14. Paper flowers and silk flowers from China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Mexico have been fabricated during the past year in the specific shades of red favored for the holiday. Chocolatiers in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, and the US have been placing orders and checking on ingredients from Africa and South and Central America for months, to fill heart-shaped boxes covered in fabrics from South Asia and China. Across the American West, Canada, and Mexico, there has been increased feeding and slaughter of cattle for the upcoming weekend demand for red meat. Greeting cards for teachers, three year olds, grandparents, neighbors, spouses, and boyfriends sport red glitter and fake velvet; that industry has been in full-swing for the past year. On-line shopping sites have been hawking vibrators, penis pumps, and all sorts of lubricants that have been in production across the world’s developing economies.
In Oliver, we are asked,
Where is love? Does it fall from skies above?
Is it underneath the willow tree that I’ve been dreaming of?
Where is she? Who I close my eyes to see?
Will I ever know the sweet ‘hello’ that’s meant for only me?
These lyrics all suggest that love is elusive, out of our hands, owned by the object of our love, and exclusive between only two people.
I understand love to be a point of view or perspective we each hold for others. Romantic, erotic, fraternal, maternal — all love is a point of view. Things that would gross us out if described in detail are considered blindingly beautiful from the right perspective. Long ago Bob Newhart had a great sketch in which he talked to Sir Walter Raleigh about tobacco. When he described shredding tobacco and putting it in our noses and sneezing, it made all of our addictions to the stuff seem particularly stupid, because they are. It’s like that with lots of the irrational traditions of love. Two week old red flowers picked by child laborers and delivered in cellophane manufactured in Mexico along with a greeting card with a verse voted on in a committee of faded cigar smoking ad men who could not care less about the special February red meat meal with a price tag at least 25% above regular market eaten right before no one in their right mind would want to be naked wearing red panties and listening to the hum of vibrator — well, you get the point.
Maybe that’s what Tina Turner was getting at. What does love have to do with all this industrialized romantic bullcrap? That stuff is a second hand emotion. Instead give me the expression on the face of the youngish mother protecting her baby from the wind as she looks both ways to cross the street mid-block on her way to day care. Give me the clenched hands of the neighbor couple walking along the path where she once walked their dog alone, but now the dog has died and she cannot walk unaided by her husband. Give me the worried expression of the teens waiting for their test results, hoping they are not pregnant. Give me the door held open by a stranger. Or the request of me to please ask for carryout so the sacker can call his guy and see what’s up. Or the candidate that leans in to the voter in a wheel chair. Or the university president that says, “No,” even when it is unpopular. Or the nurse who is trying to fund a legal defense for a registered sex offender whom she does not know but worries about because he was just 18 when things went down. Or the guy who interrupts the slapping of a little dog. Give me that.