Ah, St. Valentine’s Day. The unlikely, enduring celebration of romantic love — inspired by a celibate, sainted martyr, if you put any credence in the St. Valentine legend.
The lovers holiday began as the feast day commemorating a priest from the second century Catholic Church. When the Roman Emperor Claudius II decreed young men would remain single, believing this would beef up the ranks of his army, Father Valentine secretly performed weddings in defiance of the decree. When Claudius found out, he promoted the priest to saint — martyred him, in other words. Or so the legend goes.
There is no proof to the legend, unfortunately. So said Pope Paul VI when he removed St. Valentine’s feast day from the liturgical calendar in 1969. Still, there is something noble to be gleaned from the Valentine legend, a lesson that has nothing to do with cards, candy or flowers.
The whole notion of martyrdom ensnares the spirit and sensibilities of young men bent on the attainment of something pure, something bigger than themselves.
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause,” begins a quotation by early 20th century Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Stekel. Novelist J.D. Salinger popularized Stekel’s quotation in “Catcher in the Rye.”
What young man doesn’t dream of fighting and risking death for a noble cause, to affix his name forever to something — or someone — he loves passionately? Such testosterone-drenched dreams have popularized warfare since the dawn of civilization.
Stekel’s quotation doesn’t end there, of course, as readers of “Catcher” know. The entire quotation reads: “’The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
Perhaps the immaturity/maturity element explains why so many first marriages seem to go up in flames after a few years, while second marriages tend to endure.
Bag the elephant
Ronald Magee Jr. and I have in common a most unique experience. The Shawnee High School graduate, now a premedical student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., is following in the footsteps of his dad, Dr. Ronald Magee Sr., a gifted and hardworking vascular surgeon affiliated with Lima Memorial Health System — and a classmate and football teammate of mine at W&L 30 years ago.
One of the university’s many traditions is the mock convention. Every four years since 1908, the school’s student body stages a mock convention for the political party not currently occupying the White House. At the 2012 convention this past weekend, Ronald Magee Jr. and other delegates picked Mitt Romney as their nominee.
The convention has an uncanny knack for picking the correct candidate — 18 right and six wrong, with only two incorrect since 1948, Edward Kennedy instead of George McGovern in 1972 and Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama in 2008.
My most vivid recollections of my participation in the 1980 mock convention were the nomination of Ronald Reagan, Sen. Barry Goldwater as featured speaker, and my role in the convention parade of states. My roommate and I donned gas masks, shouldered shovels and followed “Jewel,” the GOP elephant, while pushing a shiny trash can on wheels. For this act we were paid a half-keg of beer for a grand old party at a later date. I still have the photo of my roommate, Andy, in his gas mask and cowboy hat, clipped from a Sunday edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch.
I asked Ronald if this year’s parade would include an elephant. Alas, no, he said. PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — pressured the students into dropping the elephant, arguing parade elephants are often mistreated.
”As much as I regret the loss of such a spectacle, I’m sure we W&L students can more than compensate,” he wrote me on Facebook before the weekend started.
From what I remember of my days with his dad at W&L, I’m sure that part of the school’s traditions will hold up indefinitely.