Under my email signature on all outgoing missives, the following quote by Mother Teresa is always attached:
"I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, only more love."
On this day of all days, love is the notion we are urged to consider. Of course, being Valentine's Day, romantic love is assumed to be at the epicenter of such considering, and well it is for many of us. But there are many more forms of love, and they are all worthy of our attention. As well, we also remember those who are bereft, lonely, impoverished, ill, and otherwise lacking love in their lives. Yes, the media deluge us with images of heart and flowers, chocolates and cards, forming the basis of what we think we know love is. However, it is in our minds and hearts where we truly decide the meaning of love, and it is in our relationships with the human and non-human worlds where we externalize our vision of love, manifesting our vision through action.
Many of us wonder how to celebrate love, embody love and partake in cultural norms which bring us and our loved ones pleasure, while still bearing in mind the wider effects of our way of life and the decisions we make as consumers. Flowers, chocolate, diamonds---the things we have been taught to freely associate with love---cannot escape the gravest blemishes when under scrutiny, especially as we use the power of the purse to support the industries that provide them on the shelves of our stores. This is not meant to be a wet blanket on this day. Rather, it is yet another way to love, wherein we remind one another that our choices as consumers have consequences beyond our immediate perceptions. It is in both the small and the large that our actions ripple out into the world.
Today on AlterNet, Courtney E. Martin offers a view of love as activism, asserting that freedom is gained through our choices vis-a-vis relationship, love, and our actions close to home. Also on AlterNet, Julie Enszer describes the subtle ways in which gays and lesbians do (or don't) reveal their partners' gender in social situations. She then challenges us on this Valentine's Day to go the whole day without revealing the gender of our lover in social exchanges, feeling that sense of ambiguity---and occasional discomfort---which is then communicated and felt by the parties on both ends of those conversations.
Meanwhile, on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman presented an expose on the low wages, child labor, and other human rights violations which support the commercial sale of cut flowers in the United States, propagated to a large extent by the Dole Corporation. A sobering dose of reality which, like Blood Diamond, has begun to popularize the notion that consumer goods can fuel conflict, slavery, and indecent treatment of human beings in the name of profit. Furthering our perceived indictment of all things Valentine, even chocolate is not safe from political strife, economic hardship, and humanitarian controversy when considered through the lens of fair trade practices.
Moreover, the V-Day movement strives to end violence against women, with Valentine's Day designated as V-Day. Describing the movement on their web-site as "a fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community", their goal is no less than the complete defeat of violence against women and the victory of human rights and peace.
What, then, you may ask, is a loving yet earnestly concerned Valentine to do?
I would submit that there is no end to what one can do to propagate love while making wise and informed choices. Choosing Fair Trade chocolate and coffee is itself an act of love---towards others, self, and economic equality. Do I always practice such advice, you ask? No, I do not, but continually reminding one's self of the power of choice is often the first step towards freedom. Further, by treating the women in one's life with respect, by standing up against their unfair treatment and subjugation, by communicating through actions and words one's dedication to such a notion---that is a most powerful personal statement.
And the flowers? Sometimes we can't help ourselves when we buy those lovely bouquets, and none of us can deny the joy and delight on the receiver's face when presented with the thoughtful sweetness embodied therein. These are all simply choices, and in this consumer society, we all are prey to the whims and winds of the marketplace. If I buy flowers, I will certainly enjoy them, bless the person who picked and processed them, and give them with the love with which they are intended. One cannot live life afraid to act, yet one must also understand that each and every choice we make in life carries consequences often beyond our ken.
On this snowy Valentine's Day, I am home with my love, workplaces closed, the world moving at a crawl, the icy precipitation confining us happily to our home. Yoga together in the morning, a DVD, a nap, a simple exchange of cards, and a mutual conscious decision to eschew the drive to consume, rather giving each other the gift of time, of space, of presence, of shared love. Although I did donate money to the V-Day campaign in Mary's honor today, it is not the money changing hands which holds meaning. Intention, of course, is the central force, and through our intentions our actions must naturally follow.
Even amidst a consumer frenzy, be it Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Mother's Day, intention and the consciousness behind that intention holds the key. Coupled with right action, there is no end to the love that can be shared, and no end to the satisfaction which we can glean from a life well lived.
Happy Valentine's Day, from my heart to yours.