“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
A week ago, peaceful flower shops transformed into chaotic centres of colour and lively chatter. Chocolate stores were jammed with customers selecting the finest truffles and bonbons. Valentine’s Day cards, in electronic and paper form, were being exchanged. Three days later, we have all moved on.
Valentine’s Day celebrates love. Even so, love cannot be contained within a 24 hour period, once a year. It belongs to every minute, day and month, decade that we live and breathe in this world. Love has the capacity to expand beyond the customary restrictions of time and space. There is an abundance of love if there is a willingness to recognize and accept the form in which it is offered. An open heart does not signify naivety, but a rejection of apathy and indifference.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
“We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.”
Love is an action verb that has the energy and means to influence the course of our personal histories. And from time to time it has changed the world.
Alexandrina Victoria, Queen Victoria fell deeply in love with her distant cousin, Prince Albert. They met in 1839 and married in 1840. She bore him nine children over the course of 18 years. He became her adviser, confidante and best friend. His opinion was the one she respected above all others. They were inseparable. When Prince Albert died in 1861 of typhoid fever, Queen Victoria withdrew from public view. She carried out her constitutional duties, but she never recovered from the death of her much-loved prince.
Abigail and her husband John Adams, the second President of the United States, were well matched in intellect, audacity and perseverance. Married in 1764, their love affair lasted more than 50 years during a time of great upheaval and war. Their mutual respect was strong and weathered long periods of separation. When Abigail joined her husband in state duties, he considered her a valued partner and trusted counsellor. When John finished his presidency in 1801, they spent their remaining 17 years together at their farm in Quincy, Massachusetts.
“If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instill’d take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women. ”
Abigail Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams
Rose’s first husband was killed in the “reign of terror.” She had also been imprisoned for being too close to the counter-revolutionary financial circles, but was miraculously was freed with the fall of the dreaded Robespierre. Her second husband was Napoléon Bonaparte, who insisted that she would be forever called Joséphine.
Napoléon needed a rich wife and Joséphine saw him as a possible patron even though she knew him to be silent and awkward around women. Their marriage took place in March 1796. Napoléon’s gift to his beloved was a gold medallion inscribed with the words “To Destiny.”
Destiny would indeed be with them, even though their fates led them in separate directions. Napoléon required an heir. Even during the divorce ceremony, their love was unmistakable.
“Far from ever finding cause for complaint, I can to the contrary only congratulate myself on the devotion and tenderness of my beloved wife. She has adorned thirteen years of my life; the memory will always remain engraved on my heart.”
“With the permission of our august and dear husband, I must declare that, having no hope of bearing children who would fulfill the needs of his policies and the interests of France, I am pleased to offer him the greatest proof of attachment and devotion ever offered on this earth.”
There is a postscript. History has given Joséphine a prominent position through her two children from her first marriage. Joséphine was the maternal grandmother of Napoléon III, through her daughter Hortense. And through her son, Eugène, she was the great-grandmother of later Swedish and Danish kings and queens. The reigning houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg are also her descendents.
“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet, thanks to the brilliant imagination of our beloved William Shakespeare, hold the title of most famous lovers. A family feud marked by hate and violence is never an ideal environment for budding romance, but when you add in the dynamics of a flawed marriage plan, tragedy is inevitable.
The first time I read the play, I was appalled by the scheme to bring the young couple together. Juliet swallowing a potion that would feign death, without Romeo’s knowledge, set the stage for the unthinkable to happen. Obviously, no one had given much thought to the possible consequences. But then, love is unpredictable, even with the wisest plan.
Perhaps this is the greatest takeaway, the parting gift from Romeo and Juliet to all lovers. The best way to avoid problems and face the unpredictable, goes back to keeping the lines of communication operating efficiently.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
Romance novels always stop at the beginning. The real adventure starts the day after“happily ever after.”
Marie (Maria) Sklodowska was brilliant and determined. Denied a university education based on the cultural norms of the late 1800’s, she pursued her studies at the local library and at Warsaw’s clandestine Floating University. She was a voracious reader and, as it turned out, a thrifty saver. In 1891, Marie used her hard-earned savings to move to Paris and study at the Sorbonne. It was there that she met the love of her life, Pierre Curie. A well-known and respected French chemist, he was impressed by Marie’s passion for science. He enticed her by offering her work in the laboratory where he was a director. They fell in love and married in 1895.
Pierre and Marie lived modestly, near poverty, using most of their funds for research. They were happy doing what their loved, together. Their success was remarkable. In 1898, Pierre and Marie discovered polonium and radium. In 1903, they won, with their fellow scientist Henri Becquerrel, a Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering radioactivity. When Pierre Curie died in a street accident in Paris on April 19, 1906, Marie promised to continue their work. She accepted his position at the Sorbonne, becoming the university’s first female teacher. In 1911, she was the first person to be awarded a second Nobel Prize, this time for Chemistry.
Pierre and Marie believed that their work belonged to the whole world. They refused to patent any of their lucrative discoveries and donated their gifts and awards to scientific institutions. Marie lived for almost 30 years after the death of her husband. Every day, she fulfilled the pledge to the one she loved.
“I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
And so begins the story of the love between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, one of the most famous romances in English literature. Mr. Darcy, an educated man high on the social ladder, falls irrevocably in love with Elizabeth, the second daughter of a gentleman of modest means. It is one of those great stories where they live happily ever after once they triumph over a few bumps in the road to perfect understanding.
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Jane Austen, Pride And Prejudice
Jane Austen had a clear understanding of a woman’s position in her day. There was good reason to be genuinely concerned if marriage prospects were limited. Without doubt, Jane Austen gave us a window into the social climate of her time. Yet, it was her ability to combine romance with clever insight into being human that keeps us ever entertained.
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice