Sunday, February 20, 2011

Valentine’s Day

“Why do you suppose it is that people get married, Mr. Devane?”

“Passion” he replies, instantly and forcefully.

“It is because we need a witness to our lives. I mean: 3 billion souls on this planet; what does one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The big things, the little things…” “… You’re saying: ‘your life will not go unnoticed, for I will be your witness.’ You can quote me on that if you want.”

This exchange, from the movie Shall We Dance, is the most concise and romantic definition of marriage that I have ever heard. Matter of fact, this dialogue, between the distraught Mrs. Clark (played by Susan Sarandon) and the cynical Mr. Devane makes the movie, in my opinion.

And on Valentine’s Day, when loved ones the world over are cuddling over pots of fondue and behind bouquets of flowers, is there anything better than knowing you have a witness to your life?

Valentine’s Day marks the end of the Single Girl’s Unholy Triumvirate: Christmas, New Years and the most cruel of ‘holidays’: the one dedicated to lovers. And maybe the single guy’s unholy triumvirate too. Let’s hear from you, guys: do you feel as lousy as we females do with no one to kiss under the mistletoe, or at midnight on New Years, and do you resent everyone carrying long stemmed red roses around and being fed fine chocolates on February 14th?

Valentine’s Day is no less an occasion in China than it is in other parts of the world. I daresay it is even bigger than in the West, which has hyper-commercialized (and thereby trivialized) every single meaningful day.

At one time not so long ago, there were no lovers in China. Marriages were arranged and were supposed to be functional relationships, not romantic. Couples were not allowed to make any public displays of affection, not even so much as holding hands, even if they were in love. Even now, the most a traditional Chinese couple will venture to do in public is lean toward one another. The younger generations, with more and more social evolution, accept lovers holding hands or other touching. With more money floating around here than ever, guys treat their girls to all of the tokens of love that any Western girl worth her salt would expect: cute things, tasty things, even shiny things that slip onto fingers and promise lifelong devotion.

I chose to hide out today and gather my thoughts. I have a very important mission: to write this blog entry. Besides, do I really want to be out where people are walking out of stores with chocolates and flowers and cute little teddy bears intended for the object of their desire? OOPS! Looks like I’ve just commercialized Valentine’s Day myself. But on the other hand…

Valentine’s Day as we know it got started as a commercial venture. Seriously! In case you didn’t know it: a candy maker in San Francisco wanted a promotional gimmick, and so he chose February 14th as the day to buy chocolates to Proclaim Your Love. As you can guess, the idea caught on and candy sold like wildfire!

Aren’t you glad he wasn’t a sardine salesman?

But the original Valentine was a monk back in Medieval times, when people were imprisoned for any reason just or unjust. The monk passed messages between two imprisoned lovers and thus became known as the Patron Saint of Love. Interestingly enough, there were actually 3 Valentines, and all of them had significant dates of the 14th of February (either their birthday or the day of their death).

Valentine’s Day is a hard day for me, a lifelong single. Although I manage my life of solitude well and, quite frankly wouldn’t know how to share my life or my space after having been alone for so long, I do admit that I want to be kissed and sometimes I would give anything for a lover’s touch. Somehow love never happened for me, at least not romantic love and, for the most part, I do my penance with no complaints. But it has been many, many years of solitude: could I not have a parole from my sentence, or at least a furlough? I no longer hold that hope.

To quote another one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is sometimes the best of things.” Ironically enough, this line was delivered by Ms. Sarandon’s former love, Tim Robbins. I wonder sometimes. To hope can be painful. Is it better to hope and endure the pain of longing, or no longer hope and accept one’s aloneness?

See the questions I have to ponder today?

While talking this subject over with Ken recently with regard to his potential marriage to Della, I quoted that bit of dialogue from the movie Shall We Dance and asked if he had seen it. He sidestepped the movie question but turned the quote back on me.

To him, marriage is not the only way to have a witness to your life. Your friends, your family, those who share your joys and those who lift you from your sorrow are all witnesses your life. You just have to let them. He declared himself a witness to my life – he and I have shared so much over our 3-year friendship!

He got me to thinking. This blog is about my life and experiences in China. Every time you read one of these posts, every time one of my rambling thoughts gives you pause or makes you smile, every bit of anticipation you hold at what my fingers will type out next makes you a witness to my life.

I am so glad you are my witness. Happy Valentines’ Day!

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