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A Valentine's Day Reflection

A year or so ago, I discovered the work of Czech author Karel Capek who died on the eve of World War II. He was very popular in Eastern Europe and is barely known in the West. Most famous for his science fiction masterpiece War with the Newts (the salamanders, not the repulsive Republican politicians), he was also one of the first authors to popularize the term "robot".

In addition to his better-known science fiction, he also wrote a series of novellas called Apocryphal Tales - well-written, witty perspectives on famous literary and biblical works. In "Romeo and Juliet", a young British nobleman, Sir Oliver Mendeville, travels through Italy, is caught in a rainstorm, and finds refuge in a Franciscan rectory. Over dinner with Padre Ippolito, they start discussing Verona. The young Englishman mentions Juliet Capulet - "You see, we have a play about her . . . by a man called Shakespeare. A beautiful play. Do you know it, Padre?"

The priest responds:

The Juliet I knew married Count Paris, and they had eight children. A virtuous and exemplary wife, young sir, may God grant you one like her. True, there was a rumor that she had lost her head earlier over some young crapulone - Eh, signore, hasn’t something of the sort been said about everyone? Youth, as we know, is headstrong and foolish

After a remarkably entertaining argument about what "really" happened to the "real" Romeo and Juliet, the young nobleman exclaims: "Please don’t be angry, Father . . . but it is a thousand times more beautiful in the English play."

The wise old priest responded to the romantic young Englishman:

More beautiful! I don’t know what you think is beautiful about two young people taking their own lives. It would have been a waste and a shame, young man. Believe me, what is more beautiful is that Juliet married and had eight children . . . 

A great love? I think that is when two people are able to get along together   throughout the whole of their lives . . . devotedly and faithfully . . .

Padre Ippolito's words, beautiful in their truth, came to my mind on a recent trip to Connecticut. Standing outside the St. John the Evangelist Basilica in downtown Stamford, I saw an elderly married couple in their eighties going to confession, holding hands for support on the slippery sidewalk. The dignity, caring, and respect in that relationship showed a love infinitely greater than the mawkish sham peddled by Hollywood and popular "culture". Behind the frail exterior of such older couples is a true and faithful devotion against which the diabolical force of divorce would never prevail. Young people, running like mad on Valentine's Day to buy flowers and candy, which will be discarded in days and forgotten in weeks, should pause to admire and contemplate.

Then there is the nauseating nonsense of people marrying "their best friends"; the constant public displays of affection, which border on lewdness; the newly found "wisdom" that a couple must, yes, must, live together before marriage; and the ridiculous custom of renewing wedding vows (as if something meant to be eternal can be renewed) . . . Not to say that romantic love is not important. On the contrary, it is arguably one of the pillars of Western civilization, in stark contrast to the Islamic and Oriental worlds. But Hallmark and Hollywood provide no good example of what love should be. Instead, young people should follow the example of the older married couples we all know, walking down the hard road of life hand in hand, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversaries surrounded by college-age grandkids.

Eugene Girin

Eugene Girin is a New York-based attorney and commentator.

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