Szymanski: Valentine's Day always a time to celebrate love, the mortar that holds us all together

This week we celebrated Valentine’s Day, a day of love. It’s the one day of the year where we are encouraged to profess our love through gifts and notes, elaborate dates and, jewelry, flowers and chocolates. When we are young, we dream of the perfect Valentine’s Day, but after many years of life, we realize that every day is Valentine’s Day when you are married to someone you love.

My husband always brings home a box of candy or a bouquet of flowers, but the best gifts come every day. They are the hugs, the little deeds done by someone who cares for you and for no other reason than that they care. It is in the words, the knowing looks and in finishing each other’s sentences. Knowing that I have someone I can rely on to love me day in and day out, through thick and thin, the best times and the worst is what really matters.


When you think about the history of Valentine’s Day, you have to wonder how it became a day of love. It all started with the ancient Romans. Emperor Claudius II executed two men, both named Valentine, on Feb. 14 of two different years in the third century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine's Day. In truth, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints, each with the name Valentine or Valentinus. Even though only two were executed, all were martyrs. But martyrdom is a completely different kind of love than the one we generally celebrate.

Of the three Valentines, one was a priest who served under Emperor Claudius II. When the Emperor decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men, but Valentine realized how wrong this was. He defied Claudius and continued to perform secret marriages for those who had found true love. When Emperor Claudius II found out, he had Valentine put to death.

I can’t even imagine living in that kind of world, one where love is basically outlawed. Without love we would not have the basis of true humanity, and it takes both sexes to make that happen. Women and men, when they team together, offer their best selves to the world. The kind of love we celebrate is the sort that leads to community service, sharing, giving and helping others in even the smallest of circumstances. That kind of love is passed on to the children who witness it and become a part of that love as they are growing up. That is the kind of love we should celebrate on Valentine’s Day.

As I watched the news that led up to Valentine’s Day, I realized that this day cannot be special to everyone, and especially to those who were part of the shooting on Valentine’s Day last year at the school in Parkland, Florida. How can they ever celebrate anything good on this day? They saw the complete opposite of love. They saw hate. But finding love is the best way to heal, so my prayer is for each of them to find the kind of love that overcomes all evil, even when it is rooted in the worst day of your life.

For most, Valentine’s Day has truly become a day to celebrate. Over one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent annually, more than any other American holiday except for Christmas. More than 35,000 heart shaped boxes of heart chocolates are sold, $4 billion is spent on jewelry and more than 220 million roses are sold. Altogether, Americans spend almost 20 billion dollars on this day of love. That equals out to $135 per person each Valentine’s Day.

Working at the Marriage and Relationship Education Center has opened my eyes to the importance of love. I always realized the precedence it takes in my own life and the lives of those who are my friends and family, but I didn’t realize the consequences of a loveless life, or the part that marriage education plays in helping people choose healthy relationships and model behavior that makes their love more likely to last for decades.

Because of my work at MREC, I’ve read numerous studies that show that children who grow up with two parents who both model a loving and giving spirit are more likely to succeed in life. They are likely to have better grades, finish high school, get better jobs, and do well in life. They are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or to end up incarcerated. To me, that bigger picture of what love does to a family is the real reason we should celebrate a day of love.

This Valentine’s Day, for me, was just like many others. As long as my amazing husband is at my side it will be a wonderful day, and if he should ever be gone I know that the memories of those days will sustain me. Knowing we have had nearly 40 years together makes me realize exactly how blessed I am. I pray that many more families come together with that kind of love as the basis of their home.

When a community is filled with happy families, we end up with a stronger, more vibrant and caring community. That kind of wealth can’t be measured in dollars and cents. That kind of love is measured by the kindness we see on the streets and the giving spirit we find in the smallest of places. In a way, people are the building blocks and love is the mortar that holds them together to build one strong house at a time. That is how we build the kind of community we all want to live in, and that’s what I celebrate each year on Valentine’s Day.