I know it’s a corporate holiday, its origins are entirely apocryphal, and that it’s mostly about guys buying romantic shit for their significant others so that the latter will be more receptive to sex later in the evening. Just like Christmas is about making people feel coerced into buying shit for friends and relations because that’s what we’re somehow supposed to do. And so on. Holidays are mostly nonsense, with a dash of social bonding thrown in to add a feeling of legitimacy to the crass proceedings.
This year, I was in a less cynical mood, partly because I didn’t go out much over that weekend, and consequently wasn’t buffeted by the aggressive advertising campaigns. I did get emails from Starbucks, Caribou, and Dunn Bros, inviting my to bring my “sweetheart” for a buy-one, get-one. Thanks, big chain coffee companies, for reminding me of how freaking lonely I am.
Of course, there are a lot of people who are alone on Valentine’s Day, who have no one to buy into the bullshit with and for. Many of these people feel anger and resentment at those who callowly revel and who don’t seem to understand how anyone could possibly feel anything but the artificial joy and rush of oxytocin that marketing materials are designed to make them feel.
But many are also content in their own company, content in themselves and who they are as individuals, just happy to be alive, and feel no need to be “completed” by another person. These are people who seem comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable in just about any setting, anywhere, with anyone. These people also baffle me.
Most years, especially since Valentine’s Day of 2010, when the Seth fiasco began and the flame was lit to the edges of what I thought was my comfortable existence and would eventually become a violent conflagration that would burn away the very foundations of that existence into dying embers, I watch Moulin Rouge, because nothing takes away the lingering sting of heartbreak like schadenfreude.
This year, however, I decided to watch a couple of documentaries. One was the incredible Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the discovery of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France and the collection of incredible paleolithic images that were sealed off there over 30,000 years ago. Far from crude, the paintings and etchings are sophisticated, evidence that individuals responsible for them were probably not that different from us today. We drive cars, live in advanced dwellings, have access to medical care and to technologies that would have made us gods to our ancient ancestors, and weren’t threatened by cave bears.
The other was a four-part (two-part on Netflix) BBC documentary called Walking with Cavemen. It was probably more speculation than science, although the writers did attempt to put a “human” face to the fossil bone evidence, which is all the traces we have of our early ancestors.
Each half-hour episode is presented in the form of a drama that attempts to explore the way that each species of human possibly lived, from Australopithecus afarensis to Homo neanderthalensis, particularly in response to climate change.
As the documentary notes, at one point there were numerous species of “ape men” on the African plains, each adapted according to a different successful method of survival. Some, like Paranthropus boisei, adapted larger and more powerful jaws to chew tough vegetation. Others, like Homo habilis, developed larger brains that allowed them to create tools and scheme more effectively.
Last year, I watched another BBC documentary called Christina: a Mediaeval Life, about a 14th-century peasant woman named Christina Cox whose life has been reconstructed through financial and legal records from the time. In mediaeval England, everything was recorded, in meticulous detail. The show notes that it was one of the most well-documented periods in history (aside from our own, which future historians might consider overly documented—one can imagine them musing over our obsession with cats).
I thought about her while doing my taxes a few weeks ago, wondering if anyone in the future would be going over my tax returns six hundred years from now, and parse together from those records (and possibly from this blog and other writings) what sort of person I was.
Yesterday morning in the former fundamentalists group I attend (that is, when I feel like getting up early on a Sunday morning and being with other human beings), we were discussing how we approach death and legacy as Christians-turned-atheists. There was some discussion in Walking With Cavemen over whether Homo heidelbergensis buried their dead and whether they had any concept of an afterlife.
In a way, I’m thankful for the knowledge that I’ll die someday. That day still seems a long way off, but it will happen, eventually. Just as it happened to Lucy; to every Homo habilis who was eaten by lions or died of starvation; and to the man with the crooked finger who did the palm prints in the Chauvet cave 30,000-some years ago.
We are impermanent beings. That is the nature of life on this planet. Flowers bloom, flourish, wither, and die. Animals are born, grow up, grow old, and die. Even mountains crumble. The universe itself will even slow down and freeze to death, so to speak.
A few nights ago I had a dream about preparations for a wedding in which several good friends appeared in various representational aspects. My friend Jenny, who is studying counseling psychology, was the bride. She arrived late, but wasn’t worried. “It’ll be okay,” she said.
I hope against hope that she’s right.
And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.