February, a month that is still dark and drizzly and, to me at any rate, representative of a bleak time of year. The exception is St Valentine’s Day.
I looked up its origins and they, too, seem to be a bit dark, with the theme running through all the legends of a Christian priest - Valentine - martyred after being put to death by the Romans for the illegal practice of marrying Christian couples.
Let’s put that to one side for the moment; I’m looking for a story that cheers and inspires so let’s move on to how we think of the mid-month party event. Balloons, red-shaped hearts, dinner dates, marriage proposals, exciting cards with no signature from admirers we can only guess at. And, as the years go by and we may have settled for the one particular admirer, the lucky ones among us can still look forward to that card which reminds us of our youth and excitement and the dreams we had.
This year will be trickier, of course. Coronavirus was still creeping up on us last year but lockdown had not yet arrived. We could celebrate and go out and the young men and women’s fancies were turning towards spring with the delicious thoughts that season brings.
Those thoughts seem to have been flattened this year. There’s hope on the horizon but, for anyone searching for someone special, it’s hard to know how to look. No online dating; no pubs; no parties; no friendly introductions - it looks like this year’s Valentine’s Day might be a bit of a subdued affair.
For the purpose of this piece, how about we look at a different kind of love? Not the Eros type - the romantic or passionate love that will return soon enough - but the agape kind, the ancient Greek’s descriptive term for a generous or charitable love, one that encompasses all.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of complaining about how restrictive our lives have become. We’re used to at least some freedom of movement and there’s not too much of that going on right now. None of us are quite sure who to blame but we live in a society where blame matters and we’re sure we can hold someone to account.
It’s been easy to continue in our polarised discussion - government, or not, NHS or not, obedience, or not - and so it goes on. It’s not surprising, really, we have little else to do except naval gaze and throw out accusations.
It’s been a long, hard haul but at last it is looking as though we are moving in the right direction. The UK’s vaccination programme seems to be moving through the population very quickly and, to the surprise of many of us, it really has been something by which we can be impressed.
And here we come to the agape love part. I have come across a number of people who volunteered to become vaccinators to help keep the programme going and they all report how moved they’ve been and how “teary” they became when they took part in the process for the very first time. Okay, one or two might have signed up because they wanted an early chance of the jab but most simply wanted to help and they wanted to be in at the start of something which has the potential to change/re-normalise all our lives.
Inadvertently, what seems to have happened is that those who took part have also experienced the benefits of agape love. Their charitable deeds have left them with that wonderful feeling of having done something worthwhile while basking in the glow of admiration from friends and family for doing something for others. Internal and external praise you might say.
I was on the receiving end of such treatment recently when I went to have my own test for Covid-19. I booked online - it was simple - and was given a date for the test two days later. I drove to it and was directed to a (free!) parking bay by the first of a number of charming and efficient people. Each was at least as kind, considerate and helpful as the last and the whole process took less than 20 minutes. I had my result within the hour.
In my own slight uncertainty and anxiety, I was on high alert for officialdom, bureaucracy, anything that could leave me feeling just that little bit more edgy and ready to rail. What I found, however, was an experience as good as it could be. The staff wore the same head-to-toe covering but, other than that they were as individual and diverse as could be found in this rich tapestry that is London. And what they did have in common, was a desire to put those of us coming for the test at ease. It worked like a dream. I left feeling a whole lot better than when I’d started out, with my young and enthusiastic supporters waving me off as I went. The experience lifted my spirits for the rest of the day and I’m smiling as I remember it. That is a personal glimpse of what agape love can do for each one of us.
So, in a month when we lost the inspiring Captain Sir Tom Moore and (my own personal idol) Christopher Plummer, aka Captain Von Trapp, the father-figure hero of my childhood, I’m going to take a moment to remember those who are no longer here. I feel sad but I take comfort in reflecting on the power of the unconditional love that is agape and how this testing and trying time is finally bringing out the good in us. I feel surprised, encouraged and strangely hopeful. Perhaps Eros can wait his turn for another year.
By Lulu Sinclair
Captain Sir Tom Moore portrait by kind permission of Alexander Chamberlin