Looking at my previous Valentines related posts, some may be inclined to believing that I am bitter, jaded and cynical about Valentine’s Day. This is not the case. I do appreciate getting a card or two. Plus my mother has been known for giving me, and my younger sisters , a present for Valentine’s Day. Hey, if you can’t depend on the love of your mother on Valentines, then what love can you trust? I like Valentine’s Day. I do, or at least I appreciate the platonic idea of what Valentine’s Day is supposed to be. A celebration of love. Now because of some bad experiences with the day I had been left somewhat burnt by the day. Perhaps it’s not that surprising. C’mon, what other holiday has its symbol based on a woman’s hindquarters? Naturally, to those who are rejected, it’s like someone is mooning you.
However, back in college I had two female friends who held the belief that Valentine’s Day could be about more than celebrating romance, but rather celebrating all love, including that of friends. To an extent I believe them and I agree with them.
Sadly, recent trips to the store to look at cards to send has left me with a different idea. Maybe it’s because of the lack of greeting card stores near me, but when I’ve gone to look at the card selection I’ve found that the selection of friend cards seems to grow smaller each year. If there are friend cards, they tend to be ones I sent before.I did eventually find one to send to her, it just took a lot longer then I’d hoped.
It’s enough to make one wonder if my friends were wrong. Is Valentine’s Day only about romantic love, or is friendship a love that is just as valid and worth celebrating? Look at the long litany of iconic and memorable romances in film and fiction. Romeo and Juliet, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Sir Lancelot and Guinevere, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Tarzan and Jane , Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, Superman and Lois Lane, Han Solo and Princess Leia, Caleb and Catherine Holt from Fireproof, or Edward and Bella from Twilight. Contrast this with David and Jonathan in the Bible, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek, Han Solo and Chewbacca from Star Wars, Batman and Robin, Iron Man and War Machine, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, or Frodo Baggins & Sam Gamgee, Merry & Pippin, and Legolas & Gimli from The Lord of the Rings. Those romantic relationships are considerably more memorable and iconic than any friendship I listed.
While you may hear a love song refer to Romeo and Juliet, how many songs ( aside from the theme to Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers) refer to Holmes and Watson? None. You may be a Superman looking for your Lois Lane, or a Bella looking for her Edward, but when was the last time you heard someone refer to themselves as a Captain Kirk needing some advice from a Spock or as a Chewbacca ready to protect Han Solo? More Christians want to have a Fireproof marriage then a friendship like a member of the Fellowship of the Ring.
I’m certainly not the first person to ponder this question. It’s not hard to see why, especially in the English speaking world. We have only one word for love and we apply it to everything including movies, books, sports, people, and, yes, bacon. The ancient Greeks at least had four words for love, storge, phileos, eros and agape and each to different types of love. Back in 1954, CS Lewis wrote a book entitled The Four Loves, in which he examined these different kinds of love. In his book Lewis noted that even back then, some did not see friendship as a love, or at least one worth celebrating. He noted however that unlike romance, friendship is the least jealous of the loves and that unlike romance which is born out of a desire, but something else entirely.
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one… It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude…”
What is it that makes us so leery of friendship and unwilling to celebrate it or consider it a love? Much of this is the societal way we think that any relationship between any two people somehow has to be romantic. Even the love between Princess Anna and Princess Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, who are sisters, is under scrutiny. Whether it’s male and female or two guys just hanging out, there has to be something more behind it. Stephen Moffat, creator of the BBC series Sherlock said,
“What a weirdly sexualized world we live in where you insist they must be having sex … you can love someone without fancying them.”
We seem to think that a story is only worth reading or a film worth watching if there is a romance between two people. That, however is only a half truth. While love will certainly exist between two people, or characters, there may not always be romance. It’s as true of fiction as it is in real life. Consider if you will the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. There is not one single romantic relationship in the book. Part of that is because of the designs of Ender Wiggin’s commanding officers at the military academy. Their goal is to break him and reshape him into the ultimate fighting machine, thereby depriving him of any real relationships with any one.
As such he is moved along in his training quickly before he can fully make a close friend, he’s bullied at school, and his sadistic and borderline sociopathic brother tortures him. The only love he has is his sister Valentine. In fact when that love is later manipulated by the COs it becomes all the more heart wrenching to the reader because the reader knew just how precious that love was to Ender.
On the converse look how the bond between Digory Kirke and his life-long friend Polly Plummer in CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew grows during their adventure. The two being their friendship simply because of proximity as she lived next door to him. It then lead to them sharing in typical childhood adventures in the crawlspace that connected their houses. However what began in a crawlspace soon leads to an even greater adventure than they could imagine, including Digory’s mad scientist uncle, travel to other worlds, an encounter with the White Witch, and even watching as the world of Narnia is born.
Perhaps it was the enchantment he encountered on the adventure, or perhaps it was a product of the times in which Digory lived, or maybe it was a bit of both, but there was an episode on their adventure in which Digory was beastly to Polly, and he even admits it when asking for her forgiveness. Polly remains by Digory’s side through the adventure. Even when Aslan sends Digory on a quest, Polly goes with him, for no other reason than she is his friend. Even when Diggory moves away to a big house in the country the country their experiences they share are so life changing that their bond can’t be broken. They may have had their ups and downs, they may have even hurt and wronged each other but in the end their friendship is stronger than anything. Even death.
Sometimes it can be awkward, especially in a friendship between a guy and a girl, as is the case for Clark Kent and Chloe Sullivan on the TV series Smallville. While they considered a relationship, nothing came of it. Clark only had eyes for Lana Lang, and later Lois Lane, while Chloe never wanted to just be sloppy seconds. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on Chloe’s part either.
Clark just never fully saw her in that way, and she later agreed, realizing it would ruin their friendship. Upon learning Clark’s secret, not only did Chloe move on from just crushing on him, to being his best friend and trusted secret keeper. She knew he had a greater purpose in life and was determined to help him meet it. She even helped establish the Justice League. In time she did find true love, with Clark’s Justice League cohort Oliver Queen, and even became Clark’s cousin through marriage to her cousin, Lois Lane.
Or consider the bond of Simon and River Tam in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. While there is plenty of will they or won’t they between Captain Malcolm Reynolds and Inara, or Simon and mechanic Kaylee Fry, and even a marriage between pilot Hoban “Wash “Washburn and Zoe, Simon and River’s bond is one of the overarching narratives in the series. Simon sacrificed everything, including his job as a surgeon at a hospital, consigning himself to a life on the run to rescue his sister River from the government that is experiment on her.
Simon is even willing to die for her. And this is despite the fact that she comes across as crazy. So what could make him give up his dreams, his goals, his plans and his life for his seemingly coo-coo for coco puffs little sister? It is the very thing that strengthens the friendships between Digory and Polly, and Clark and Chloe, and makes Valentine’s relationship so important to Ender. It’s something that the character of the Operative notes is in Simon’s face while watching footage of him rescuing River in the movie Serenity,
“Madness? Have you looked at this scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It’s love, in point of fact. Something a good deal more dangerous.”
Indeed, of all the emotions we humans possess love is the most powerful and the most dangerous. It is an emotion that can transform us and save us from ourselves, if we let it. CS Lewis noted in The Four Loves,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.”
It is in that vulnerability of love that we can truly being to live. Loving someone whether it’s a friend, a lover, or a sibling, means you put their needs before your own. It means being willing to give up everything for them, even at risk to yourself. Loving someone means you allow that love to transform you and make you a better person. That transformation can even come through the bonds of friendship. As Sherlock Holmes told Dr. John Watson in a Best Man toast in an episode of the BBC series Sherlock,
“John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.”
And that is true for so many of the iconic friendships I listed. Frodo Baggins says of Samwise Gamgee that he wouldn’t have made it on his journey without Sam. Jonathan is willing to give up his inheritance as prince for David to become the rightful king in the Bible. Chewie is ready to fight and die for Han Solo, even to the point that Han has to tell the Wookie to save his strength for another battle and protect Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, knowing full well that the Wookie would die to protect him unless told otherwise. Batman needs Robin to pull him back from the brink of the abyss, while War Machine is very quick to try and knock some sense into Iron Man’s thick skull with either a right hook or a pulse canon when his friend is screwing up.
It’s like what Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock do for each other. Spock is very often Kirk’s voice of reason, something the cocky space captain needs, as he is known for acting before thinking. In contrast, Spock needs Kirk to remind him of his own humanity. As an older Spock tells the younger Spock in the 2009 movie Star Trek as to why he didn’t interfere and try and force the younger, alternate time line versions of himself and his lifelong friend James T. Kirk,
“Because you needed each other. I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together, of a friendship that will define you both in ways you cannot yet realize.”
So this Valentine’s Day celebrate your friendships as well. Because friendship is love and it’s still worth remembering those special people in your life who’ve stood by you through good times and bad and made your life a little better through their friendship and love. Because they are the kind of people that look at us, and tell us, as Merry told Frodo, speaking for himself, Pippin and Sam, in the book The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings,
“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends…”
There may not be a song or a card for it. You may not pine about it in the way you do for an iconic romance, bt at the end of the day, I am glad to say that while I don’t have a girlfriend yet for Valentine’s Day, I’m more then blessed to have m friends. My life may not be Fireproof yet, but I have found my own Fellowship of the Ring. I may not have found my Lois Lane, but I have found a pretty good Chloe Sullivan to my Clark Kent. And that is something worth celebrating. And you know what, I’d rather have a Chloe Sullivan over a Bella Swan any day.
FILM: Abrams, JJ ( Dir. )Star Trek. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, and Eric Banna. Orci, Roberto and Alex Kurtzman. 2009. Paramount Pictures.
Card, Orson Scott. Enders Game. 1985. Tor Books,.
FILM: Kershner, Irvin The Empire Strikes Back. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Sir Alec Guiness, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny baker, and Frank Oz. Lucas, George, Lawrence Kasden, and Leigh Brackett. ( writers). 1980. 20th Century Fox.
Lewis, CS The Four Loves. 1960. Geoffery Bles.
Lewis, CS The Magician’s Nephew. 1955. 2002. Harper Collins
Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. 1955. 2001. Del Ray.
FILM: Whedon, Joss. Serenity. Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Ron Glass, Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, and Chitwel Ejiofor. 2005. Universal Studios.
TV Series Smallville. various episodes. 2001-2010. Warner Bros. Studios.
TV Series Firefly. Various Episodes. 2002-2003. 20th Century Fox.