With sore throats raging in the house and sub-teen weather that just won't quit, I've been brewing so many cups of tea I feel like a geisha. One afternoon I realized I'd used up every tea cup and coffee mug in the house save one--a somewhat misshapen white ceramic mug with a red band around its base and the following words imprinted on its side: I LOVE YOU with all your imperfeckshuns.
The mug, originally filled with Red Hots and cinnamon Gummie Bears, was a Valentine's Day gift from my husband a few years ago. (Loved the candy; have real mixed feelings about the cup. Not to mention the mixed feelings I have about Valentine's Day in general; more on that later. But back to the cup.) While the sentiment is a lovely one--my husband loves me even though I forget to wipe away stray strands of hair from the sink or that I still haven't taken his sweater to the reweavers to be repaired, or that I do not always hold my tongue when it would be wiser to clam up, or that after twenty years of marriage I don't always compromise with a lot of grace--the misshapen cup says that, despite all that, my husband still loves me.
But on cranky days I look at that cup, with its creases that remind me of the collapsing of my own once-firm flesh, and I get ticked off. Was this mug really a gift or a passive-aggressive dig that says, "Enough with the messy sink, get organized." Or "Can't you give a little, too?" Does true love mean we don't see our beloved's imperfections? Or does it mean we see them, and then see through them? Or does loving one another mean we are honest about our foibles and celebrate the fact that they don't get in the way of our affection and commitment?
Yes, yes, and yes. Real love--not hearts-and-flowers-infatuation that is passed off as love--is all of these things and more. It is overlooking shortcomings. It is working hard to be a better partner. It is blearily starting the day after having been up with teething toddlers and vomiting preschoolers and smiling at one another in that special way. It's parenting teenagers who overnight have morphed from one's flesh and blood into aliens.
What are Jews doing celebrating a holiday whose main dude is a saint? Each year I struggle over sending cards to siblings, parents, and grandparents. Do I or don't I get my kids a little Valentine treat? Do I give my husband a token of my affection?
On one hand, the connection to the saint has been de facto severed in these days of political correctness. And it is kind of nice to have an excuse to get all romantic, go out for a special dinner and maybe splurge on a new red satin nightie (although here in Michigan, flannel is more in order!).
But there is that other hand. The Jewish hand. Fortunately, Judaism has an answer--in the form of a little known holiday called Tu B'Av--the Fifteenth of Av.
What? You don't know about this holiday? Neither did I until I thumbed through my copy of "Jewish Family & Life," by Yosef Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman. I learned that thousands of years ago, in the glow of a full summer moon, young women robed in white would dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem. Single men would follow in hopes of finding a bride. The festival is called Tu B'Av (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, the second-to-last month in the Jewish calendar), and it usually falls around July or August.
"Why does the Jewish year end with a celebration of love?" the authors ask. The answer says a lot about Judaism's unique perspective on relationships, a perspective that could enhance courtship today. The women who danced by the light of the late summer moon did so in borrowed dresses so suitors would not be swayed by images of wealth. Men were to choose women not according to beauty but by the good name of their intended's family. They were urged to overlook physical shortcomings and seek out those qualities that matter in an adult relationship--loyalty, patience, a willingness to overlook imperfections.
Now that's a holiday I could get into. And besides, August nights are just perfect for satin.