Happy Valentine’s Day! This is a holiday about romance, and there seems to be lots of romance on this campus these days—which is a very nice thing—a wonderful quality of the St. Gregory community.
I have no wish to discourage romance: please enjoy it, in ways that are kind, respectful, and joyous. But as you do, I think it is important to remember that to be successful in romance, and to be successful in relationships with others whether they be romantic or platonic, you need to be very serious about starting from a place of respecting yourself, of staying true to yourself. As the Greeks say, you need to first and always know thyself.
Oedipus Rex, in that greatest of all Greek tragedies, has to realize this—that his love, his marriage, is impossible because he entered it without knowing, deeply and truly, knowing himself first. Greek myth again and again teaches us that all kinds of things in our life will fail if we don’t first take seriously the project of knowing and respecting ourselves.
I think too of the wonderful fiction of Jane Austen—how many of you are Jane Austen fans? My family has been enjoying Emma on Masterpiece Theater, and of course there have been many fun Jane Austen films. But the books are best of all—I have read Pride and Prejudice probably a dozen times. If you have some time this Valentine’s weekend, I highly encourage you to go and read this book. It is laugh-out-loud hilarious.
In most of Jane Austen’s books, the characters have to spend the first long stretches of the books making mistakes in romance precisely because they don’t know themselves, because they don’t think clearly about who they are and what they need in a relationship. But Austen, in her writing brilliance and nobody does this better, takes you inside the characters’ heads as they gradually come to greater self-awareness.
Elizabeth Bennett has to be one of literature’s greatest characters. When she first meets Mr. Darcy pre-judges him as proud, haughty, arrogant, and unconcerned for others. But then we the readers enjoy the amazing opportunity to observe the growth of her mind, of her own gradually increasing self-awareness and self-knowledge. Yes, she does learn new facts over the course of the book that leads her to re-assess Mr. Darcy, but the real change is in her own self-recognition that she had been too quick to judge, that she had not known herself well enough, and in that new self-knowledge and new self-respect, she comes to love him and be worthy of his love.
Students, on this Valentine’s day weekend, listen to Austen and the voice of Elizabeth Bennett:
She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him; she felt a real interest in his welfare; and she only wanted to know how far she wished that welfare to depend upon herself, and how far it would be for the happiness of both that she should employ the power, which her fancy told her she still possessed, of bringing on the renewal of his addresses.
Students, in your romances and friendships, remember to stay true to yourself, and to respect yourself. As Bono sings in the U2 song which opened this meeting:
Don’t find yourself in me
I can’t lift you up again
Love comes tumbling down again
Love don’t need to find a way
You find your own way.
And when you do find yourself, when you do find your own way, Bono sings, all roads take you to the one you love, and that then is When Love Comes to Town.