A Valentine To Yourself (a thought)

IMAGE: Winnie the Pooh by E.H. Shepard

Valentine’s Day has once again arrived (or come and gone two days before I bothered publishing this blog – but come on, go with me here…), and so we have once more witnessed the yearly cycle of sentiment glisten and bloom, erupt in a cascade of confectionery and flora, and eventually wither into the desiccated remnants of discarded candy wrappers and musty vegetation.

It’s easy to rag on Valentine’s Day.  Few (if any) other holidays can match it’s often crass commercialism.  It is responsible for some of the worst filmic crimes in human history (I submit to you Valentine’s Day directed by Garry Marshall, your honour).  It comes with a raft of soggy expectations that can be fraught with potential disappointments: the presents, the dinners, the dates, the trying not to be revolted by the couple macking out at the next table over (and yes, I just said ‘macking out’ – live with that for a while…).  And perhaps most criminal of all, it annually overtakes whole candy aisles of the local supermarket that should be beckoning me to slide ever deeper into a perpetual sugar coma, but that instead end up repelling me with rows full of saccharine cartoon cupids and gushy love hearts.

Nonetheless, Valentine’s Day can still be responsible for some endearing expressions of genuine emotional truth, even amongst all the pre-packaged syrup.  For me, the first such example that springs to mind is a line that has been frequently (although wrongly) attributed to A.A. Milne, author of the exquisite Winnie the Pooh books.  It is a sentiment that has come to be adapted into several romantic gifts cards I have seen circulated around this time of year.  It reads:

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

It is a cute sentiment, and even though in its original context it was not meant to be so (after all, it is derived from the relationship between a teddy bear and his owner) it is frequently considered an intensely romantic opinion to express to a lover, saying, essentially: I could not stand to live without you; I would rather die than lose you.

But you have to watch out…

People in love can get rather playfully competitive.  The simplest statements can suddenly turn into an adorably sickening  game of conversational poker, with everyone bidding higher and no one calling check: ‘No, I love you more…  No, I love you more…  No, I do…  I do…’

So when the inevitable moment comes that someone offers this piece of Pooh wisdom and their partner immediately says back, ‘Oh yeah, well I hope I live to a hundred minus two days…’, then suddenly it will be three days, then four, and then – well then you are on your way to an inevitable love-dare situation that can only end poorly.

I should point out again, however, that in truth, A.A. Milne never actually wrote this line, despite it being frequently attributed to him.  It comes from a book entitled Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, a work inspired by Milne and Shepard’s magnificent source material, but not actually produced by either.

Nonetheless there is usually some picture of a wistful Pooh accompanying the words (in his original Edward Bear form, elegantly sketched by E.H. Shepard), staring up into the sky with his gentle eyes, contemplating, one presumes, the unutterable magnitude of adoration and kinship that this sensation conveys, a longing for emotional oneness that wholly transcends the verbal.

…That or honey.  He was always big on honey.  (And I guess in that light Pooh presents the perfect encapsulation of the modern Valentine’s Day – either pondering love or simply hearing his tummy rumble for something sticky and sweet.)

The extraordinarily beautiful original version of the tale, from which this sentiment is loosely derived, actually comes from chapter 10 of The House at Pooh Corner, ‘An Enchanted Place’.  It proves to be the final adventure with Pooh and Christopher Robin, where bear and boy share their last depicted walk together, and Milne affirms the majestical beauty of their shared imaginative experience.  The two are discussing their future, and Christopher is worrying over what will become of their friendship as he grows up, with Pooh characteristically struggling to follow along with the train of thought.  Christopher asks:

‘Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.’
Pooh thought for a little. ‘How old shall I be then?’
Pooh nodded. ‘I promise,’ he said.

It is an exquisite sentiment, filled with a celebration of the magic of childhood wonder, and a nod to the inevitable, poignant maturation of self that still longs to stay connected to this innocence and creative abandon.

In its original form, this coopted premise is a love note to the most precious and private and hopeful part of one’s own identity – the part of the self that is optimistic and imaginative enough to still believe.

In its later, modern reappropriation we have a sentimental, but wholly misappropriated statement that, taken to its extreme, is borderline psychotic, and that viewed superficially might just all be about having a sweet tooth…  Yep, seems about right.

What was my point?  I don’t know.  Sometimes my head gets a little fuzzy – just like You-Know-Who.*  I guess all I wanted to say was:

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day.

…I bought you all some chocolates, but then I ate them.  It’s what Pooh (or his falsely attributed facsimile) would have wanted.

Winnie the Pooh illustrated by E. H. Shepard, written by A. A. Milne

IMAGE: Winnie the Pooh by E.H. Shepard

* No, not Voldermort.

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