Notes on Quotes: Hiking, Happiness and Valentine’s Day

By Gordon Mercer and Marcia Gaines Mercer | Feb 04, 2013
Photo by: Whitman, Wikimedia Commons !940 Valentine's Card 

“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.” C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963

This week found many higher elevations parkway roads closed due to snow, so we decided to explore the new Lake Junaluska trail extension along the lake on South Lakeshore Drive. We parked near the Tuberville Footbridge and encountered few walkers except for one jogger moving along at an incredible pace. We were feeling a little lonely in the extreme cold, when several ducks popped out of the lake and started following us as we hiked. They were immediately joined by a couple of squirrels. We momentarily thought we were leading a parade.   The ducks amused us by following along for a little while and we suspected someone had been giving them illegal bread crumbs, as signs indicated feeding wildlife is not permitted at Lake Junaluska.

Since we were working on our Valentine’s Day column, we were delighted to find a tree festively decorated with Valentine hearts near the Tuberville Footbridge. We smiled at the sight of a fully decorated Valentine Tree because most of our encounters with other walkers had been of couples braving the cold together.

On our selected quote, C. S. Lewis, author of the much loved children’s classic series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” taught English literature at Oxford and Cambridge. Lewis had a wide circle of friends and valued relationships. Returning from service in World War I, he honored a pact he had made with a friend who had been killed during the war and cared for the friend’s family. As we near Valentine’s Day in Waynesville, Lewis’s perspective seemed a fitting sentiment.

Catholic Pope Gelasius established St. Valentine’s Day in 496. It is based on the legend of St. Valentine, a Christian priest during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius II.  Claudius, called Claudius the Cruel, was unhappy that so few young men were showing up for his wars and decided they weren’t coming to fight because they didn’t want to leave their wives and girlfriends. To remedy the situation, he announced a ban on marriage. Claudius was also busy persecuting Christians. St Valentine, a Christian priest, thought the marriage ban ridiculous and continued to perform secret marriages and also worked to help Christians escape persecution.

Claudius soon found the renegade priest and threw him in prison. While in prison, Valentine converted his jailer to Christianity after restoring the sight of the man’s blind daughter. One version of the story has St. Valentine then falling in love with Julia, the jailer’s daughter. Before his execution for refusing to renounce his faith, he sent Julia a note signed, “From Your Valentine.” The date of his execution and of the love note was February14.

The saga of the young priest, who was tortured and killed for trying to protect love and marriage and for his Christian beliefs, has intrigued writers for centuries. We were distressed recently to find that St. Valentine had been demoted among Catholic Saint rankings. Though he is still a recognized as a Catholic Saint, his demotion was due to the lack of enough historical records to authenticate all of his deeds.

St. Valentine obviously felt that that caring relationships are essential for happiness. We wondered if there were any universal practices or insights helpful in strengthening relationships. After conversations with friends, family and others we came up with a few unscientific but hopefully meaningful findings.

Many people said what they most wanted in a relationship was to feel safe to express their deeper feelings. They wanted their deeper selves understood and appreciated. A second finding was that spending time together was essential. Face to face communication, friendly body language and eye contact were all important in a virtual world with too little time for those we care about. We want the other person’s full attention!

Finally, an appreciation of our unique needs and interests was important. We value people who understand our life’s purpose and what is important to us. We also want the benefit of the doubt. We want others to look for the good in us and make positive assumptions about us.

We were impressed with the answers we got and also gratified that one of the most powerful emperors in ancient Rome could not do away with love, marriage and affection.


Gordon Mercer is past president and on the Board of Trustees of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and professor emeritus at Western Carolina University. Marcia Gaines Mercer is a published children’s author and columnist.