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"AWAY WITH WORDS"
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7 May 2018
In Sickness and In Health:
In Memory of Our Nancy
Giving and receiving the love of another human being on a permanent basis is undoubtedly the most fulfilling state of life one can experience. But let us understand that by the word “love,” I do not – do not - refer to the commonly abused notion of fluttery feelings which fade with the seasons nor the rush of randy anticipation at a night of quick gratification with a passing hook-up whose name is forgotten with the dawn.
Loving – truly loving someone – and being loved are acts of the will. They are deliberate choices, demanding decisions which sometimes involve painful circumstances which cannot depend on feelings. These circumstances test our depth of sincerity and take us to the edge of our character. More than any other experience, truly loving someone with fidelity and constancy compels us time after time to face ourselves; compels us to be silent and know.
How do we know love is true?
It starts breezily enough. We are attracted to another. We find mutuality: music, movement, a look, common sociability, shared likes and dislikes, good humor. A myriad of subtle cues and powerful urges draw us to that other person. We discover a whirlwind of similarities and shared attractions. We soon feel the velvet nudge of romance, that irresistible draw of anticipation and unquenchable elation. Soon, we are deluged with a singular cascade of feelings which form into our tenuous, quivering hope – and we are finally moved to say, “I love you.”
But the brand of true – really true -- love to which I refer above does not stop there, with a tentative conquest and the embrace of hesitant emotionality.
No, the brand of love I refer to only starts there, then grows and deepens and expands into the mind and soul of the lover. The form of loving and being loved to which I refer becomes transformative for the lover. It crystallizes into his willingness to make any personal sacrifice for the Beloved’s well-being.
This brand of love is called “amor benevolentiae,” i.e., the love of benevolence. It defines the lover’s readiness to give his life for the Beloved over his lifetime. The lover becomes willing to expend himself without reservation for the well-being of the Beloved.
This brand of love is selfless.
Giving and receiving this kind of love is the whole and entire purpose of Christian marriage. And as this love grows, the acts of giving and receiving love meld into a single act, a single decision, a single-minded vision.
Giving and receiving then become inseparable because, by giving to the Beloved, the lover gives of – and to -- himself. He receives the bounty which only generous constancy affords. It is in giving that we all receive, and it is in loving that we become Beloved.
But the act of loving and being loved is also a precarious state of life, a perilous human endeavor.
Such Love Is Not Static
Because the act of loving and being loved is both profoundly challenging and exquisitely rewarding -- but it also involves hits to the lover’s ego and moments of bewilderment. As time passes, a loving relationship often involves words that scald and periods of dark and moody distance, instances of special pain because they are rooted in truths which must lead to decisions which test the lover’s endurance and, most of all, which threaten the lover’s self-image and his defenses.
But if the lover be true, then humility, forbearance and the gift of wisdom will uphold his hope and stymie his urge to flee. And it is in his search for generosity for the Beloved that the lover begins to behold, quietly at first, love’s hidden power.
Slowly, but surely, then, does the lover become able and willing to listen to the Beloved’s truth and curb his rigid defenses. He recognizes that truth does not always wear a comely, flattering face, especially when the Beloved speaks hard truth.
Sustaining the lover and the Beloved through such tribulations is the slowly growing awareness between them that, somehow, their love for one another will pull them through these clouds of doubt and pain. And because they now love one another with commitment to the truth in their relationship and the courage to risk together, they will also hurt one another: hurt will happen. Yet there is no other path with greater value than the truth, even when it is painful.
As time passes, their hurt will lessen because they trust – and, deep down, they know – their love will seek and find that moment when mutual clarity strikes and honesty will provide a redemptive balm. And they know -- they know -- that they have truly found their Beloved in each other. And they know that both of them, now together, have not been found wanting.
Meaning And Living
If we mean it when we say “I love you” – if we truly mean it (and only time unfolds the depth and certitude of our meaning) we then step into a new and unexplored world; a world in which we are no longer alone … but also a world in which our lives are no longer our own. We now inhabit a state of being in which we can no longer think of ourselves as our own independent person. To give up self is to gain.
We enter a state of life wherein we live not for self but for the Beloved, as well. We do not demean or belittle ourselves. Rather, we live for the other, who lives in us. In short, we commit. We commit our lives, our identity, our very selves. In this choice is the union of willing souls to love beyond life.
And the person we have been up to this moment is no longer sufficient for the realities of loving and the gift of being loved. When we commit, of necessity, we must change.
And when the other says, “I love you, too,” we are then drawn into the exquisite habitat of the generous soul. Single-minded altruism and overriding humility and the constancy of giving henceforth become the defining traits of our being.
From now on, there is no end to the measure of our generosity for the Beloved. With the Beloved, we begin a unique human journey – marriage -- which takes us along costly paths and strenuous trails yet unmarked.
It is a journey with demands and riches yet unclear, with uncertainties enlightened only by the decision to give of the self and receive from the Beloved in ways which cannot be planned or foreseen. But it is in giving that we receive, for giving of the self is what lovers do.
Thus, the price of loving the other and the treasures of being loved begin as a journey with this one person, with the Beloved.
Lover and Beloved: we are two who have become one.
Together, we start a journey filled with unexpected revelations and unearned rewards; a journey filled with moments of humbling embrace as well as distressing insights. And at the core of this life-long journey – this mutual enterprise of loving and being loved – we are inevitably compelled to face the reality that only by an unwavering commitment of oneself to the welfare of the Beloved can we – together, united, no matter what -- sustain the mystery of our loving without distraction or deception.
Marriage: this is the call to grace and to virtue. It is the call to love the Beloved no matter what. It is the call to love this one person fully, deeply, loyally, unreservedly … until death -- and even then, beyond.
The Mystery of Ever Loving
Eventually we face a hard and inevitable truth: Death is ever looming in human affairs and will one day, intrude. Death will bring a new reality and lead us to an even deeper confrontation with ourselves.
One day we will learn that it is a dreadful experience to be ever near to our Beloved as she moves closer to the moment of her death. Yet our care for her and our fidelity to her are essential to the fulfillment of our commitment to love her in sickness and in health.
So, we must be even closer to our Beloved as she moves gradually into a quiet place, a place beyond the simple absence of sound; a quiet place of reserve and reverie so deep as to resist any intrusions and dismiss any distractions.
And we hold her and we stay with her as she moves into that quiet place where God awaits, the waiting God whose embrace is now hers; the God who sees the Beloved, now face to face – and He welcomes her, and He embraces her --- and He smiles …
And the lover is also blessed if, as the Beloved finds the peace of Faith, he listens -- and sees her meaning -- as the Beloved says, "Take me home." Finally, the lover knows the Beloved’s deepest needs and says, "Today we go home…. We go home today." And the lover is blessed to see the Beloved smile .... and he knows then that the Beloved is indeed in God’s peace.
And So It Was ……..
And so my Beloved Nancy died, at home and in peace, blessed with the Sacraments of our Faith which bring union with Her Creator, while her children and her lover stood by her bedside.
Some might say that God is cruel to take our Beloved from us. But the graces which God bestows upon us are to be found in the goodness which our Beloved Nancy still shares with us.
In her life, His revelation is to be found. In her laughter and in her generosity, in the constancy of her love for us and in the abundantly colorful art she so carefully created do we recognize the graces of Our Creator which filled the life of our Beloved Nancy.
On the wall above her desk she keeps a poem. Its final message underscores the unquenchable energy of her entire life: “Be at peace with God; keep peace in your soul for, despite the drudgery and broken dreams, it is still – still -- a beautiful world…”
All of this says to her lover that God is indeed kind and good, for in the life -- and in the art -- of our Beloved Nancy do we see God’s Beauty come alive. In the life of our Beloved do we know God’s Kindness …. Her life teaches us all that kindness is also our mandate if we are to honor her and be worthy of such love as she, our Beloved Nancy, has given to us all.
This we believe in Jesus’ name. Amen.