Friday, February 17, 2012

That Love is a Farce if Death is the Absolute End of Human Life

A brief note on this post:  Four people passed away this week.  I knew some better than others.  Many of the reflections in this post have been inspired by their deaths.  While this post is not the end of the story (I intend to write a follow-up...maybe this week),  it does its best to grapple with the problem of love and death on a purely human/philosophical level.  I am certain that philosophers have been dealing with this issue for ages, so I contribute very little, I'm sure. 

Once I got married and we started having children, I became morbid.  This was by no means intentional on my part, though it perfectly illustrates the tension of love and death.

The strongest longings of the human being (intellect and affection) seem to me to be love and truth.  In this case, I intend to focus on love - true love, selfless love.  This sort of love wants nothing other than giving of the self for the good of the beloved.  A total self-emptying, kenosis.  This sort of love gives life a great purpose and a great meaning.  Perhaps we could even go so far as to say that love is what makes life meaningful, or worth living...even if it remains in a state of potent hope.

My wife and I share a great love, yet each day I'm reminded that there is more love to be had - more to know about her.  There are always new ways to love her and sacrifice for her.  I have only seen a touch of the love we share in our relationship.  I know this because there is always more, always a new surprise or a new circumstance.  Our love seems to be moving toward some end, or fulfillment.  The process is gradual, and the steps lead to greater and greater union.  Truth and love are similar in this way, that they are symphonic.  They unify. 

Our love has borne fruit. This is the procreative element of love.  Love empties forth and creates a new life.  Children have caused me to love in ways I did not know possible.  While the struggle with selfishness remains at the fore, the truest desire of my heart is to empty myself for my children.

And, all of these relationships that happen within the communion of family are growing.  These relationships are dynamic and are moving toward some end – which appears to be communion.  The dynamism of love is that of an insatiable desire.  The human mind and heart longs for more love – greater unity. 

Death.  Death is the ultimate destroyer.  As I meditate upon death, my own or the fact that those I love the most will die, I am struck by nothing but fear, doubt, hopelessness.  I am paralyzed.  Life is inconclusive.  Love is without an adequate answer, or end.

Death breaks apart unity.  It is an unfitting end to any relationship of love.  It is corruption and brokenness in the extreme.  It is at once most natural, and completely unnatural. 

Whatever oneness of being existed prior to death appears as an illusion in the face of the reality of death.  Death’s finality trumps a life of love.  Death breaks apart unity.  It ends unity. 

The human being, reason and affection (all the factors of his being), equipped with freedom, can respond to the tension between love and death in an extreme fashion, by either affirming reason or affection to the highest degree.  In affirming reason, one rightly acknowledges the finality of death and therefore affectively shuts down.  This could be likened to times in my life when, fully recognizing that I would have to be leaving Katie for a time, I would shut down all emotion, hours before I actually had to depart.  This heads us down the path of stoicism, and truncates human love from going anywhere, stripping it of all potency.  On the other hand, one could affirm affection to an infinite degree, flying emotion in the face of death and, so consumed by passion, ignore the reality of death entirely.  This is pure recklessness.

Only the middle path, one that fully engages my reason and affectivity, one that acknowledges the dynamism of love and the finality of death, does true justice to the height and depth of this situation.  This position embraces the subtlety or greatness of all the factors at play. 

Since I got married and began having children, my entire perception of death has shifted.  What was once a far-fetched imagining, light-years removed from my teenage invincibility, now stands before me as the ultimate frustration.  Its finality is quite literally “killer.”  It strips love of an ultimate end. 

Love, because of death, seems to be pointless – literally without a point, an ultimate purpose or end.  Perhaps this is what Sartre describes when he speaks of man’s inability to gain synthesis, and draws the conclusion that “man is a useless passion.” 

Love, in its truest sense, in its search for an ultimate communion and self-emptying, appears to be a farce in the face of death.  

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