Sunday, September 2, 2012

Friday's Faith - The Work of Love in Remembering One Dead - "A Work of the Freest Love" ~Søren Kierkegaard - Part Three

"If we are to love the men we see, then we are also to love those whom we have seen but see no more because death took them away.... 

"(O)ne must remember the dead; 
weep softly, but grieve long."

Friday's Faith

The Work of Love in Remembering One Dead

"A Work of the Freest Love"

~Søren Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855)

Part Three

"Beloved, let us love one another.

1 John 4:7a (NASB)

From Works of Love
~by Søren Kierkegaard
(translated by Howard and Edna Hong)

The work of love in remembering one who is dead is a work of the freest love. 

In order properly to test whether the love is entirely free, one eliminates everything which in some way could constrain a person to an act of love. But precisely this is absent in the relationship to the one who is dead. If love nevertheless remains, this is the freest love. 

That which can constrain an act of love from a person is extremely varied and can hardly be catalogued. The child cries, the poor man begs, the widow importunes, considerations squeeze, wretchedness forces, and so on. But all love in action which is extracted in this way is not entirely free. 

The stronger the compulsion, the less free is the love. Usually we consider this with reference to parents' love for their children. If one wants to make an adequate description of helplessness and to sketch it in its most compelling form, one usually recalls an infant lying there in all its helplessness, forcing, so to speak, love from its parents---it forces, so to speak, because it really forces love only from the parents who are not what they ought to be. Therefore the infant in all its helplessness! 

And yet, when a person first lies in his grave with six feet of earth over him, he is more helpless than the child!

But the child cries! If the child could not cry---yes, there have been many a father and mother who have nevertheless cared for the child in the fullness of love; but, O, there have also been many a father and mother who at least many times would not forget the child. Our thought is not therefore to call such a mother and father outright unloving; but nevertheless love in them was so weak, so self-seeking, that they needed this reminder, this constraint. 

On the other hand, one dead does not cry like a child; he does not call himself into memory as the importunate do; he does not beg as does the pan-handler; he does not squeeze with consideration; he does not force you by visible wretchedness; he does not besiege you as the widow did the judge: one dead is silent and says not a word; he remains completely still and does not move from the spot---and perhaps he does not suffer evil either! There is no one who inconveniences the living less than the one who is dead and no one who is easier for the living to avoid than one dead. You can leave your child with a babysitter in order not to hear its cry; you can say you are not at home in order to avoid the solicitation of beggars; you can go about disguised so that no one will know you; in short, in relationship with the living you can use many precautions which perhaps still do not give you complete security, but in relationship to one who is dead you do not need the least precaution, and yet you are entirely secure. If anyone is of such a mind, if it best suits his scheme of life to be rid of the dead the sooner the better, without being challenged at all or becoming the object of any sort of prosecution, he can turn cold in approximately the same moment the dead one becomes cold. If only out of shame (certainly not for the sake of the dead) he remembers to weep a little in the newspapers on the burial day, if he merely takes care to show the dead this last honour, out of shame: then he can for all that, spit right in the dead man's---no not right in his eyes, for they are now closed. Naturally one who is dead has no rights in life; there is no public authority whose job concerns whether you remember the dead or not, no authority who mixes into such a relationship as sometimes in the relationship between parents and children---and one dead certainly takes no step to inconvenience or compel in any way.

---If, therefore, you want to test whether you love freely, observe some time how over a period of time you relate yourself to the one who is dead....

O, there is a lot of talk in the world about how love must be free, that one cannot love if there is the slightest constraint, that in matters of love absolutely nothing must be obligated. Well, let's see how things stand with this free love when one gets right down to this---how the dead are remembered in love, for the one who is dead does not compel one at all. Yes, in the moment of separation, when one cannot get along without him who is dead, there is a shriek. Is this the free love so much talked about, is this love for one who is dead? And thereupon, little by little, as the dead crumbles away, the memory crumbles away between the fingers and one does not know what becomes of it; little by little one becomes free of this---burdensome memory. But to become free in this way---is this free love, is this love for one who is dead? The saying puts it well: out of sight, out of mind. And one can always be sure that a proverb speaks accurately of how things go in the world; it is quite another matter that every proverb, Christianly understood, is untrue. 

If everything said about loving freely were true, that is, if it happened, if it were carried out, if men were accustomed to love in this way, men would also love the dead quite differently than they do. But the actual situation is that as far as other human love is concerned there is usually something coercive, daily sight and habit if nothing else, and therefore one cannot definitely see to what extent it is love which freely holds its object fast or it is the object which in one way or another coercively lends a hand. 

But with respect to one dead everything is made clear. Here there is nothing, nothing coercive at all. 

On the other hand, the loving memory of one dead has to protect itself against the actuality around about least by ever new impressions it gets full power to expel the memory, and it has to protect itself against time: in short, it has to protect its freedom in remembering against that which would compel it to forget. 

The power of time is great. One perhaps does not notice it in time, because time slyly steals a little bit away at a time. Perhaps one will get to know this clearly for the first time in eternity when one is required to look back again and around to see what he has managed to get together with the help of time and forty years. Yes, time has a dangerous power; in time it is so easy to make a beginning again and thereby to forget where one left off. Even when one begins to read a very big book and does not completely trust his memory, he puts in a bookmark. But, O, with respect to his whole life, how often one forgets to put in a marker in order to be able to find his place! And now through the years to have to remember one dead while he, alas, does nothing to help one, or whether he does anything or simply does nothing, everything goes to show how completely indifferent he is. 

In the meantime the multiplicity of life's demands beckons to one, the living beckon to one and say: come to us, we will take care of you. One who is dead, however, cannot beckon. Even if he wanted to, he could not beckon. He cannot do a single thing to make us captive to him; he cannot move a finger; he lies and crumbles away---how easy for the powers of life and of the moment to overcome such a weakling! 

O, there is no one as helpless as one who is dead, and in his helplessness he exercises absolutely not the slightest compulsion! Therefore no love is as free as the work of love which remembers one who is dead---for to remember him is something quite different from not being able to forget him at first. 

The work of love in remembering one dead is a work of the most faithful love.

To be continued...


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