Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday's Faith - The Work of Love in Remembering One Dead - "The Most Faithful Love" ~Søren Kierkegaard - Part Four of Four

"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

"The Most Faithful Love"

~Søren Kierkegaard
(1813 - 1855)

Part Four of Four

"Beloved, let us love one another.

1 John 4:7a (NASB)

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

In order to properly test whether or not love is faithful, one eliminates everything whereby the object could in some way aid him in being faithful. But all this is absent in the relationship to one who is dead, one who is not an actual object. If love still abides, it is most faithful. 

Not infrequently there is talk about the lack of faithfulness in love among human beings. Then one blames the other and says, "It was not I who changed; it was he who changed." Good. And then what? Do you then remain unchanged? "No, as a consequence I naturally change too." We shall not here point out how meaningless this presumably necessary consequence is, whereby it follows of itself that I change because another changes. No, we are speaking of the relationship to one dead, and here it cannot be said that it was the one dead who changed. If an alteration enters into this relationship, I must be the one who changes. 

Therefore, if you will test whether or not you love faithfully, note some time how you relate yourself to one who is dead.

But the situation is this: it is certainly a difficult task to maintain oneself unchanged throughout time; the situation is also this: that human beings love to deceive themselves by all sorts of imaginings more than they love both the living and the dead. O, how many do not live in the conviction so firm that they would die for it---that if the other person had not changed, he, too, would have remained unchanged. 

But if this is so, is every living person in fact completely unchanged in relationship to one who is dead? O, perhaps in no relationship is the change so remarkable, so great, as that between one living and one dead---although the one dead is nevertheless not the one who changes. 

When two living persons are joined in love, each holds onto the other and the relationship holds on to both of them. But no holding together is possible with one who is dead. Immediately after death it perhaps can be said that he holds on to one, a consequence of the relationship together, and therefore it is also the most frequent occurrence, the customary thing, that he is remembered during this time. However, in the course of time he does not hold on to the one living, and the relationship is broken if the one living does not hold on to him. 

But what is faithfulness? Is it faithfulness that the other holds on to me? 

When death interposes separation between the two, the survivor---faithful during the first period---says, "I shall never forget him who is dead." O, how uncircumspect, because the one who is dead is a canny one to talk with, only that his cunning is not like that of the person of whom it is said, "You never find him where you left him," for the canniness of the one dead consists precisely in this, that one does not get him back again from where one left him. We are often tempted to think that men believe they can say to the dead just about what they wish, in view of the fact that he is dead, hears nothing, and answers nothing. But---but---take the greatest care of all for what you say to one who is dead. Perhaps you can say quite calmly to one living, "You I will never forget." And after a few years have passed, both of you probably will have good and well forgotten the whole thing---at least it would be unusual if you were unfortunate enough to meet up with a less forgetful person. But watch out for the dead! For one who is dead is a resolute and determined man; he is not like the rest of us who are able in fairytale fashion to go through many droll experiences and seventeen times forget what we have said. 

When you say to one dead, "You I will never forget," it is as if he answered you, "Good, rest assured that I shall never forget that you have said this." 

And even though all your contemporaries would assure you that he had forgotten it: from the lips of the dead you shall never hear this. No, he goes his own way---but he is unchanged. You will not be able to say to one dead that he was the one who grew older and that this explains your altered relationship to him---for one who is dead does not get older. You shall not be able to say to one who is dead that he was the one who in the course of time grew cold---for he has not become colder than he was when you were so warm, or that he was the one who became less attractive for which reason you could love him no more for he has become essentially no less attractive than when he was a beautiful corpse, something which does not, however, lend itself as the object of love, or that he was the one who has made new associations with others---for one dead does not make associations with others. 

No, whether or not you will begin again where you two left off, one who is dead begins again with the most scrupulous accuracy where the two of you left off. For one who is dead is a strong man, although one does not see this in him: he has the strength of unchangeableness. And one who is dead is a proud man. Have you noticed that a proud person, particularly in relationship to one he scorns most deeply, tries very hard to give no hint, to appear completely unchanged, to let the matter be as nothing, thereby to permit the despised one to sink deeper and deeper---only the one cherished by the proud person is benevolently made aware of the injustices, of errors, in order thereby to be assisted towards improvement. But one who is dead---who is proudly able as he to give no hint at all, even if he despises the one living who forgets him and his goodbye promise---one who is dead still does everything to make himself forgotten! One dead does not come to you and remind you; he does not look at you in passing; you never meet him; and if you were to meet him and see him, there would be nothing involuntary in his countenance which against his will could betray what he thought and judged of you, for one dead has his countenance under control. We should be truly careful about poetically drawing forth the dead for the sake of remembrance; the most frightful of all is that one dead gives no hint at all. 

Beware, therefore, of the dead! Beware of his kindness; beware of his definiteness, beware of his strength; beware of his pride! 

But if you love him, then remember him lovingly, and learn from him, precisely as one who is dead, learn the kindness in thought, the definiteness in expression, the strength in unchangeableness, the pride in life which you would not be able to learn as well from any human being, even the most highly gifted.

One who is dead does not change; there is not the slightest possibility of excuse by putting the blame on him; he is faithful. Yes, it is true. But he is nothing actual, and therefore he does nothing, nothing at all, to hold on to you, except that he is unchanged. If, then, a change takes place between one living and one dead, it is very clear that it must be the one living who has changed. On the other hand, if no change takes place, it is, then, the one living who in truth has been faithful, faithful in lovingly remembering him---alas, although he could do nothing at all to hold on to you, alas, although he did everything to show that he had forgotten you and what you had said to him. For no person who has really forgotten what one had said to him can express more definitely than one who is dead that it is forgotten, that the whole relationship to him, the whole affair with him, is forgotten. 

The work of love in remembering one who is dead is thus a work of the most disinterested, the freest, the most faithful love. Therefore, go out and practise it; remember one dead and learn in just this way to love the living disinterestedly, freely, faithfully. 

In the relationship to one dead you have the criterion whereby you can test yourself. One who uses this criterion will with ease abbreviate the prolixity of the most complicated relationship, and he will learn to loathe the mass of excuses which actual life usually has right at hand to explain that it is the other person that is selfish, the other person who is guilty of being forgotten because he does not bring himself into remembrance, the other person who is faithless. 

Remember one who is dead, and in addition to the blessing which is inseparable from this work of love, you will also have the best guidance to rightly understanding life: that it is one's duty to love the men we do not see, but also those we do see.  

Our duty to love the men we see cannot be set aside because death separates them from us, for the duty is eternal; but consequently our duty toward the dead cannot separate our contemporaries from us so that they do not remain objects of our love.


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