“If you love, you will suffer. The only way to protect yourself against suffering is to protect yourself against love – and that is the greatest suffering of all, loneliness.” ~ Peter Kreeft.
I came across this quote as I was preparing for my catechism session last Friday. It continued to haunt me and I kept coming back to it again and again over the weekend.
When I shared this with my catechism kids Friday evening, they half-joked in their 14/15 year old Singlish wisdom that “like that do also die, don’t do also die lah”. And my half-joking Singlish rejoinder was “yar, but don’t do, you die lonely leh”. I would rather die loved/in love than die lonely.
And finally, this morning, whatever I was trying to noodle out of my subconscious over the weekend finally came: suffering perfects love.
Growing up in a society that is fed a junkie diet of romantic love in early Disney classics such as Sleeping Beauty/Snow White, Mills & Boons (I only read a few after which I realized that the remaining 1000+ titles were all just flavored variations of the same romantic formula), and candy-floss pop songs (I remember my convent school class dreaming of getting “lost in your eyes” as they listened to Debbie Gibson’s song of the same title over and over again on their walkmans – yours truly guiltily included), many of us bought into the concept of “Happily Ever After” as naïve hormone driven teenagers and young adults.
And we were therefore so not prepared for the reality of what love eventually (and sometimes rather quickly) will lead to and what and how we need to transcend the suffering that love brings to yield a more mature life-giving love. Some of us eventually make it but many don’t.
And it is not just in the love for someone who is a significant other, but also in the love of a child towards parents and siblings, in the love of a parent and in the love of friends that suffering eventually comes and demands a choice, a commitment to continue loving.
I shared with my catechism kids an example of what it could eventually mean to love through suffering and how suffering perfects love when illness strikes a loved one, in particular if it was a parent suffering from dementia. It was top of mind for me as a dear friend was just sharing her suffering with me a day before. It is hard enough to love even when one’s loving actions are acknowledged and reciprocated. With dementia, I can’t imagine how much harder it must be to love when the response that comes ranges from ambivalence to fear on bad days, and yet, those whose love has been perfected through that suffering will continue to serve that loved one everyday regardless of response. And that is both beautiful and gut-wrenching to watch.
A few beautiful and gut wrenching movies I love for their portrayal of love perfected through suffering are Iris (2001), Firefly Dreams (2001), The Notebook (2004), and A Beautiful Life ( 不再让你孤单) (2011). I hope they will inspire you to love more perfectly as they have inspired me to try and do so.