Guest Column: Preparing for the possibility of loss

Love as One. Credit: Angelo Thomas, Artist .

by Edward Reid

Being present in my mortality affects my love for others, especially those nearest to my heart.

In the contemplation of Love, Tolstoy wrote that “Love is a present activity only. The man that does not manifest Love in the present has not love”

For the most part, I have always tried to love in the moment and love passionately, but I know I have fallen short to my selfishness and human desires, putting myself in front of those I love.  I don’t think anyone can say they have come to perfect love of others over everything. Religious views vary. I am drawn to the focus of Jesus Christ’s life on love of friends and enemies.

Those we love the most we know will one day die, but we may deny this.  We don’t want to think about it.  It is the absolute worst news to hear that someone you love may have a disease that may kill them.

But this is a part of our mortal souls we all must face. It is a rite of passage for growing up and moving on.  Considering this and keeping such a thought in mind, perhaps Tolstoy has a point.  Love is a present activity only, and it is a practice we can be mindful about and with that maybe have fewer regrets when the time comes for our loved ones to move on.

Life is in the present only, so the reality is, in a real sense, everything is in the present only.  Stoic philosophers have much to say about living in the present; Seneca states that “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.”

This is excellent advice, in my opinion.  And as someone who tried to adhere to some stoic philosophy, this has assisted me in my life.  Mindfulness is a big deal right now, but I am grateful I found this a long time ago, right after college, when I picked Epictetus “Handbook for Life” and with that fell in love with the stoic philosophy. This way of life has given me an outlook and insight that provided me with advice that I may have otherwise made unwise decisions or suffered unnecessarily.

What happens, for example, when one gets the dreaded phone call that their mother has cancer? Of course, all sorts of thoughts would go through someone’s head.  For something so tragic and yet still unknown as to what the outcome could be, perhaps Epictetus may provide some insight:

When you are delighted with anything, be delighted as with a thing which is not one of those which cannot be taken away, but as something of such a kind, as an earthen pot is, or a glass cup, that, when it has been broken, you may remember what it was and may not be troubled… What you love is nothing of your own: it has been given to you for the present, not that it should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year. But if you wish for these things in winter, you are a fool. So, if you wish for your son or friend when it is not allowed to you, you must know that you are wishing for a fig in winter.”

As Tolstoy wrote, love is a present activity; our loved ones are only in the present as well.  Meaning they are only present for so long, for a moment, and we delude ourselves if we think they will be around forever.  We often, because we are humans take life for granted and may assume that our dear ones will always be around. Time may distance but our memory humanizes us.

No matter how mindful and philosophical you think you are, I believe nothing could take away the shock. It will surely remind you of the stark facts of life and death, though.  The hard truth needs to be accepted but knowing this truth of death gives you even more reason to love in the present.

Being aware of death, not in such a way where it leaves you morbid, but in a way where you can comprehend mortality, in my opinion, is a step to loving deepr and being present for those that may need you.

Dr. Suess made a poignant statement with, “How did it get so late so soon?”, perhaps he is right. Maybe it is already too late for some. It may be not too late for others who have chosen to connect love to the present, and the regrets may be less and the sting not so bad.