“My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)
I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. ‘Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.’”
This idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. A little while back, I found Cheryl’s list and I’ve been having some fun writing these prompts every once in a while. It’s also nice because I’m able to stick to my blogging schedule even if I get held up on a certain post.
This week I originally planned for something else to be released, but it’s more challenging (and perhaps I’m being more of a perfectionist) than I had expected. All is well though, I think it’s worthwhile to take a break and allow my mind the space to latently answer the questions that my focused mind has been so desperately trying to answer.
When I first read this prompt, I instantly thought of all the typical answers: loved ones who passed away, relationships of the past, my treasured Pokémon card collection. While I believe that all of those would make an amazing post. I didn’t want to write something that I felt was obvious, so I spent some time reflecting on what I have truly lost that I cannot get back. Even the things I listed could be back in my possession, if I accept a loose definition of the word.
My loved ones who have passed away are locked away in my memory forever. In some ways, the past is the most pertinent existence. Nothing can change the fact that I shared unbelievably beautiful moments with everyone I‘ve lost, and I find comfort in knowing that everyone is still here. Just in the past. In a way, this brings me comfort because I still feel as if I have access to them. Although I have lost others in the present, their existence is forever stored in the past and that’s why I feel like I haven’t lost them forever.
Most of the things we believe are lost forever are simply permanently etched in the past, so in order to write about something I lost that I’ll never get back, I have to write about what has not “existed” in the physical world:
I was raised with the idea of unconditional love all around me. Family, friends, or anyone who reached a certain level of intimacy could fall under the category of unconditional love. No matter what, this person would love and care for you simply because it is what people do. One could commit the most reprehensible actions, dedicate themselves to a life of sin, tear down the institutions around them, and if they are already loved then they will continue to be.
The unfortunate part of this is that unconditional love does not exist. My belief in unconditional love is something I lost and will never get back. The harsh and radical truth is that all people, no matter their relation to us, have conditions on which that relationship is bounded by. There are always limits and if we cross them, then we lose the precious love we once had. This is not to say love isn’t strong. It can have an incredibly high threshold, but a limit does exist.
We can see proof of this all around us. It’s a choice to accept it or not. For a long time, I rejected this idea.
As someone who believed wholeheartedly that unconditional love existed, learning the truth was a devastating realization. The potential freedom lost with the realization of conditional love felt like something akin to the loss of childhood. It’s like the belief in unconditional love gave me a seemingly uninterrupted bliss, which I know did not truly exist, but I mourn for nonetheless.
As upsetting as this realization is, I’m glad I had it. A phrase that I’ve been trying to live my life by lately is “if it can be destroyed by truth, then it ought to be,” and the truth is unconditional love is a fairytale that many parent’s teach their children. It’s just like Santa Clause or the Tooth-fairy, but believing in unconditional love could have devastating consequences.
After learning this, I’ve been able to treat people better. I understand my place in the world relative to other people and once I get past the mourning of the childhood fantasies, I find myself living at a higher capacity. By this I mean, I feel more connected to life itself. Living in truth bounds us by constraints, but ironically sets us free.
The question I have for myself now, is do I want to raise my future children with this belief or do I want them to discover it on their own? I could be wrong or I could be saving them tons of suffering. I guess that’s the eternal conflict of parenting.
I lost a belief and I know I can’t get it back, but loss is not always bad. Sometimes we need to let go of what’s holding us down.