39. Love and the Dead

On Christmas Eve our thoughts often turn to those who are no longer with us – especially those who we have loved. This is fitting. But it is also difficult to retain these thoughts for long. Memories can be as pleasing as they are difficult. Moreover, we may find ourselves considering those who we loved very little, could have loved more, or didn’t love at all. Such thoughts can be troubling to say the least. In light of these simple observations, let us consider Kierkegaard’s thoughts in Works of Love (Harper Row) about loving those who have died:

“The work of love in remembering one dead is thus a work of the most disinterested, the freest, the most faithful love. Therefore go out and practice it; remember one dead and learn in just this way to love disinterestedly, freely, faithfully. In the relationship to one dead you have the criterion whereby you can test yourself” (p. 328).

One who is dead cannot give anything back to us; if we love it will not be for a return. But it will also not be for the beloved who is gone. It will be loving from a duty to love which, according to Kierkegaard, is the Christian way of loving: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Kierkegaard claims that loving those who we no longer see can prepare us to love those who we do:

“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” (p., 329).

Let us live closer to the dead so that we can live closer to the living.

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