Written on February 13, 2011
by Pat Nogoy, SJ

“To love is to suffer.”—Albert Camus
“Love bears all things, endures all things.”—Paul of Tarsus to the Corinthians

It does not out work out the way romantic movies tell us. These movies conclude on an ecstatic but idealistic assumption that love ends happily ever after. Not all are lucky in love. Not all live happily ever after. Or those happily ever afters are not the ones we consistently dreamed of as happy. There are always struggles within. Relationships still break apart. Lovers reveal themselves as all too human, prone to error, temptation, and strife. Love manifests itself not as a matter of luck but a dreadful battlefield—an exhausting war of comings and goings, of sin and forgiveness, of toil and suffering. Stripped off of its eros, magic, and fantasies, what we are left with is a fragile and futile reality of love that hurts, decays, and is finite. Love, as we imagined and desired it to be, remains (reminiscent of Descartes) an elusive dream. It is an elusive dream that torments us.

Questions arise: Is suffering a necessary ingredient in true love? Is forgiving seventy times seven the one whom I cherished yet the same one who betrayed me more than seventy times true love or simply madness? Isn’t giving up an honorable and just solution especially to a self that has been hurt a number of times? Why does love have to hurt?

Suffering is a reality. It happens. It exists. It sneaks in and mixes with every waking day from a broken pen to an ill-prepared food to a failed relationship. Suffering opens up the horizon of finitude, reminding us not only of our limitations, exhaustions, and failures but more importantly, the inexplicable feeling of pain and hurt. They conclude how suffering in its concupiscence is an example of evil. This actuality of evil can never be denied. It mixes with the good. It makes love bittersweet.

One of the myths of our forefathers narrates how we were banished from the heavenly garden because of an act of disobedience stemming from our erring pride. How our lust not for God but rather for us to be gods and goddesses stripped us of our gift of immortality and divinity and left us cast out to the parched earth where nothing grows except only through our labors. We were condemned to toil for everything—to cultivate the earth with our tears and sweat and to die in wishful thinking that our former immortality and divinity will restored. Our indomitable spirits enter trapped in aging, fragile, and frail bodies. We live in the mercy of time and space, unable to completely fly and chase our dreams. Death has become our judge and doorway. Attempts at unconditional love over and over again are never exempted from these conditions. Love has to be earned and won, and often, with blood, sweat, and tears. To love is to suffer.

Rock of Suffering

Albert Camus illustrates our meandering condition by means of another myth, a myth that echoes the similar meaning to that of our forefathers, the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was the son of king Aeolus of Thessaly and Enarete. As a king, he promoted navigation and commerce and did a lot of other good things. Sisyphus soon achieved the dubious fame of being the cleverest man in the world. And so proud of his cunning was Sisyphus that he believed himself not only an equal to the gods, but smarter than the gods themselves – smarter even than Zeus, the lord of Gods, himself. When Zeus kidnapped Aegina, the daughter of the river god Asopus, Sisyphus revealed the truth to Asopus, not out of moral outrage at Zeus’ behaviour, not out of a feeling for justice but to show how clever he can be. In a fury, Zeus ordered Thanatos (god of death) to chain Sisyphus to a rock in Tartarus. Sisyphus innocently asked Death to demonstrate how the chains worked. And when Thanatos demonstrated it, he locked the god of death in chains and death was no more able to visit the world of men. For all eternity, Sisyphus was cursed to roll up a huge boulder up a hill. And when the boulder reached the top, it will roll down by itself and then Sisyphus had to roll it up again.[1]

The banality of Sisyphus’ fate echoes in relationships that have historically been proven to mirror a punishing pattern. This is an endless pattern of break-ups and make-ups, of the magnanimous folly of committing yes to the same one over and over again in spite of the list of repeated sins, and the recurring acts of wishful thinking that this time it will actually work and that given another chance (out of numerous chances), this person will change. This endless pattern has made a laughing stock out of our gift of reason and shames us in the reality of how we never actually learn.

Therefore isn’t it more reasonable for us to give up the fight and live according to how we think life should be? Isn’t it more mature of us to take care of ourselves (to not give totally) by protecting ourselves from the evil of suffering, which, in the first place, we do not deserve? Isn’t it more reasonable for us to be just and not merciful, to be fair especially to ourselves?

Does it work out when we choose to be fair and just?

Oh, it actually does. We get a hold of ourselves, treat ourselves from the respite of pain, and walk out partially wounded with pride of never being a complete fool. The self has reinstated its control and rightfully so since it doesn’t deserve to be mistreated and to suffer at the hands of a stupid, manipulating, and wanton beloved. Giving up is justified and finally one can move on after a failed past, a past filled with second and third chances but to no avail. The next time is different since the self has learned a lot. Next time, the self will be fair and just. Customize love in the economy of suffering which only rewards pain and hurt for a sincere love. Be fair and just since this is a forsaken world of finitude and conditions. Cultivating finite happiness in this inherited earth requires equality. Let us be simply fair and just in everything.

However, it still does not work out. Either the self clams up and refuses to love forever or be absorbed in a complicated relationship filled with negotiated boundaries and generosity so as to insulate oneself of pain and suffering. In the end, love can never be reduced to an economy of exchange lest it will always be fake. To give up on love or to love partially paints an illusion of defense that brings about deeper suffering. The worst part comes in the form a beautiful but suffocating castle that, though shields the self of any attempt of pain and suffering, isolates. This is also the most horrible experience of hell—one does not know that one is in hell already.

Can one never escape the severe fate of Sisyphus? Is suffering a necessity? Does “all is fair in love” mean conditional and downright stupid? Will happily ever after be always wishful thinking?

Transforming Suffering

Is suffering a necessity? No. Suffering is a reality; the reasons for its existence is deeper than the deepest ocean. It is there. One does not need to suffer for him to be called a true lover. Yet, every lover is called to love even in suffering. It is not so much that suffering cleanses and purifies the love but rather it is the opposite. For nothing good will come out of evil. Suffering breeds suffering as evil only produces evil. Yet, the remarkable reality is that the good cannot only produce good from what is good. The reality of the power of goodness is seen when it can produce good in spite of evil. Thus, it is not the suffering (its weight and power) that makes a lover true. It is love itself that cleanses and purifies suffering. It is love itself that produces the good out of suffering. Love transforms suffering.

If suffering can only be resolved in the economy of justice, love elevates this condition and transforms it in higher plane. The history of the word suffering comes from the meaning to carry. We can only carry so much given our finitude. Our ability to carry, as the myth tells us, was compromised to an economy of justice and equality. Yet, the spark of divinity remains operative in love. Love gives not only out of justice and equality. Love gives not only out of totality—not framed by the boundaries of Being, of existence. To echo Emmanuel Levinas, love gives out of infinity. There is no measure rather than infinity. When the lover is able to forgive more than seventy times to the point of losing count, whenever he attempts for the nth time to mend a broken relationship, whenever he is able to accept the beloved, the same one that caused so much pain and suffering, or whenever he is able to set the beloved free, he, albeit for a moment, is restored to his true self. Like Heraclitus, he is blinded by the quickening of that moment of divinity. He sees his infinity, the one that he lost, in the garden of love. The lover overcame suffering. He has defeated himself. Yet in his defeat, he won. In his bearing of suffering, he endured. In his carrying, he has moved on.

The display of infinity, however lost in the lightning of the moment, remains a trace that gives as the lover chooses to love the beloved again. The same picture is seen when the lover who was wounded in countless battles, of receiving a number of Nos, chooses to love again. It is the same conclusion for the lover who does not give up, no matter what. That is why instances of unconditional love, however inconsistent and fleeting they may be, are real. They may not belong into this finite world, a world that knows only limitations, faults, and fragility, but their apparitions validates the reality of what we hoped for and dreamed about on love: happily ever after. These apparitions are not just simple visions but rather holy reminders of what is lost whenever pride is insisted—the immortal spirit as men and women of love. Love prevails even in suffering.

Gift and Task

Wanting to work things out, despite the numerous failures, reveals the suffering that has to be endured when the lover chooses to love. Love demands infinite effort and reason. It is a long, arduous, and, most of the time, weary suffering; a commitment to carry no matter what as it charges onto forever. However, it is in this point of suffering where a horizon is opened. This horizon may not be as tangible and deemed unimportant in this flesh and finite world. The gift of this horizon is something that does not belong into this world. Probably that is why it appears uninteresting and even unnecessary. This is the gift of wisdom both in becoming and remembrance.

Jean-luc Marion writes that philosophy is the love of wisdom, an endless and generous search for that which will bring fullness to our selves. This has been the history of philosophy—the search for the wisdom of the whole. Yet, he also mentions that perhaps, all along, philosophy has managed to forget, thus, sidetracked and overstepped its purpose for the wisdom that it searches reveals itself as the wisdom of love.

Love brings out the best and the worst in us. This is part of love’s wisdom for when the lover continues to love, he comes to know himself. Wisdom is bestowed in loving, in the continuous giving. Whatever choice is picked—whether to love partially, not again, or in totally—will reveal the wisdom about who we really are and can be. It is a wisdom both of becoming and remembrance. In a flash of the moment, whenever unconditional love is actualized in our choices, the finite and fragile world filled with suffering is uncovered. What is revealed is that ancient memory—a memory of that beautiful garden where all is fair, where all is love. It is a memory of an happily ever after. Happily ever after happened once in the beginning.

Whenever this memory passes, the reality of a parched and suffering earth begins to dominate everyday life. Yet, fueled by the trace of the memory, a trace that infinitely gives, the lover strives to cultivate the garden of heaven in the wasteland earth. He does it by infinite giving. This infinite giving whose wisdom lies on that memory gives the lover hope. Hope is never romantic like optimism. The lover’s hope is always real. His hope is ironically produced out of suffering, in his bearing of all things. Thus, he is able to endure all things, living out a happily ever after that was once lost but is being recovered in his every choice to love again.

Postscript

Mangyari lamang ay tumayo ang mga nagmamahal at nasawi nang makita ng lahat ang mga sugat ng isang bayani. Ipadama ang pait ng kabiguan habang ipinagbubunyi ang walang katulad na kagitingan ng isang nagtaya.

Mangyari lamang ay tumayo ang mga nagmahal, minahal at iniwan ngunit handa pa ring magmahal, nang makita ng lahat ang yaman ng karanasan. Ipamalas ang mga katotohanang nasaksihan nang maging makahulugan ang mga paghagulgol sa dilim.
— Rico Abelardo, Mangyari Lamang

About Pat Nogoy

Pat was sent to Zamboanga to teach high school students. Despite this mission he shares in the Society of Jesus, he also discovers that philosophy left a trace that continually gives. Time and again, this trace asks him to engage life deeply especially Zamboanga (its cultures, places, and peoples) and prods him to share his reflections. Aside from thinking and writing, he enjoys his other jobs as moderator of the high school choir and of creatively seducing more men to help make God’s dream a reality in the present as Jesuits.

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