getty images
getty images

Originally written on June 20, 2008.
All the excerpts used by this essay for reflection were taken from The Journals of Kierkegaard translated, selected and with an introduction by Alexander Dru, Harper and Brothers: New York, 1958.

by Pat Nogoy SJ

This is Part 2 of 3
Part 1: Love and Freedom: Making Choices and Taking Chances

Upon learning of Søren’s decision to break the engagement, Regine did not simply cooperate. Søren vividly notes how devoted Regine was, fighting tooth and nail and belting out one counter-argument after another, determined to embrace Søren’s entirety. A seemingly fragile beloved, Regine turned out to be the more ardent lover. Give in, let me go; you cannot bear it. Thereupon she answered passionately that she would bear anything rather than let me go. I also suggested giving the appearance that it was she who broke off the engagement, so that she might be spared all offence. That she would not have. She answered: if she could bear the other she could bear this too…It was a time of terrible suffering: to have to be so cruel and at the same time to love as I did. She fought like a tigress.

Søren’s particular journal entry painted a fierce Regine, ready to embrace what he deemed unbearable. It might appear as a daring act, an unsocratic decision, and an exaggeratingly romantic resolution. Yet Søren felt Regine’s sincere self-offering, and perhaps its whirlwind intensity took him by surprise. One thing is certain: that she gave herself to me, almost worshipping me, asking me to love her, which moved me to such an extent that I was willing to risk all for her. At that point, Søren became the beloved too.

Regine knew the risk; she already suspected Søren’s condition. Yet, there was inside her a source of strength, a kind of inner dynamics unknown to Søren. Whatever might be the reason or source Regine had, her self-offering for Søren carried much promising strength. A strength (perhaps, a kind of courage uncommon for women of her time) that might have come from a choice to love.

Upon closer reading, Regine did not promise that she can take away Søren’s melancholia. She did not even have a prescription to manage it. All she offered was her presence, an active kind of presence since she promised that she would bear Søren’s suffering too. Pushing it to the limit, she was ready to bear Søren himself.

It can be considered trite or overly romantic yet what love offers remains beyond the calculated, known, and visible. If Søren’s letting go escapes the economy of selfish love (since he wants to rescue Regine from his condemned illness), Regine’s self-offering evades the economy of calculated merit. What Søren deemed an underserving future Regine may have reckoned as beauty. What she probably saw is not particularly Søren’s melancholia but Søren himself in all his naked truth. This truth, no matter how blemished or wounded or trapped, is vulnerability. It may appear ugly or deplorable to the beloved but to an ardent lover it is not much of a reason to be forcibly pushed away in order to be saved. Whatever Regine saw would remain mysterious to Søren, yet whatever it was, it was more than enough for her to fight for their engagement. Regine saw Søren and it was enough for her.

Though her generous self-offering may not hold much practical solutions, or scientific prescriptions, or even calculative methods to help Søren at the very least to manage his depression, it was never done out of impulse. Her willingness to subject herself to whatever impact Søren’s frailties may inflict showed courage that is reasonable. The ground of reason is found in taking a choice. Regine chose Søren. She was ready because she made a choice. She has all the reasons to forego any other reason not to be with Søren because she first made a choice. What Regine demonstrated would only unravel in the succeeding years for Søren to understand and eventually, will form part his philosophy.

Regine’s choice is a leap of faith. It is not without reflection (since Regine already suspected Søren’s condition and there were many times they deliberated on what to do with it); at the end of the day, way ahead of Søren, she understood what Søren will explicate later in his Fear and Trembling. With love, it will always be a matter of choice—a conscious leap to the unknown. Such choice is never a result of a linear analysis, a matter of conclusion to long list of algorithm of reasons. Rather these data are only tiny lamp posts that casted light upon the dark shadows of a given situation. “To love him or not?” that is the question (and may be the only question that will matter in the end). In choosing to love Søren as he is, Regine set herself free from all the conditions that will prevent her from not making a choice, in order to be free for any possibility that her chosen act will benevolently bestow on her. Consequently, she can, with courage, promise to bear it all. Søren will elucidate a similar reflection a year later when he wrote: By directing his mind towards “freedom of choice” instead of choosing, he loses both freedom and freedom of choice. Nor can he ever recover it by the use of thought alone. If he is to recover his freedom it can only be through an intensified “fear and trembling” brought forth by the thought of having lost it. The most tremendous thing which has been granted to man is: the choice, freedom. Freedom as a lived experience is felt in a choice.

Regine’s choice was never blind; her leap of faith appears to be more meritorious than Søren’s letting go. Since Søren appears helpless with his condition, it may be easier for him to deal with it alone. It is harder to endure a double suffering: his struggle with his melancholia and Regine’s misery. On the other hand, Regine decided to embrace it all than to simply walk away and live a more stable and comfortable life. In choosing to love Søren, she gifted him with a chance. A unique chance for redemption. A chance Søren would later regret not taking. Two years later he would pen, had I had faith I should have remained with Regine.

Having Faith in the Other

They say that love sets us free. How is this possible given Søren’s condition? How can Regine’s love set him free?

What Regine was offering was a chance. Perhaps in Søren’s mind, it was an unworkable chance, an unacceptable probability. But a chance is a kind of possibility, no matter how small or big it is. A mere chance escapes calculation; it can never be measured under a cost-benefit analysis. Possibilities are hard to define; scenarios abound; infinite models can confuse. Either one takes the chance or not.

What Regine was asking for then Søren would only acknowledge two years later. It is neither the probable miserable future life that is at stake nor the potency of a dark past. In rejecting the chance, Søren rejected Regine herself. Regine was simply asking (even begging) Søren to choose her again. She was trying to free Søren from his impediments by taking a chance on her.

To choose her again. Søren may have forgotten the impact of his ardent pursuit of Regine. His manifestation of love is a crucial ingredient to Regine’s self-reflection that may have deepened her reason and emboldened her heart. Thus, it was never a blind leap to the unknown rather; there were strong reasons for Regine to embrace Søren because his actual choice revealed not only his capacity to love but his possibility of becoming as well. When Søren proposed, it was clear how he loved Regine. His love for Regine would be then express in various ways especially during the time that they were resolving the future of their relationship given his condition. Regine saw that. She saw what Søren can be capable of, only if he would choose to trust her. It might be fuzzy but whatever Regine saw was enough for her to fight for Søren against Søren. Perhaps, the only way of influencing (even, forcing) Søren to do it was to make the choice “first.” Regine’s leap of faith, though a reply to Søren’s act of pursuit, can be considered a “first” act that would hopefully enable Søren to love her again.

Thus, there was another proposal (perhaps, even greater than the first one). If Søren feels the weight of the balls and chains of his unfreedom, Regine proposes to free him. How? By asking him to love her. By asking him to make a leap of faith. By asking him to trust her and in trusting her, he might learn to trust himself—his capacity to go beyond his given unfreedoms and the powerful potential of his becoming in their togetherness.

Choice, in this situation, exposes itself not simply as an arbitrary and individual-based act. Though made by an individual in freedom (either total or partial), the depth of choice is seen in choosing what is good, what enhances more love, and what will bring greater deepening of life of the beloved in the lover. It is having faith in the beloved, who is never a passive target but an active lover as well. It is allowing one self to be loved and in doing so, drawing the needed inner resources to free one self of the burden of unfreedoms. Internal freedom is achieved in openness, breaking out, and hospitality to the lover. This hospitality allows for unlocking capacities and possibilities that may even be mysteries to one’s self, of improved strength to battle the demons within or the haunting skeletons of the one’s closet self, and reinvigorated hope in spite of the given unfreedoms. Freedom, then, unravels itself as contra-Sartre. Freedom is experienced not as a condemnation or damning sentence but a condition of liberation. It carries a certain lightness of burden given the shared responsibility with another. Yet this can only be realized in trust.

How far can the beloved trust the lover in setting her free?

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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