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 3 of 3
Part 1: Love and Freedom: Making Choices and Taking Chances
Part 2: Love and Freedom: Making Choices and Taking Chances (II)
Contained in the pages of Søren Kiekegaard’s journal is an honest story of two individuals who chose to love one another. Yet the choices made were different, even opposing. Though they loved one another, they never ended up together. Søren chose to nullify his engagement in order to save Regine from a possible future mired with lament and suffering; while Regine chose to fight against Søren’s decision, offering him a promising future in spite of the suffering. Two choices with diverse stories, however, were taken for the sake of the other.
Søren’s choice was borne out of his struggle with his unfreedoms, demons, and a condition which he considered as punishment from God. He considered his condition as a foundation for a different vocation in life. In the years that passed after the September engagement, Søren proved to be a potent force especially in Danish philosophy. He dedicated his life in defending and purifying Christianity through his thinking and writings—critiquing those he deemed unchristian models like Bishop Mynster, challenging professors who have grossly misunderstood Christianity (chieftest of them was Hegel), and protesting the permeating force of Reason that have reduced love, justice, and unconditional obedience into calculative thinking. Through his condition, he was able to produce writings that challenged his nation and the prevailing modern philosophy of his time. Søren did not remain suspended after not choosing Regine. Instead, in freedom, he chose to renounce Regine for God and his vocation.
Yet Regine proved to be an important force in his life and writings. Often in the pages of his journals over the years, he would not only mention Regine but how she evolved to be the face of his renunciation. Søren would scribble on September 10, 1852, ten years after their engagement: I was profoundly and vividly reminded that she has not, after all, the first place in my life. No, no, humanly speaking certainly—and how willingly would I not prove it, she has and shall have the first place in my life—but God has the first place. My engagement to her and the break are really my relation to God…my engagement with God.
With a heavy heart, Regine acquiesced to Søren’s adamant request. She married Frederick Schegel, one of her suitors, yet not before a great struggle. Shortly before her engagement to Schegel she discovered me in a Church. I did not avoid her look. She nodded to me twice. I shook my head. That meant “You must give me up.” She nodded again and I nodded in a friendly manner as possible.
Regine did not retreat without a fight yet, sensing that Søren will never choose her again, she chose to let him go, as he pleased. He was not ready and Regine knew she cannot force him. What could have been! In choosing to let him go, Regine shared with Søren the heavy burden of the reality of what could have been.
This is the story of Regine’s choice. A promising what could have been. A possibility filled with strength, creativity, and courage that can set free a beloved filled with much unfreedom. A chance that could have redeemed Søren. However, these promises, possibilities, and chances are only secondary to her desire to be with her beloved. Regine saw beyond what Søren can actually see and understand about himself. Hers is a conscious and reflective leap of faith, of ultimately trusting the other, and of believing that love will conquer all because the chance to be with one another has already been taken.
Regine’s choice to love him still echoes years after, visiting Søren in his lonely times, reminding him of what could have been. It is not without potency as Søren would agree since he wrote in the tenth anniversary of their engagement a kind of hope that resounds in the depths of his memory and heart. Perhaps she will meet me tomorrow and will ask for it herself, perhaps the day after tomorrow, perhaps in a year’s time—I shall be willing enough. Søren knew that he was not still ready, that it was now a foregone chance, and that he was eternally condemned. Yet, he still longed for her and believed that one day he will be ready. Though they have chosen to let go of one another, it appeared that they have not set each other free. The intense longing, amplified by occasional crossing of paths (either in churches or other places) through the years until their death, showed how they kept in touch with one another. Indeed, they suffered much given the resistance and distance, yet their love continued to flicker, if only in thoughts, dreams, and longing. Will love find a way?
In the middle of October 1855, as Alexander Dru narrates, Søren Kierkegaard collapsed on the street. He was taken to the Frederiks Hospital and a month later, died at the age of forty two. He was surrounded by family and close relatives. Regine, meanwhile, lived a good and stable life. Five years after Søren’s death, she returned to Copenhagen. In 1904, she died and was buried beside Søren in Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen.
Love will try to find a way, if not tomorrow, perhaps the day after tomorrow, or in a year’s time. If not in this life, perhaps, in another lifetime. As long as the beloved and lover are willing enough to take the chance.