Provided they spring honestly from motives of true charity, and to the extent that we are sane, our deepest loves must point toward reals. They must be reliable guides, or they would interfere with survival, and we would not have them.
So then also likewise with our deepest sorrows.
Notice that all those deepest, truest loves, and greatest most painful sorrows, turn out to be about – to be of, and for, and toward – other persons. This is clear enough when we look back on the great tragedies of our personal lives with family and friends; on death, parting, irreconciliation, heartbreak, loss, personal failure, alienation, loneliness. Yet even the love we feel for a particular place or, say, an institution, or a tradition, or a way of thought or practice, or a work of art, must I would argue be at bottom a love for the life of a person. Things can be important only insofar as they are taken up as such in the lives of persons; so whatever we deem important must be such only in virtue of its importance to persons, as aspects of their lives.
And it would be inapposite to characterize our deepest loves and sorrows as concerned only with their importance to our own persons; for, that would be to contradict the very notion of love, and render it only, and nothing but, a sordid omphaloskepsis. That would be to betray love; to eliminate it, and leave behind only lust, avarice, gluttony, and so forth. It would be to eliminate virtue, and leave behind only vice.
As it would be inapt to reduce love to self-regard, thus ruining all regard for others of our own sort, so a fortiori would it be stupid blithely to treat only our own human sort as persons. In this, I stand firmly with Saint Francis, and with all other nature mystics. I am nowise loath to characterize a place or a time or a way, let alone any sort of society, as a person – as a subject, with a life of its own, that suffers and enjoys, that remembers and acts, and that in its own right intends; that loves. I would not after all cheat you, or myself, of the recognition, respect and honor due to persons. Yet I do not know you, and indeed it seems often that I hardly know myself. How then could I do less for utterly other sorts of things, that do seem to perdure over time, through suffering and adventure, than I do for you and for me? I mean such as trees, cathedrals, watersheds, great and noble nations, and so forth. Are any such less noble than I? On what true knowledge could I possibly base such an evaluation? What basis, then, have I to grant them less respect than I feel is due to me?
Think of angels.
The modernist urge is to Humean skepticism and Ockhamian parsimony, and so tends to improper reduction, which cuts too deep, so undermining every aspect of human experience – thereby devouring itself. But any adequate notion of reality must account for the deepest best urges of the human heart in such a way as not to render them either stupid or nonexistent. To fail thereat would be to miss the whole reason of philosophy; would be to fail at explaining the most important things of all. A philosophical system that writes those most important things out of reality, and so renders our deepest intuitions illusory, simply must be wrong. This, in just the way that it can’t be correct to suggest such fatuous autophagous notions as that we don’t exist, or that we have no agency, or that we can’t know anything about the world, and the like, that are so beloved of wonted transgressors and conventional rebels who orbit the academic sphere. The absurd logical terminus in which all improper reduction must end is nothingness: which is to say, universal death.
We find that life is not at all like universal death. Improper reduction then is empirically disproven. From this we ought prudently to surmise, not that life is anywise less than we had taken it to be, but rather that it is incomprehensibly more.
As with our deepest loves and the sorrows that color their loss, so with our deepest longings and enjoyments. Whatever is to us plainly, wholly pure, and that we want to magnify as an end beautiful and worthy in its own right rather than as merely a means to our own ends, must be somehow actually real, actually worthy; and must be about, of, for, and toward other persons.
We are fitted to reality, as key to lock. Our deepest intuitions are so made by creaturely nature and her Almighty Creator as to reckon things rightly. They must therefore be correct, in the main; or, at least, apt. Otherwise, there could be nothing but death.
This essay is dedicated to my good friend Bo, whom I lost yesterday to death – for a while, at least, provided my deepest love and sorrow are any sort of reliable guide to things as they really are. I have never met a more loving and social animal of any species; or a better, truer, humbler, nobler heart. Vale, valiant sprite. I’ll see you soon again, as soon we shall both reckon soonness. In the meantime, which as I now reckon time shall stretch on long and unbearably long, I shall miss you horribly. Bless you, friend. Peace, and relief from all your sufferings; and joy.