Monday, April 12, 2010

Pascal on Fidelity and Love

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In his Pensees, Pascal, expounding on the virtue of fidelity writes:
“He no longer loves the person whom he loved ten years ago. I quite believe it. She is no longer the same, nor is he. He was young and she also; she is quite different. He would perhaps love her yet, if she were what she was then.”

Far be it from me to criticize Pascal, but I do want to add my own reading. As it is, the above excerpt may on first appearance leave the impression that human beings are incurably fickle in all respects-- which we are not.

What Pascal is telling us above (“He no longer loves the person whom he loved ten years ago”), is that through the passage of time we change physically. No one can deny this. And when he adds: “He was young and she also;” he corroborates that time will not leave us the same; unscarred to so speak. Yet the deeper meaning is that it is fidelity to our partner --what is in our memory-- what holds us together.

William Blake speaks of a “fourfold” vision in one of his poems:

‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
And twofold always. May God us keep
From single vision and Newton’s sleep.

By ‘Twofold always’ the poet means truth is always two: nature and spirit. I see two different personas in each individual:
Physical persona: This is what everyone sees when they look at us. The body. But not only its parts, the color of our eyes, the color of our hair, clothes, make up, accessories, and the like, but also the bulk: whether we are tall, short, big-boned, small, or slight.

Physical persona
To this physical persona the erosion of time applies. The body is a constant reminder that life if transient, ephemeral, a sigh in a raging storm. The physical persona lives in time and the senses; the physical persona that changes with time, of which Pascal says. “She is no longer the same, nor is he.”

Soulful persona:
This is the invisible part that not everyone can see in us. The spirit. The hidden dimension of the spirit --the soul, for others-- is there for those who really want to see: the gleam in the eye, the lilt and cadence of speech, the tilt of the ear when listening (paying attention), not vilifying anyone, and so forth.
To this soulful persona the passage of time leaves unscathed.

For most of us, at some crucial time in our lives we decide to be something: a priest, a poet, a painter, a plumber—president of the United States. Those few moments that alter the quality of our lives become etched not in the senses, the brains, or in memory, but in the soul. Likewise, when we fall in love and choose our spouses, that moment of divine grace, prompt us to see that soulful persona in our chosen partner.

Not long ago I saw an elderly couple having dinner at a diner. With what loving care the husband fed his wife whose hands were paralyzed. With what loving moves the man cleaned his wife’s mouth and face. Moved by the man’s solicitous attention, I approached them and asked him,

“You look like newlyweds. How long have you been married?”
“Fifty-four years,” he replied.

Time will change us physically, but what a consolation it is to know that time has no jurisdiction in the regions of the soul. And fidelity and love are of the soul and not the body.

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