A Harsh and Dreadful Love: Part 3, Will You Go On Loving Or Not?

Prior to the elder Zosima sharing the story of the man who loved people "in general" but struggled to love actual people in his life, the lady of "little faith" shares her own struggles with love.

Like the man of Zosima's story, the lady is in love with love, in love with an idealized vision of love. What she fears, however, is her reaction if her love isn't reciprocated. Here's what she shares with the elder:
You see, I love mankind so much that--would you believe it?--I sometimes dream of giving up all, all I have, of leaving Lise [her daughter] and going to become a sister of mercy. I close my eyes, I think and dream, and in such moments I feel an invincible strength in myself. No wounds, no festering sores could frighten me. I would bind them and cleanse them with my own hands, I would nurse the suffering, I am ready to kiss those sores...

[But] could I survive such a life for long?...That's the main question, that's my most tormenting question of all. I close my eyes and ask myself: could you stand it for long on such a path? And if the sick man whose sores you are cleansing does not respond immediately with gratitude but, on the contrary, begins tormenting you with his whims, not appreciating and not noticing your philanthropic ministry, if he begins to shout at you, to make rude demands, even to complain to some sort of superiors (as often happens with people who are in pain)--what then? Will you go on loving, or not?
This concern is a bit different from the issue of loving people in general, as abstractions. There's still the romance of love here, the dream of giving up everything to love people. But the lady is honest enough to suspect that her dreams of love are too romantic. She suspects she's in love with the idea of love, rather than with actual love. This observation of hers prompts the elder to share his story of the man who loved people in general but not in actual life.

We can get a bit too romantic about love. And anyone who has ever loved knows this. Love is hard. Love is work. And when you love others in acts of self-giving service, you may face ingratitude. You may be ignored. You might not be praised as a hero or saint.

Basically, when it comes to love we'd like a return on investment. But when that investment doesn't materialize what are we going to do then? It's at that crossroads where the romance ends and love becomes real. Love has become costly, sacrificial. And now we face the question:

Will you go on loving, or not?

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