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Into the Woods - An Exploration of Love and Loss, Part 2 of 2: Loss6:00:00 AMGrace Davies
We can all agree that it is better (more noble, more enduring, etc.) to love someone selflessly rather than seek our own satisfaction in another person. But what can be said about loss? True love often has a steep price: the pain of losing the one you love. Love is enduring, and, as a result, the pain of losing someone you love becomes that much deeper and long-lasting.
This is the problem at the root of so many of the doubts and fears in our wounded hearts - the pain of loss. Is it worth it? Is it worth giving love a chance knowing very well we may lose what we have come to love? It can sometimes seem that avoiding love altogether is the safer path. Let's see which paths Prince Charming and the Baker take on this issue.
Prince Charming loses Cinderella by is own choice. He is unfaithful to her. And when she confronts him about it, he easily accepts her offer to disappear.
To those who are in the throes of heartbreak and loss, Prince Charming's numbness and indifference look pretty appealing. And yet, it is so much less human. The Prince may seem to float through life easily, carelessly, with his heart unscathed as he moves from one conquest to the next. Yet we would never hold him up as an exemplar of humanity. He is more mechanical than human.
Love often leads to deep pain, especially through loss. But it is worth it. In The Four Loves, CS Lewis writes: "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." (1)
The Baker, on the other hand, loses his wife through no choice of his own. She dies in a tragic accident. Because the Baker loves his wife so much, he misses her terribly. He suffers through deep, terrible heartbreak. But while his heartbreak is painful, this pain is far more noble than any pleasure that the Prince could ever grasp for himself.
True love is worth the struggle of faithfulness and the pain of loss. It is an honor to miss the ones you love. It is a sweet and a deep sorrow. It's true what they say, I think, that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I am reminded of something a dear friend said to me once: "It is a privilege to miss you."
Prince Charming never had to endure the heartbreak of losing a great love, true; but at the same time, he never had the glory of having a great love. And to a great love, even the pain of loss is glory. The aching voice of a broken heart is tragic. But it is beautifully human.
Consider Dietrich von Hildebrand's following words filled with his classical clarity and insight: "...to have a heart capable of love, a heart which can know anxiety and sorrow, which can be afflicted and moved, it is the most specific characteristic of the human person." (2)
In a tender scene towards the end of the movie, we see the Baker in the aftermath of his wife's death and all of the other tragedies that have befallen his friends. There is a heavy atmosphere and the question "Now what?" seems to hang in the air. At this moment, the soul of his wife appears in a sort of reverie and sings beautifully:
Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood. / Do not let it grieve you - no one leaves for good. / You are not alone; no one is alone. / Hold him to the light now [their child], let him see the glow. / Things will be alright now, tell him what you know...
Clip of this scene from the Original Broadway musical:
And, at this moment, the Baker begins to share the story of their love: "Once upon a time..." We see that new life has come from their love, in the person of their baby son. Somehow, we see that even in the face of the terrible loss of his mother, hope grows out of the memory and re-telling of his parents' true love.
Moreover, the Baker's love of his wife does not die with her. His soul is lastingly formed by his love for her. This is an enduring effect of love. And it is more lasting than pleasure or even pain:
"So also our love for a beloved person remains, living in the depth of our souls, even though we are occupied by work..." or, might I add, even though we have to undergo the pain of losing them, "...and this love constitutes a sort of background against which different events run their course." (3)
Events will continue to run their course. Life goes on, and the Baker must pick up the pieces and move on. Huddled in the forest, he has a baby son, new friends and a gloriously unknown future. But one thing is for certain, and it brightens the dark woods with hope: the Baker's love for his wife will live on; and no matter happens, he will continue to walk on the heroic path of real love.
(1) C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
(2) Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity, 128.
(3) Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living, 15.