One day when I was in high school (so like a year or two ago haha), a friend of mine, Victoria, ran up to me looking very concerned. Startled, I asked her quite plainly, “Victoria, what’s wrong?” She paused, looked down, and grew quiet. A moment later she looked up and said “I forgot something very important, Benj, I can’t believe it … I forgot the Alamo!” After that she smiled and started laughing, and I, because of the sheer ridiculousness and randomness of the joke, laughed happily along with her.
If you’ve ever met me, you know that this is the kind of humor I often enjoy. Humor that is random, out of place, and occasionally ridiculous. Something about the nature of the unexpected thrown into the orderliness of my day always has the ability to put a smile on my face. Naturally then, the joke about forgetting the Alamo was right up my alley.
Now we didn’t laugh at the joke to make fun of the battle of the Alamo, rather, we were laughing because the joke asserted a ridiculous claim about the Alamo. I mean, though the Alamo is an important historic event, it is utterly comical to think that one should have to consciously remember the Alamo every second of every day in order to pay the historical event its due respect.
So then, why the strange anecdote about a joke that wasn’t even funny? Well, though it is laughable to hold that one has to consciously remember the Alamo every second of every day in order to honor it properly, it may not be so ridiculous to think that of other things. Let me explain.
The other day when I was reading The Dietrich von Hildebrand Lifeguide, I stumbled across an intriguing question, “can you really love someone even when you’re not thinking about them?” Think about it. I’d be willing to bet that nearly everyone in the world would agree that you can love someone when you’re thinking about them, but what about when you’re not thinking about them? What about when you’re watching a movie, or daydreaming, or when you take a moment to simply admire a beautiful flower, or any other random event that takes up your attention during the day, at these times do you all of the sudden stop loving everyone whom you loved before?
I think it’s a legitimate question to ask. For, though it is unreasonable to hold that you have to think about the Alamo perpetually to adequately remember it, it isn’t so ridiculous to believe that you have to think about your loved one constantly in order to actually love them. In fact, I hear people all of the time say that one way you know you love someone is because of how frequently you think of them. Perhaps the opposite is true as well (meaning that, the less you think about someone, the less you love them). Thus, for fear of not loving our loved one’s, forget the Alamo for a second, and let’s talk about love.
Can you love someone even when you’re not thinking about them?
For Hildebrand, “the love for a person which is dissipated as soon as we lose sight of the beloved can not really be love” (26). Rather, “love for another person subsists as a full factor in [the] soul, coloring every situation, deeply forming [one’s] life” (26). In other words, what is truly love pervades all aspects of one’s life, actively playing a role even when not consciously present. In other other words, yes, you can love someone even when you’re not thinking about them.
Dietrich von Hildebrand terms this subsistence, this continuation of love even when not consciously thinking of someone, as “superactual” love (26). “Superactual” simply because it is above and beyond what is presently being actualized. It subsists always, acting always, even when momentarily forgotten, at least consciously.
With all that philosophical stuff now stated, what does it all mean? I think in laymen’s terms, or at least as far as I can deduce from the readings, it means that love is more present in our daily lives than we know. For Hildebrand, when we love in a superactual way, we are, in a sense, ordering all of our day to day actions towards our beloved. Therefore, though we are not consciously loving our loved ones by, say picking up a cup we dropped on the floor, in a way, all of our actions are (or can be) ordered towards our beloved and towards their good. So, in a way, we actually are loving our loved ones, even by picking up that cup, since all of our actions become ordered towards loving them.
Consequently, when we love and love someone fully and truly, we love them by simply being who we are and living as we are. All that we are then becomes a gift or an expression of love towards our beloved. While love has its complete expression in being before the beloved and consciously loving them, that doesn’t mean it is limited to that type of expression. Thus, we can love someone even when we’re not thinking about them.
Later in his works, Hildebrand asks “What would be the life of man if it consisted merely in experiences which live only so long as they occupy more or less the center of our momentary consciousness?” (26-27) I think this is a very valuable question to ponder as well, because, at its core, the question is simply a challenge. A challenge to realize that life is so much more than what we, at this moment, are thinking of or could think of. Life is so much more that what we can consciously and momentarily grasp hold of. Yet this isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it is because of this very reality that we are able to love always and forever, even when the other person is not around or when we aren’t thinking of them. And perhaps in a more important way, it is also because of this very same fact that we are able to momentarily forget the Alamo, while at the same time still remembering it (haha).