The Limits of Love


by Michael Maciel

Okay, so here’s an extreme example. Say you’re on a boat and it starts to sink. Your companion (whom you love) has his arm trapped in the wreckage and he will most certainly drown unless you chop it off and free him. If he could do it himself, he might, but there’s no time, and he’s too weak even if there was. He’s delirious with pain, completely out of his mind with panic and fatigue. As he sees you raise the ax, he pleads with you not to do it.

What do you do?

Water is sometimes a symbol for emotion. How many people do you know who are going down with a sinking ship because they cannot let go? Perhaps it’s an addiction, maybe it’s a codependency or depression. At what point do you intervene? Is it logical to assume that they have free will when they are in the throes of their agony and clearly insane? Do you ask permission when your inaction will mean their certain death?

But life doesn’t always present us with such unambiguous situations, does it. Sometimes big decisions are made up of a myriad of small ones. Some of the most pivotal moments of my life have come when a friend (someone whose opinion I respected) simply refused to accept my “truth.” He would say, “You can go there if you want, but leave me out of it.” How many small ways are there to say just that? It can be done with a look, a stiffening of the shoulders, or simply the word “no.”

The real question is do we have the strength to love? Do we care enough to inflict necessary pain? Can we endure the confrontation or a possible rejection? How closely tied to our backbone is our heart? Sometimes love is tender mercies, and sometimes it’s the brutal exigencies of real life. Our love is measured by our willingness to be where we need to be and to do what we need to do. Otherwise, we’re just loving ourselves.