Dr Judith Guedalia

Is It Better To Have Loved And Lost Than To Never Have Loved At All?

By Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K.

I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it,

         when I sorrow most;

Tis better to have loved and lost,

Than never to have loved, at all.
From Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem

 "In Memoriam: 27", 1850




         Chaim K. and I are sitting in the clinic room once again. His mood is mercurial and I sense another change in the wind.
         "What other cases like mine do you have?" This is a loaded question that many patients/clients ask. Behind the obvious, lie the age-old questions children ask their parents: "Am I the one you love the most?" "I am special, right?" " There is no one who you feel this way about?" "Our relationship is unique."
         And then there is: "Am I the worst case you have seen?" "Am I the least serious case of my disease you have ever seen?"
         All of these questions, stated or implied, are minefields for both therapists and parents.
         We all try to convey that each of these statements is true and can co-exist for everyone at the same time, even when there is a patient who has just left the office and another who will be coming at the close of this session.
         But I had the feeling that Chaim was asking another question. Chaim K., a survivor of a car accident when he was a 14-year-old pedestrian, has been left with a SPI, spinal cord injury, so that his jaw and face move and feel, and the rest of his body doesn't.
         Together, we have penned a number of articles for The Jewish Press.
         This afternoon he is pensive. "What purpose could G-d have for me? What sin could I have committed that was so horrible, that being jailed to this chair, not being able to breathe on my own and watching the world and everyone in it go on with their lives is my sentence? Even murderers get a specific amount of time in jail, not the life-sentence I have. The guy who hit me had his driver's license revoked for three months. Boy, that must have been awful for him," he says cynically.
         I don't begin to venture a facile (or even difficult) response. Chaim K. has been to more mekubalim and rabbanim (saintly men) than I. He knows the Pesukim that give him succor and relief better than I.
         I decided to take this discussion somewhere else. "Tell me, on your way here today, what did you see from your van or near your house, even before you boarded your "magic carpet?"
         Chaim becomes thoughtfully quiet. Though he frequently has to take time between talking while his ventilator breathes for him and kicks in, this time he sounds a little choked-up and says, "I still remember the wind going through my hair when I was whizzing by on my bike."
         I am actively listening. A few moments go by. In a whisper, he says:
         I don't remember how it felt anymore when my feet touched the ground.
         "How terribly, terribly sad," I say. "There is nothing I can say to change this but"
         His eyes smile a bit and he looks at me with the glint that bespeaks for him: "You're right; there is nothing you can say" All the while I wonder what I will say now.
         "Yours is a tragic example of the famous question: 'Is it better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all?'"
         "Why would one want to fall in love if you couldn't stay in love and if the person wouldn't love you?"
         "Ah," I say sagely, "there is a phenomenon in psychological literature, known as an addiction to love. It refers to a compulsion where one is addicted to falling-in-love, but once that stage is achieved, and the couple moves on to a commitment stage, the person breaks off the relationship. Another variation of this is when they understand that they have set themselves up for a form of abuse. Falling in love with people who abuse them, they may come to understand (through a lot of therapy) that there is more to being in a relationship with someone who loves you, than only falling-in-love. At any rate in both cases, it is indeed better to have loved and lost, etc."
         A quick (Internet) search of Barnes & Noble reveals just a few of the following titles:
         Is It Love or Is It Addiction? Brenda Schaeffer.
         Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love, Pia Mellody, J. Keith Miller, Andrea Wells Miller.
         How to Break Your Addiction to a Person, Howard M. Halpern.
         Obsessive Love: When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go, Susan Forward, Craig Buck.
         The Intimacy Factor: The Ground Rules for Overcoming the Obstacles to Truth, Respect, and Lasting Love, Pia Mellody, Lawrence S. Freundlich.
         As usual, though smiling, he stares at me as if I speak Martian and not our "Hebrish" (Hebrew and English mishmash). He says the Hebrew equivalent of: "It figures that you would not answer like anyone else. You psychologists are always talking of love and not life!"
         "Sure, there are feelings and sensations that you have lost, but B'Ezrat Hashem, Love is not one of them. Though people sense it in their hearts and even in their stomachs, Love is in the brain. And your brain is in just dandy condition!"
         "Sure I'll find love," he says unbelievingly. "Yup," I say, "just like in the songs you listen to, and if you found love and lost it once, I know you'll find it again, because you know how to be receptive to it."
         I am curious though, about what we have in our literature: the Torah and/or Mishnah, Gemara and Midrash, that discusses the question of which is better, "to have never experienced love or to have lost?" We finished our meeting with homework on this topic for both of us.
         Soon after, I attend a wedding where I meet Dr. Eliezer Be'eri, the rehabilitation physician from Alynn Orthopedic Hospital, who had first referred Chaim K. to me for therapy over eight months ago. He is a wonderfully committed to his patients, and as visits Chaim K. weekly. He knows about our articles; Chaim K. shows them to him when they are published. I mentioned the homework, finding a Jewish source for this specific question.
         "That's easy," he says, "Check Tractate Berachot 28A" (Soncino Edition Translation). And to paraphrases the Gemara: R. Eliezer b. Azariah was asked to become the famous Rabbinic Academy that had ousted R. Gamliel. He said he would seek the counsel of his family, and asked his wife, who noted that they may overthrow him as they had R. Gamliel." Whereupon, he quoted a proverb: "Let a man use a cup of honor (one used for state occasions a delicate filigree one) for one day, even if it be broken the next" (Berachot 28A Soncino Edition Translation). The allegory's meaning is it is important to experience something wonderful just once, even if it may be destroyed thereafter. Clearly, a Talmudic answer to our question.
         Once again, I am awed by the zechut I have living here, for I know that only in Jerusalem, can one solve philosophical questions overlooking the strobe-lit Old City Walls while hearing Klezmer music from the weddomg, mixing with Rock Music from the Sultan's Pool amphitheater. The fact that the source of the solution was a chance meeting with Chaim's Torah/Gemara-knowledgeable doctor, at a wedding, was surely not lost on me, nor will the confluence of events be lost on Chaim K.
         May all of G-d's children find refuah shelaimah - complete recovery, and their basherte - designated love.
Originally published in the Jewish Press on July 19, 2006.


Tags: Chaim K. | Jewish Press | Love