It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
For a long time I wondered if this saying was true. I have basically lived my life along the lines of it’s better not to get hurt and if you don’t get attached it won’t hurt to let go that this saying seemed almost like bollocks to me. Why would I want to feel something so deep and intimate only to lose it and have an eternal void where it once was? I thought I would rather not love at all than to love and lose it.
A couple of years ago, I came across this beautiful love letter written by renowned physicist Richard Feynman to his wife who had been dead for 16 months. When I first read the letter, I thought it was lovely and heartfelt but I was in a rush to devour all the other letters that I soon forgot about it.
Today I came across the letter again, this time accompanied by background information about Richard and his wife Arline. A letter which was already so touching became so much more. Long story short, Richard and Arline fell in love in High school and were engaged by his junior year. Shortly after, Arline was struck with terminal tuberculosis and in the face of this grim diagnosis, Richard remained ever devoted and in love, and they got married despite her frail health.
The one thing that kept popping into my head as I read this was: It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It is so surreal to me how their love was able to supercede and transcend all physical obstacles-It was over two years into their marriage before they were able to have sex for the first time- and even the ultimate obstacle; death. Richard did not marry Arline out of pity or obligation; or because of how she looked or because of what she did for him. He loved her and she loved him and so they stayed together in love and weathered the terminal storms together.
And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.
Losing a love like this must be unbearable. The memory of what you have lost will stab your heart relentlessly and tear you apart but the memories of how much you loved and how much you were loved in return will also keep you warm and cozy.
I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me.
The letter was sealed and only opened after his death over 30 years later. I am ever wary of the ethics of publicising people’s personal letters without their express consent, but I am grateful to have read this letter. I am still not wholly convinced about the saying, but I understand it a little bit more. Love in its purest form- deep affection, and concern for the happiness and wellbeing of another-is so necessary. In trying to avoid the bad, we miss out on the good and perhaps that’s not worth it. Feynman must have been devastated by her death, but I assume he would not have traded those memories and experiences for anything.
Oh what is sweeter than to love and to be loved in return? I end this post with the beginning of the letter.
I adore you, sweetheart.
I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.