Sacrificing for love

The other night I watched a movie titled If I Stay about teenage love, and it reminded me of the days when Sonny and Cher wore love beads and headbands and sang I Got You, Babe.

The young couple in this movie was convinced that they had found True love with each other, with a capital T. The real deal, like Kanye and Kim. The high school girl was a talented cellist who went into a coma after a car accident that killed her family.

She got caught in the netherworld between life and death, and had to decide whether to stay in this Vale of Tears or pass over to the Great Hereafter. Only Hollywood could concoct a plot like this. Her boyfriend was an up-and-coming rock star, which meant they were a musical odd couple, sort of like Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett.

As she lay on her death bed, the guy pleaded with her not to die. He promised to sacrifice his career and follow her to New York City — home of the $4 slice of pizza and two of the worst teams in the NFL — so she could go to Juilliard School of Performing Arts.

Now, I believe in young love. I was young once myself. At least I think I was. But I would bet my paycheck, however insubstantial, that this young couple would be on eHarmony in six months, looking for new partners.

If this hadn’t been a movie, the young dude would be upset because he had wasted his career and she’d realize she didn’t like the smell of his breath in the morning. Actually, she already had that information because they were sleeping together. Kids today. First it’s sex and then maybe it’s love. (It used to be the other way around.)

Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Gwyneth Paltrow is an expert on love and marriage these days. Plus, there are so-called evolutionary biologists say we aren’t meant to be monogamous, and they probably base their opinion on the behavior of single-cell life forms that fool around with a lot of other single-cell life forms in an orgy of single-cell sex.

However, I have a hunch that this teenage rock-’n’-roller grasped a great truth: True love isn’t for amoebas or the faint of heart. It requires sacrifice, and giving more than getting. You don’t hear much about “sacrifice” anymore. Instead, you hear about “open” marriages and adultery.

A few years ago, I came upon something that was read at wedding ceremonies up until the 1960s. It was titled “Exhortation Before Marriage” and told couples how to make things work.

It said, in part, “This union is most serious because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death …

“And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.

“And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God.”

After reading that, I realized those teenagers were wiser than their years. They understood sacrifice, at least the Hollywood version.

Joe Pisani may be reached at