Read Richard Feynman’s Letter to the Departed Love of His Life
To fall in love and commit yourself to the heart of another is always dangerous territory. It tears at your insides and thickens your blood, and when all is said and done, you question—what was it all for? To share a kind of passionate beauty and truth that only comes with truly entwining yourself with someone can be the greatest joy we can experience in our meager lives, but also the most destructive force. And to have it taken away from us begs a whole world of questions we may never have the answer for.
And whether it’s a love that’s thwarted by time and the distaste of another or the tragedy of death, to lose love dulls our senses and pales the meaning of our lives. But for physicist Richard Feynman, he and his dear wife Arline shared a love that transcended their own mortality. After falling in love as high school sweethearts, Arline passed away at the young age of 25-years-old. In the Lawrence Krauss biography on Feynman, it notes that:
Richard and Arline were soul mates. They were not clones of each other, but symbiotic opposites – each completed the other. Arline admired Richard’s obvious scientific brilliance, and Richard clearly adored the fact that she loved and understood things he could barely appreciate at the time. But what they shared, most of all, was a love of life and a spirit of adventure.
And after losing Arline so early in life, Feynman found himself 27-years-old and utterly devastated in October of 1946. As he and his wife frequently wrote letters to one another, he write out his desires and feelings in a letter to her, proclaiming—” You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.” It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful letter that cries of the deep longing of person for their other half, their partner in the world. And thanks to Letters of Note you can read the rest of his letter to Arline—which was never opened after he sealed it until his own death in 1988.
October 17, 1946
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.
It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.
But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.
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. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.
When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. 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.
I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.
My darling wife, I do adore you.
I love my wife. My wife is dead.
PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.