Just a simple word, as Sir Elton so eloquently tells us. I've been inspired to think about the nature of sacrifice and what it means for us in modern society as I am reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series. I've only just finished the first book in the series. There are a number of very interesting themes in the book that I anticipate Ms. Kenyon will continue to explore in later works (as an aside, I'm LOVING the new edition that has all the books in order all in one place-- what a fabulous idea--I'm hoping others will do the same!). Among these ideas is the concept of being loved for who we are, rather than what we represent or what we are (beautiful, famous, accomplished, rich, powerful, etc.). But that is a thought for another post. Stay tuned.
Back to sacrifice. And no, we're not talking about virgins to assuage an angry god. We're talking about the idea of being willing to give something up for a greater good. This can involve delayed gratification or complete denial of gratification to achieve a larger purpose.
I think a lot of us don’t want to confront the concept of sacrifice. We seem to be all about having our cake and eating it too. Which is an idea that is really more fantasy than reality. In my beloved fantasy novels, however, the make-believe characters seem to grasp the reality of sacrifice a whole lot better than many of us here in the real world.
The concept of sacrifice entails forgoing something that we really want or love. Sacrifice connotes pain and loss. If you can take it or leave it and you give it up, that isn't a real sacrifice. In the dictionary, one definition of sacrifice means to give up something precious. I think that nails it. Another aspect of the definition involves a sacrifice that is offered to demonstrate loyalty and devotion to God. I'll just say this about that: the God I believe in does not require that kind of sacrifice. But let's not go too far down that rabbit hole.
Back to the idea of giving up something precious for a larger purpose. This is what both Julian and Grace are prepared to do for each other in the first Dark Hunter book, Fantasy Lover (we are going to need to have a serious discussion very soon about these ridiculous titles, by the way!). It's all very Gift of the Magi and quite romantic, of course. And because these are paranormal fantasy books not written by George R. R. Martin, everyone (except the bad guys) gets an HEA, so in the end, the sacrifice is not required.
But in reality, how often are we called to make a genuine sacrifice and if we are truly honest with ourselves, how willing would we be? I know this question smacks of "I'll cross that particular bridge when I get to it and because I most likely won't get to it, I won't worry about it," but I think it's actually an important question to ponder. What would we be willing to give up for love? Would we be willing to forgo a dream job because our love can't make the move? Would we be willing to give up a life of ease by marrying someone we know will never make a lot of money instead of waiting for a high earner? Would we be willing to forgo children that we thought we’d have/wanted because our love was either infertile or unwilling to be a parent? Would we be willing to live in a place we didn't like, or move around a lot if our love were in the military? Or live apart because of logistical reasons associated with professional realities? What are we willing to sacrifice for our children? These are situations that arise with some frequency.
And what happens after the sacrifice? Unfortunately, there are many instances of buyers' remorse when we decide in the moment to make a sacrifice and then come to regret it later. This is analogous to when kidnapping negotiators try to ensure that the ransom to return a kidnap victim doesn't bankrupt the family who wants to get its loved one back. If the ransom is too much, there are innumerable problems later when resentment sets in that the whole family had to sacrifice their lifestyle or retirement or schooling, etc., to save the life of one member, no matter how beloved.
When the consequences of a single sacrifice must be lived with day in and day out year after year--as they do when we decide to forgo children that we wanted to appease a partner who didn't, or retirement to support a struggling child, things can get tricky. A sacrifice made in the name of love can morph into something quite the opposite of that. Resentment is a corrosively destructive emotion that can be the result of sacrifice.
Unfortunately, it is possible that a decision made for noble reasons that seem overwhelmingly positive in the moment may evolve into a very negative force in our lives. I've seen this a lot and it never fails to make me sad. I'm just not sure that most of us are built for sacrifice over the long term, but perhaps I am wrong.
In fantasy novels, it usually works out in the end. In life, that is not always the case. It is difficult to project into an indefinite future how we will feel about actions we take in the present moment. Sacrifices need to be thought through very carefully. Because the truth in this particular fantasy is that while characters in a book are often called on to demonstrate their willingness to make a sacrifice, they are not often called to actually go through with it. Something to think about as we decide whether to cross that particular bridge when we come to it.