Tree by Jane Hirshfield

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

Poem Title: Tree
by Jane Hirshfield

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On Rousseau’s Confessions and having time to ‘kill’

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“I’d like you to understand, doctor. I grant you it’s easy enough to choose between a ‘but’ and an ‘and.’ It’s a bit more difficult to decide between ‘and’ and ‘then.’ But definitely the hardest thing may be to know whether one should put an ‘and’ or leave it out.” Albert Camus, The Plague

 

Sometime in September 2002

I remember being around 15 (I think) when I was introduced to Les Confessions from JeanJacques Rousseau. Our French literature teacher had introduced Rousseau as a philosopher and writer and one of the earliest exponents of the Autobiographical genre.

Most of my readings during those years in school, were centered around plays from Molière, novels from Balzac, fables from Lafontaine and other mostly fictional works. Philosophy as a subject was taught when we entered last year of high school so I was never really introduced to non fictional prose within the realm of literary arts, let alone to an autobiography. So the Confessions from Rousseau came to me as a blunt surprise.

My initial reaction was that of a lack of understanding. I felt like there was so much truth and lessons one could learn from fictional novels, from character building, essays on values and other genres I was familiar with that it was hard to grasp why would anyone want to write about ‘oneself’, especially when that person could write about infinite beings, about perfect ideas, about love and hate, about justice and bravery, let alone about God and our human condition.

At times, I felt that only an arrogant person could end up scrutinizing his own life to the degree that Rousseau had, and the whole idea of writing about it seemed like a lack of taste and priority, no matter how much one could value the novelty of the enterprise.

With time, when our readings of the Confessions became more nuanced, I realized that, judging the validity of this genre wasn’t nearly as straightforward as it once seemed. I was still sometimes uneasy reading about the details of someone else’s life and thought, perhaps because I had mainly kept mine to myself and that the very idea of sharing my mental world was a bit like trespassing the perimeter of my physical safe space. Sharing my inner thoughts and fears was to me, like having to partially unclothe myself revealing parts of my skin I wasn’t ready to share with, so it didn’t come to me as a surprise when reading Rousseau felt like watching someone changing their outfit: which can be pretty uncomfortable for both parties, and a quite useless activity at best.

But I also have to admit, that despite the apparent unease I felt, there were also moments when I felt the need of the author to share with honesty and sincerity, significant events of his life. If not to share with others, to at-least write about them, in order to make some sense out of them. I realized that there was, behind the audacity of the work, some wisdom in being able to read with retrospect, about one’s own life, in order to experience the sweetness of nostalgia, and perhaps live again some defining moments, lost somewhere in the alleys of our memories.

April 2019

Somewhere in the north coast of Quebec, in a little picturesque town bordering the Saint Lawrence river, I am now seated in a quaint café. It is raining outside, and for once, I had the opportunity to rest and read. I had time to ‘kill’ as they say, and so I killed it in style, with a reading of the Plague, by Albert Camus.

Reading Camus, or any author associated with absurdism, the description of human plight, the condition of our sufferings and the futility of most of our actions often leads the reader to question some fundamentally and universally accepted truth of our society, which in turn leads one to revisit one’s own life priorities and the impact of past life decisions, on one’s current state.

If one was to ponder just long enough on whatever is needed to happen for a person to be who he or she is, the thought process behind each choices that shapes the evolution of one’s personality, past experiences explaining one’s emotional state, most of us would agree that in many ways, our lives are nothing short of a continuous miracle of play, in which we constantly turn a given potential into reality.

Despite this seemingly straightforward realization, if you were to ask people what best defines the miracle of life and creation, most of us (I am including myself) would the word miracle when witnessing the birth of a baby, therefore associating the magic in our lives to the act of becoming, where one’s existence is defined by the physical coming to being of our flesh into this world. And even though this moment is indeed a marvelous act, a transition that requires tremendous synchrony and order at each and every step of one’s birth, this is not the real miracle of our lives. Or perhaps, to be fair to the complexity and beauty that takes place during our physical birth, this is not the only miracle of our lives, let alone the most important one.

There are many times in which moments I read about touched me more than thinking, pondering, or even witnessing the birth of a child (the narrative of Karbala would be a good example). With time, it seemed to me that I have been more marveled with what seems now as the real miracle of life, which is nothing but our constant capacity to become, evolve, defining ourselves and who we are, at every moment. In other words, the real miracle of our lives is perhaps the freedom we have to give birth to the new selves we wish to be.

Let’s think about it for a minute.  Which one of the two is more marvelous and awe inspiring from the perspective of our human condition, and in the grand scheme of our existence: the fact that all human beings are born from the meeting and fusion of two cells, and the physiological cascade we often (rightly) describe as a miracle? or the fact that we are given the opportunity,  in everyday of our lives, to realize an infinite potential though infinite possibilities, each one leading to a distinct path, a path whose only limit is perfection itself?

Looking at life through the miracle of our infinite potential, one can now better appreciate the lives and choices of the enlightened personalities most revered in our classical religious and spiritual scripture.

This reality is also somehow applicable to even more miraculous birth. I can see the miracle behind prophet Jesus’ (pbuh) birth in that He was born in an unusual manner. This miracle is truly humbling, especially keeping in mind the power of the Creator and the purity of our created prophet. But it seems to me (and I may be wrong), that this miracle speaks more about God’s infinite power in relation to His creation, more than  the miracle bestowed to Human beings in the form of potential. And therefore, what I can relate to better from the perspective of our human experience in the odyssey through which prophet Jesus became who He was as a person: the fruit of his choices, sacrifices, meditation, prayers and devotion, and his constant devotion to God.

Another argument that perhaps comforts me in this reasoning, is the fact that according to islamic tradition, prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the most perfect human being to have ever walked on earth, and that too, despite the fact that from a purely scientific perspective, His birth seems to be ‘less’ of a miracle as the more ‘miraculous’ birth of prophet Jesus, and yet, His life is nothing short of one.

When I read about Prophet’s Muhammad’s (pbuh) life, and I look at all the possibilities and choices that lay in front Him, I often ended up being unable to understand His greatness. With each of His thought, each action, each word,  He redefined the threshold of Human perfection. Each day of His could have shaped him to be another man, a less extraordinary one (I am purposefully not tackling the question of infallibility and Ismah so as to draw more lessons from our prophet’s life) had he not relied on His creator at every moment of his life. His constant will to experience the colorless (see Rumi and the cololess), permanently disidentifying with the finite, always seeking the limitless. If anything, the fact that we all have in theory the capacity to imitate the prophet, in that we can all reach the pinacle of our own (standard of) perfection (see Risalah al Wilayah, Allameh Tabatabaei), is where the true miracle of our lives lies.

Numbers are perhaps also testifying to this point. Bringing into perspective the initial question as to what is the greatest miracle of our lives ie. the complexity of our physiological birth or the infinite nature of our potential,  we learn that during the act of conception, there are close to 250 million male reproductive cells fighting to reach their goal, a journey that scientist define as unique, even by their secular non creationist standards. Out of those 250 million, one will reach first. All other can come second, or third, but it doesn’t really matter. One will reach the goal, and that reality is part of what we call the miracle. But when you think about each cell swimming towards their goal, a programmed and fairly straightforward one, choices that lay before them are pretty binary and limited: you are either the one fertilizing the egg or you are not. That’s actually a pretty narrow choice of fate!

Now on the other hand, we live for close to 27,000 days on average during our lifespan (for a person living 75 years). Each day is comprised of 24 hours, each hour of 60 minutes, and each minutes of 60 seconds. That brings us to 23 billion seconds. During each one of those moments, countless choices are offered to us. Should I reply to this offensive comment? Should I watch this movie right now? What will they say if I tell them I have better things to do? Should I apply to this university program? How will this choice define who I am in 5, 10, or even 20 years? Should I marry this person? Should I buy this house? And these are just incidental questions most of us answer no matter what school of thought we adhere to. Some specific questions about life, death, God  are not even tackled here for sake of simplicity, but one can argue that they would actually add to the choices one has to make in one’s life.

Now, we have to also add that, unlike the rather binary fate of cells navigating through the path leading to the meeting their beloved cooked to perfection egg,  these countless questions are not always answered by a straightforward yes or no reply and have often endless possibilities (the peculiar way in which the life of each one of us seems to have distinct reality from that or others is the best testament of this fact). When you put these facts together, we can conclude, with a fair level of confidence that a human being may be presented in life with an infinitely great number of possibilities each one leading him to become a human being different than if another path was chosen. What this means in the grand scheme of creation, is that each time we answer one of the many questions life puts forth before us, we actively and consciously take part in the actual miracle of creation, a creation defined by the constant becoming of one individual from potential to reality.

Another fact that may make this becoming a more precious aspect of our lives, despite the miracle surrounding every other aspect, especially the miracle of our coming to being, is that the analysis of the odds one plays against to reach that perfection.

We mentionned earlier that out of the 250 million egg seeking cells, only one will be crowned. And yet, despite the odds, science says that there have been close to 100 billion human beings living on earth across all generation. Despite the initial odds, thats a pretty high number.

And yet, out of the 100 billion human beings, there was only one prophet Muhammad. One prophet Jesus, One Moses, One Abraham. So if our physical birth is deemed a miracle considering the odds against it,  one could argue that our the constant birth of ourselves through the fulfillment of our divine potential, is a miracle fewer of us have actually succeeded in.

But what does this have to do with reading Les confessions from Rousseau and questioning the validity of writing about one’s life?

With time, my understanding of Rousseau’s motivation behind writing his confessions have changed. I used to think as mentioned earlier that one should write about infinite  beings, about the absolute, about values and beauty, and that there was so much life beyond our narrow existence that it would seem irrelevant to write about the life of a single man. But when you think about it, is our life anything but the constant defining  of values, of choices, of ethical considerations, of aspirations for the absolute and of infinite possibilities?

Later in my life I was introduced to Russian authors, some of which I have the highest regard for such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. When you read literary critics praising these authors, you often end up noticing a similar consensus. These two authors in particular, are often set apart in a different league, because they best describe subtleties that define our Human nature, the complex balance of our vices and virtues and how they shape the absurd way in which modern societies define success and beauty. Their writing is so realistic that one cannot, for instance, read The Brothers Karamazov without identifying with flaws, vices, struggles and aspirations of at least one of its characters, if not all of them. In other words, it seems that what is actually praised in the writings of these two authors, is the sheer reality though which they were able to describe our Human experience.

So when Rousseau writes about his life, he is writing about what it means to be Human. He is writing about his choices, his weaknesses, and about all those moments in which he chose what to become. All those moments when a yes or no can lead to the birth of a new self, or the perpetual miracle through which our behavior and psyche answers our existential questions.

So if there isn’t, after all, anything greater at stake in our lives, than loosing this opportunity we have to constantly participate in the act of creation, why shouldn’t we write about it?

So should we ever have time to ‘kill’, it would seem to be of a great priority to ponder over our existence, unfolding before our eyes the story of our life, and its constant coming to being, forever learning from our mistakes and achievements, giving a new direction to it that would better suit the reality of its purpose. One should perhaps remember that the greater miracle of creation lies in the act of becoming. For we were all born on one given day, and we completely came out of our mother’s womb in a single moment.

One moment to be given life. And after that lone moment, a lifetime to give birth to our new selves. Understanding the miracle of creation from this lens is a pretty transformative realization. A realization that prompts you to value your time and be very selective in every choice that you do.

So if you ever meet someone who asks you if you have time to ‘kill’.

Run for your life!

Solitude

It’s been more than a year now that I haven’t written anything on my blog beyond a poem, few weeks ago. And it’s not that I havent felt like writing, not felt the urge to open up old scars on paper like a foil fencer battling  through the maze of its expereiences, making its way to its core in order to catch a glimpse of its inner realities.

I couldn’t attribute the break to a lack of ‘material’ either, nor to a lack of inspiration or to the scarcity of ‘writable’ moments worth immortalizing on paper, quite the contrary. There were actually many times I felt like taking a step back from the pace of life to sit down over a cup of coffee scribble down an idea, a moment, a thought, a memory, a lesson or just a feeling. Interestingly enough, so many changes happened in my life this year that, if I had to choose one of the many years I managed to survive on earth, 2017 would probably be one of those milestone ones, when so many significant events happened that it would be easy for me to look back at my life and say: ‘Ah, 2017 was a special one indeed’.

And yet, despite the urge to write and the many moments encapsulated in my mind that were best suited once manifested into curves and dots, I just didn’t. And when I think about it, it felt as if I was somehow waiting for something to happen. As if the presence or absence of something was preventing me from writing.

Today I realized what it was. Although I feel like I had always known it to be an integral part of a life of writing, I never knew it would be so critical.

The answer was solitude. Plain and simple.

I lost my way into the woods

I lost my way into the woods,
And like Robert I also sat,
Where two roads were seen
diverging into a certain mist.

There, I pondered and thought,
staring at the naked fork,
about the value of our lives,
and of our human experience.

I recalled Arthur and Albert,
I remembered Gottfried,
and Ibn Al Arouet.

From François Marie de l’Arabi,
To Renée of Tus,
and of course,
Our very own,
Ibn Sina du Chateau de Descartes!

They all seemed to have
Mentionned about their stroll,
Along a certain parting road,
And getting lost into the woods.
While I kept looking at,
The diverging misty paths,
I glanced at the one which seemed,
The most treaded of the two.

Grabbing my bag,
And my Yoga blocks,
I too tagged along
My wondering thoughts,
And decided to discover
Once and for All,
What this path was all about!

The path was indeed very wide,
And built as if would last,
An eternity and still stand firm.

Its travelers were also many,
Though most of them had in fact,
Settled somewhere in pockets,
Along the path here and there!

They kept mentioning and repeating,
About life being the pursuit of
Nothing but pleasure,
Of a world of glitter,
Of maximizing joey,
Of fleeing from pain,
Of (momentary) trance,
Of Countless roses,
Of intoxicating scents.

‘What is life they said,
But a place for
divertissement and play!’

Taking few steps back,
I suddenly became
Tempted to discover,
The other path of the road,
And see what they had,
To offer (or to take).

The other path was different,
much narrower and bumpy.
Its travelers were silent,
And kept counting thorns,
On beautiful roses.

Most of them it seemed,
were disappointed travelers,
From the most travelled path,
Until they started questioning,
The act of questioning itself.
They said that there was perhaps not,
even a path to start with!
That the common folk,
is a mere fool,
For thinking it can embrace life
while pleasing himself to death.

They seemed to think,
That the meaning of our life lied,
in whatever we assigned it to,
And that our existence
was nothing but,
The mere waiting of Godot.

I then took a few steps back,
And came back to where
My journey had began,
So like Robert I also sat,
where two roads were seen
diverging into the mist,
Both equally distant,
Both equally intriguing.

How contrasting were
The paths, I thought!
None of them seemed to me,
Completely satisfactory.

And since I had to journey,
Somewhere along the road,
I closed my eyes,
And recalled the sages,
Of Advaita al Wujud,
And Wahdat al Vedanta.

A man then appeared,
And sat next to me.
He smiled at me peacefully,
As if knowing my sorrow,
And its incurable cure.

I asked him of the two Epic’s,
‘Was —urus the winner?
or was it —tetus at last?

Was the little prince lost,
in a world of Wille und Vorstellung?
Or was it that he should have,
Followed Théodicée or even better!
met Ayatollah Alyosha Karamazovi!

The man extended his hand,
And pointed towards the diverging paths,
Both equally distant,
Both equally intriguing,
Still.

He then snapped his fingers,
and brought the diverging paths,
To a deafening,
Still.

The change was a drastic one,
As if Samuel had Finally,
Made Godot to break the scene!
Or as if L’Etranger had finally,
found Himself!

When these curtains were lifted,
The man took me by his hand,
To the most common treaded path,
The path of many roses
(and equally numbered thorns).

‘This one, is the lowest of the two’ He said.

On it you will meet the majority of them.
They are the poorest of the lot.
Living lives of lavishness,
Building their houses and hopes,
on the thread of a spider.

They see bounties of the road,
As a reason to stop,
As a reason to wait,
As a reason to sleep,
As a reason to stay,
As a reason to sleep”

“Now, some of them,
While walking on this path,
Seeing this nonsense,
Question life itself,
And its disappointing fate.

They take a step back,
And at the diverging of the road,
Take the path less travelled by.
They are often lost,
Searching for answers
That lie in the heart,
In the depth of their minds.

They look for what cannot,
Be seen  by the eyes.
In the refelction of mirrors,
forgetting themselves,
They look at their image,
And the plight of their lives,
For life seems to them,
like and absurd renewal,
of a never ending struggle.

Most of them end up,
Resigned, and indifferent,
Siting on the road,
For this torment to end’

“People of these two roads,
Are nothing but verses,
Of the chapter of Time.

While those treading
The most common path
are lost in the illusion of time,
Their fate is but sealed,
For their lives is nothing,
But an Illusion, a mirage!”

As for the people
Of the other less travelled path,
They never went beyond,
“Indeed man is at loss”
And so they became,
Like the questioning Angels,
Who stopped at the Evil,
Not looking at the dream,
Of God’s Vicegerent on earth.”

And as I kept looking,
towards the diverging paths,
Both equally distant,
Both equally intriguing,
A question remained,
My answer not found.

‘You just mentioned  I said,
That out of the two diverging paths,
One of them loses you,
while the second of the two
Doesn’t take you home either.
But if there are two paths,
And none of them leads me Home?

Is this not eventually,
And unattainable quest?

The man smiled again,
As if expecting this rather
Mullah Sadrian question,
In a Mir Damadi class.

‘Do you really think,
that you are sitting,
where the two roads diverge?’

Turn around! Look at yourself
From the lens of the two roads.
And You will see that you are,
sitting at nothing but the very
Junction two merging roads,
Both equally distant,

Both equally intriguing.

“Wherever and whenever,
there is a divergence,”
He continued
“There is also a mergence”.

“If you are blinded by the many,
you will see them as an end.
And if you are only aware of the many,
You will see them as absurd.
But if you see through the many,
You will find them as One.”

“So do not my Friend,
Be lost in the illusion of time.
Nor should you lose Hope,
In the value of life,
For God didn’t stop guidance
While, “Indeed man was at lost.”

“The third path lies, in the third verse:
Have Faith, Do Righteous deeds.
Bear Patience, and enjoin the Truth.
And if you do so, we will meet you,
At the junction where all paths end,
Where life and death do not matter,
Where things do not become;

Where everyone will wish
To be a mere speck dust,
Hanging still in the air,
Owing its existence
to the rays of His Light”

And with that said,
The Man left,
As silently as He had come.

I haven’t seen him again,
Since The day when I had found myself,
Sitting like Robert also had,
where two roads are seen
diverging into the mist.

So if you ever do
See Him along diverging roads,
Comforting a lost forgotten soul,
To not despair in its Affair,

Tell Him that I have been,
Longing for Another glance,
Of His soothing radiant smile,
Like the longing of a Poet,
Waiting for his muse,
Like Rumi awaits for His Sun of Tabriz,
Like Majnun awaits for His beloved Night,
Or even more ardently:

Like a coffee drinker awaits,
For his morning espresso!

1984 to 2018, nothing has changed.

“Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her. She believed, for instance, having learnt it at school, that the Party had invented aeroplanes. (In his own schooldays, Winston remembered, in the late fifties, it was only the helicopter that the Party claimed to have invented; a dozen years later, when Julia was at school, it was already claiming the aeroplane; one generation more, and it would be claiming the steam engine.) And when he told her that aeroplanes had been in existence before he was born and long before the Revolution, the fact struck her as totally uninteresting. After all, what did it matter who had invented aeroplanes?

‘Who cares?’ she said impatiently. ‘It’s always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway.’”

“In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.”

Hurrah for Karamazov!

“Boys, I should like to say one word to you, here at this place.”

The boys stood round him and at once bent attentive and expectant eyes upon him.

“Boys, we shall soon part. I shall be for some time with my two brothers, of whom one is going to Siberia and the other is lying at death’s door. But soon I shall leave this town, perhaps for a long time, so we shall part. Let us make a compact here, at Ilusha’s stone, that we will never forget Ilusha and one another. And whatever happens to us later in life, if we don’t meet for twenty years afterwards, let us always remember how we buried the poor boy at whom we once threw stones, do you remember, by the bridge? and afterwards we all grew so fond of him. He was a fine boy, a kind-hearted, brave boy, he felt for his father’s honor and resented the cruel insult to him and stood up for him. And so in the first place, we will remember him, boys, all our lives. And even if we are occupied with most important things, if we attain to honor or fall into great misfortune—still let us remember how good it was once here, when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us, for the time we were loving that poor boy, better perhaps than we are. My little doves—let me call you so, for you are very like them, those pretty blue birds, at this minute as I look at your good dear faces. My dear children, perhaps you won’t understand what I am saying to you, because I often speak very unintelligibly, but you’ll remember it all the same and will agree with my words some time. You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us. Perhaps [pg 876]we may even grow wicked later on, may be unable to refrain from a bad action, may laugh at men’s tears and at those people who say as Kolya did just now, ‘I want to suffer for all men,’ and may even jeer spitefully at such people. But however bad we may become—which God forbid—yet, when we recall how we buried Ilusha, how we loved him in his last days, and how we have been talking like friends all together, at this stone, the cruelest and most mocking of us—if we do become so—will not dare to laugh inwardly at having been kind and good at this moment! What’s more, perhaps, that one memory may keep him from great evil and he will reflect and say, ‘Yes, I was good and brave and honest then!’ Let him laugh to himself, that’s no matter, a man often laughs at what’s good and kind. That’s only from thoughtlessness. But I assure you, boys, that as he laughs he will say at once in his heart, ‘No, I do wrong to laugh, for that’s not a thing to laugh at.’ ”

“That will be so, I understand you, Karamazov!” cried Kolya, with flashing eyes.

The boys were excited and they, too, wanted to say something, but they restrained themselves, looking with intentness and emotion at the speaker.

“I say this in case we become bad,” Alyosha went on, “but there’s no reason why we should become bad, is there, boys? Let us be, first and above all, kind, then honest and then let us never forget each other! I say that again. I give you my word for my part that I’ll never forget one of you. Every face looking at me now I shall remember even for thirty years. Just now Kolya said to Kartashov that we did not care to know whether he exists or not. But I cannot forget that Kartashov exists and that he is not blushing now as he did when he discovered the founders of Troy, but is looking at me with his jolly, kind, dear little eyes. Boys, my dear boys, let us all be generous and brave like Ilusha, clever, brave and generous like Kolya (though he will be ever so much cleverer when he is grown up), and let us all be as modest, as clever and sweet as Kartashov. But why am I talking about those two? You are all dear to me, boys, from this day forth, I have a place in my heart for you all, and I beg you to keep a place in your hearts for me! Well, and who has united us in this kind, good feeling which we shall remember and intend to remember all our lives? Who, if not [pg 877]Ilusha, the good boy, the dear boy, precious to us for ever! Let us never forget him. May his memory live for ever in our hearts from this time forth!”

“Yes, yes, for ever, for ever!” the boys cried in their ringing voices, with softened faces.

“Let us remember his face and his clothes and his poor little boots, his coffin and his unhappy, sinful father, and how boldly he stood up for him alone against the whole school.”

“We will remember, we will remember,” cried the boys. “He was brave, he was good!”

“Ah, how I loved him!” exclaimed Kolya.

“Ah, children, ah, dear friends, don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something good and just!”

“Yes, yes,” the boys repeated enthusiastically.

“Karamazov, we love you!” a voice, probably Kartashov’s, cried impulsively.

“We love you, we love you!” they all caught it up. There were tears in the eyes of many of them.

“Hurrah for Karamazov!” Kolya shouted ecstatically.

“And may the dead boy’s memory live for ever!” Alyosha added again with feeling.

“For ever!” the boys chimed in again.

“Karamazov,” cried Kolya, “can it be true what’s taught us in religion, that we shall all rise again from the dead and shall live and see each other again, all, Ilusha too?”

“Certainly we shall all rise again, certainly we shall see each other and shall tell each other with joy and gladness all that has happened!” Alyosha answered, half laughing, half enthusiastic.

“Ah, how splendid it will be!” broke from Kolya.

“Well, now we will finish talking and go to his funeral dinner. Don’t be put out at our eating pancakes—it’s a very old custom and there’s something nice in that!” laughed Alyosha. “Well, let us go! And now we go hand in hand.”

“And always so, all our lives hand in hand! Hurrah for Karamazov!” Kolya cried once more rapturously, and once more the boys took up his exclamation: “Hurrah for Karamazov!”

The end

From The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

The (same old) Plague

Excerpt from Albert Camus’, La peste (translated in English to ‘The Plague‘) written in 1947:

‘Perhaps the easiest way of making a town’s acquaintance is to ascertain how the people in it work, how they love, and how they die. In our little town (is this, one wonders, an effect of the climate?) all three are done on much the same lines, with the same feverish yet casual air. The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Naturally they don’t eschew such simpler pleasures as love-making, seabathing, going to the pictures. But, very sensibly, they reserve these pastimes for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible. In the evening, on leaving the office, they forgather, at an hour that never varies, in the cafes, stroll the same boulevard, or take the air on their balconies. The passions of the young are violent and short-lived; the vices of older men seldom range beyond an addiction to bowling, to banquets and “socials,” or clubs where large sums change hands on the fall of a card.

 

It will be said, no doubt, that these habits are not peculiar to our town; really all our contemporaries are much the same. Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and then proceeding to fritter away at card-tables, in cafes and in small- talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good.’

Seventy years have gone by. Same Old Plague.

Love and Concern for Others

[A man] once said, “It is thirty years that I have been seeking forgiveness for one phrase, ‘Praise be God’s’, that I allowed to pass my lips.” 

When asked to explain he replied, “One night the marketplace caught fire, and I left my house to see if the fire had reached my shop. When I heard that my shop was safe, I said, ‘Praise be God’s’.


Instantly I was brought to my senses with the realization that, granted my shop was unharmed, should I not have been thinking about others’?

Source: Love and Concern for Others