My relationship to gravity lately feels different. I’ve been reading War & Peace. I have some idea that Tolstoy must have been rather like Pierre: earnest, seeking, humble, receptive, eccentric – holding up different explanations to the light, trying, and discarding them. So the massive jumble of his character’s emotions and events, steadily crushing on with something of the real force of history, doesn’t come ‘clear’, any more than life itself comes ‘clear’, except in flashes here and there.
For me, these flashes have much to do with the way Tolstoy (like the Creator, per Ecclesiastes) ‘sets one thing against another’. The scenes of war against the drawing room scenes; love against disappointment; stirrings of youth against restless old age; successful ambition against downfall. There’s a touchstone in it all till I feel the emptiness, the ‘vanity’ (Ecclesiastes). But like Pierre with the comet, I can glimpse the luminous thing pressing through from beyond the stars, bright with significance. Something which manifests in the Princess Mary as forgiveness, in General Kutuzov as ‘patience and time’, in Tushin as courage, in Natasha as repentance – which seems to be alluded to most comprehensively as ‘the will of God’.
Somehow the sheer massiveness of the book contributes to a sense that everything will eventually end, but meanwhile, the will of God requires our patience (I’m still only about 60 percent of the way through). – It’s wearing away at some ground of my thoughts, shifting my balance in the routines I traverse as I read, and read, and read it. Everything about my life here is going to end. All my relationships, all my efforts – including my efforts in words. Sooner or later, it all has a vanishing point – more likely, sooner. (I’m not Tolstoy.)
But that point of every individual’s whole temporal world vanishing away, brought forward – submitted to – embraced in our jumbled-up experience, is the place of repentance. It’s the flash of abandoned fear; or of awed, ungrasping love; or the pivot of wisdom and mercy. It’s submission to the luminous significance that is bigger than ourselves, in which we must lose our selves, that beautifies us.
For all that Tolstoy held this effort up to the light, too, tried and discarded it – he infused it with something of his searching love; it’s a purifying read. With regard to my hardly noticeable (on a historical scale) life and effort: it doesn’t make me want to give up because it is hardly noticeable, and it will all have an end – it makes me want to focus more intently, less timidly; to care less about outcomes I can’t dispose, and more about the small thing I am given to do, while I can.
I was asked to write the feature poems for the May issue of Quill & Parchment – themes: Motherhood, Memorial Day, and Spring. They’re the first two links on the page (Triptych I and II).
I’m also very glad that a tribute to Leah Sharibu and Twen Theodros was posted at Spirit Fire – two women of our time who have embraced the will of God.