Tolstoy’s Lament: On Love

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Tolstoy’s Lament: On Love

People often say love is the solution to all our societal problems. Lest we think love is an easy path we should remember Tolstoy’s lament.

He said such wonderful things about love, Tolstoy did, but he was unable to love even his own wife.

The tragic story is well documented and retold in the film, “The Last Station.” Tolstoy in the final few days of his life renounced his wife Sophia’s rights to his literary legacy, secretly left her in the dead of night, days later was bedridden with a fatal case of pneumonia and refused to see her. (She finally saw him in his dying moments as he slipped into a coma).

Is this any way to treat the woman who bore him thirteen children (five died in childhood) and had read every word of War and Peace, copied the entire novel by hand seven times, edited, it improved it and helped him with character development and plot?

His writing about love is eloquent, “Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God¢â‚¬¦ All people live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, But by the love for them that is in other people.”

More specifically Tolstoy believed love in the marriage and family is the best test of love. “For there to be goodness for all, we need to be at our best in the family. To be at your best in the family, you need to be at our best individually. To be at your best individually, you need to have inner goodness. To have inner goodness, you need to have goodness in your heart. To have goodness in your heart, you need to have good thoughts.”
How could a man know so much about love intellectually and yet fail at it so miserably in his most intimate relationship?

Charlie Brown offers a clue, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand,” he once wailed! Love in the abstract is easy, but when love takes on specific flesh it is a different matter.

I know. As I write this I am traveling to England and there is nothing like travel to squash love.

I love my daughter. She was my transportation to the airport. But our journey began 20 minutes later than necessary because she needed to check her email.

We stopped at Starbucks and she ordered a hot item, which took extra time. She is the slowest eater in our family so her chewing noise grated on me as she carefully chomped away en route to the airport.

I believe God’s image is imprinted on each human friend and stranger, so each of us possesses inestimable worth, except evidently, when you cut in line at the gate, or delay the tram when your baggage blocks the automatic door ~ do any of these things and I will see in you the sprouting of horns and a child of the devil. Oddly, I also feel something devilish surging within me in response.

The fact that Jesus commanded us to love one another must mean it wouldn’t come easily or naturally, right? As a matter of fact, based on my (and Tolstoy’s) miserable attempts and failures at love, I think it must be a supernatural act.

This is what contemporary essayist Douglas Coupland discovered. He wrote in Life After God, “Now here is my secret. I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond able to love.”

The fact that Douglas Coupland, Tolstoy and Dick Staub need God’s help with love does not take us off the hook for doing our part.

Here Tolstoy offers some advice that he perhaps neglected to put into action with his wife. He said, “We should learn how to love in the same way people learn how to play the violin.”

Few experiences are more unsettling on the ear than listening to a beginner learn to play the violin, but put that instrument in the hands of Itzhak Perlman and the violin ushers you into the presence of the divine.

Watching and hearing people learn to love is not pretty, but love takes practice every day, again and again, over and over ~ like the violinist, you can’t miss one day of practice or the screeching sounds begin.

And even to those who practice every day, Love takes divine help, because at our heart we are naturally selfish, but God’s essence IS love and where there is God there is love.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in September 30, 2010 by | No Comments »

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