All You Need is Love
Sometimes suffering advances the mind and spirit. In Woody Allen’s classic Hannah and Her Sisters a character named Mickey, played by Allen, goes to the doctor to complain of hearing loss. At that appointment the doctor finds something odd and requests to have Mickey see a specialist. Mickey, notorious hypochondriac, comes to believe that he has a brain tumor. He falls into a severe depression. He seeks solace in religion and philosophy. He sees his Rabbi, he consults with a Catholic priest, he even talks with the Hare Krishnas. His search fails to find a calming balm for the terrors of mortality. Dejected, he takes a long, autumn walk through an overcast, rainswept Manhattan. “Millions of books written on every conceivable subject by all these great minds and in the end, none of them knows anything more about the big questions of life than I do,” he muses. “Maybe the poets are right,” he concludes. “Maybe love is the only answer.”
It turns out that the poets are right. Love is the answer. Mickey finds selfless love with Holly, his ex-wife’s sister (this is, remember, a Woody Allen film). Despite the familiar Allenesque pessimism of the preceding ninety-minutes, Hanna and Her Sisters ends on a joyous and optimistic note as Mickey and Holly embrace at a family Thanksgiving party having just learned that they are pregnant.
Pierre Bezukhov and Mickey are pretty much the same character. Both are men driven by a desire to find answers to the big questions of life. Both, in their studious search, come up short. In the end Mickey finds love with Holly. We haven’t even reached the midpoint of War and Peace yet but in today’s chapter it is hinted that perhaps Pierre might find the answer of love with Natasha.
Pierre has returned to the Rostovs once again to fulfill his promise to Prince Andrei that he return some of Natasha’s personal items. While there Natasha insists on speaking to him. She asks him to please apologize to Andrei for her and beg his forgiveness. She feels terribly guilty and, though she understands no reconciliation is possible, she hopes Andrei can find it in his heart to forgive her.
Looking at this sad and innocent young woman something moves inside Pierre. As Natasha cries, “ a still greater sense of pity, tenderness, and love welled up in Pierre.” At one point he even kind of proposes marriage. Natasha isn’t receptive to that sentiment, not yet anyway, and she flees the room. But Pierre is enobled by this meeting. He leaves the Rostov house and takes a ponderous walk through the nighttime streets of Moscow thinking of Natasha where now “all men seemed so pitiful, so poor, in comparison with this feeling of tenderness and love he experienced: in comparison with that softened, grateful, last look she had given him through her tears.”
Pierre’s walk through Moscow in our novel, like Mickey’s through Manhattan in the film, is one of my favorite scenes in the book. You’ve already read it, but, like all great art, you’ll probably want to experience it again. So, with love, here you go:
It was clear and frosty. Above the dirty, ill-lit streets, above the black roofs, stretched the dark starry sky. Only looking up at the sky did Pierre cease to feel how sordid and humiliating were all mundane things compared with the heights to which his soul had just been raised. At the entrance to the Arbát Square an immense expanse of dark starry sky presented itself to his eyes. Almost in the center of it, above the Prechístenka Boulevard, surrounded and sprinkled on all sides by stars but distinguished from them all by its nearness to the earth, its white light, and its long uplifted tail, shone the enormous and brilliant comet of 1812 — the comet which was said to portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world. In Pierre, however, that comet with its long luminous tail aroused no feeling of fear. On the contrary he gazed joyfully, his eyes moist with tears, at this bright comet which, having traveled in its orbit with inconceivable velocity through immeasurable space, seemed suddenly — like an arrow piercing the earth — to remain fixed in a chosen spot, vigorously holding its tail erect, shining and displaying its white light amid countless other scintillating stars. It seemed to Pierre that this comet fully responded to what was passing in his own softened and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life.
All you need is love.
Lennon/McCartney, All You Need is Love