Swept Away Together
C-3P0, that Schopenhauerian sage of the Star Wars saga, is known to have lamented, during a particularly trying time, that, “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” This insight is as true in a galaxy far, far away as it is here on earth. In 1812 Russia it’s especially true. Marya Bolkonskaya, for example, finds herself frightfully sorrowful in today’s chapter. In addition to all her personal suffering she must also reckon with an ever-advancing foreign invasion of her lands. She has a lot to worry about. Perhaps, however, at least some portion of her suffering is self-inflicted.
Nearly the entire chapter is devoted to her rueful reflection over the past. The agony of memory tears at her soul as she considers the fresh death of her beloved father. First she pictures his helpless body dragged through the garden after having suffered its first stroke. Then she spends an inordinate amount of time dwelling on an episode of her father’s final day. She agonizes over his utterance of the word “dearest” and wrestles with its potential meanings. This leads her to further ruminations on the finality of death and all the sadness that subject brings with it.
It’s curious to note that Tolstoy, returning once again to his motif of contrasting indifferent nature to involved human passion, supplies a break from all the emotional tumult in this chapter with a small paragraph describing the weather outside Marya’s bedroom:
After sunset the wind had dropped. The night was calm and fresh. Towards midnight the voices began to subside, a cock crowed, the full moon began to show from behind the lime trees, a fresh white dewy mist began to rise, and stillness reigned over the village and the house.
It’s only natural for Marya to be upset, at least initially, by the death of a loved one. There comes a point, however, when our suffering stems not from anything external but, rather, from within ourselves. In order for the winds of her mind to drop and her spirits to be calm and fresh she must let go of the things — past, present, and future — that cannot be altered.
Why should we lament? We are prepared for our fate: Let nature deal as she will with her own bodies; let us be cheerful whatever befalls, and stoutly reflect that it is not anything of our own that perishes. What is the duty of a good man? To submit himself to fate: It is a great consolation to be swept away together with the entire universe.
Seneca, On Providence