You Will Not Suffer Any Harm

Day 161 of A Year of War and Peace

For the first two-thirds of today’s chapter Pierre pulls a Nikolai. That is to say: He rages. He rages hard. Hot off his meeting with Marya Dmitrievna and Natasha, Pierre storms off in search of Anatole as the “blood rushed to his heart and he felt a difficulty breathing.”

He can’t find Anatole anywhere. What he does find is that the rumors of the elopement have already spread around town. He denies the rumors, informing everyone that he’s just come from the Rostov’s and everything there is just fine.

When Pierre finally returns home after a day’s worth of fruitless searching he learns that Anatole is actually at his house talking with Helene. Pierre brushes past Helene — she’s more repulsive than ever to him at this moment — and confronts Anatole. Pierre is so frightening here in his anger that Anatole, usually the paradigm of carefree jauntiness, is struck with sudden anxiety. Pierre demands to speak, his face “distorted with fury.” Anatole agrees (has he any alternative?) and the two retire to Pierre’s study.

Once inside Pierre grabs Anatole and shakes him about. He insults him and demands to know what he has done. Anatole is terrified.

And then something happens.

Pierre stops.

He distances himself from Anatole and throws himself on the sofa instead. From this point on the timbre of their meeting changes. It transitions from confrontation to conversation. In a way, Pierre’s decision to walk to the other side of the room to calm himself acts as a kind of distancing that we’ve often counseled here at A Year of War and Peace. In addition to distancing Pierre also adopts the stoic principle of accepting the things he has no control over. He tells Anatole that he understands he cannot prevent Anatole from doing what he wants but it would be the right thing to do if he were to never breathe a word of his affair with Natasha to anyone.

The result of his distancing and acceptance is just what we’d want it to be: Pierre, no longer submitting to his anger and frustration, merely informs Anatole of thing things he should do: surrender any letters, not speak of the affair, and leave Moscow immediately. And here, even when Anatole provokes him, Pierre responds, “no longer with an angry, but with a questioning look.” It’s almost as if, by adopting the philosophical practices of distancing and acceptance, he no longer has the enemy in Anatole that he thought he had.

DAILY MEDITATION

And the things in our power are by nature free, not subject to restraint nor hindrance: but the things not in our power are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, in the power of others. Remember then that if you think the things which are by nature slavish to be free, and the things which are in the power of others to be your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will blame the gods and men: but if you think that only which is your own to be your own, and if you think that what is another’s as it really is, that which belongs to another, no man will ever compel you, no man will hinder you, you will never blame any man, you will accuse no man, you will do nothing involuntarily (against your will), no man will harm you, you will have no enemy, for you will not suffer any harm.

Epictetus, Enchiridion

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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