A humble man and a stumbling block


A window to one’s soul – at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant.

I once knew a man who went through some radical change. He used to be oblivious, concerned with himself, but then he became peaceful and, with that, you could sense a powerful presence when you were next to him. It felt as if his gaze was so strongly focused on his inner self that he could see through you–paradoxical, I know, but one needs to see one’s shortcomings to be able to fill the emptiness of another.

But still, I also remember that somehow his new being, although it fascinated and attracted me, was a stumbling block. When he was oblivious, I could see his defects, which justified my positive self-image. Now, his presence revealed my own defects and the darkness of my own corner. This bothered me. It was perhaps a sort of envy, but probably much more the inability to deal with my ugliness.

You know, at times I think that the ugliness of one’s soul is the most pernicious thing of human life. The soul is hidden to most, and one can harbor there negative thoughts, envy, or desires that are not visible from the outside. To the others, one may seem a saint, for none of one’s public gestures would say otherwise. However, those hidden things, well covered by the appearance of blessedness, eat slowly at one’s capacity for goodness. But then a man like my friend appears and, by his goodness, reveals to oneself those things that one has even forgotten. And one realizes that he, one’s friend, knows.

It is quite easy to hate a good man, even if he does not do anything. His goodness bothers, for goodness is a light that reveals the dark spots of one’s being.

In Brothers Karamazov, there is one scene that depicts this. A mysterious visitor comes to Fr. Zosima when he was in his youth. The visitor confesses that he had murdered someone. Zosima encourages him to confess, and the visitor leaves having this intention in mind. But that night he returns to Zosima a second time, and the two of them sit in silence. A while later, after he confesses, the visitor has another confession to make. He tells Zosima, “Do you remember that occasion when I came to see you the second time, at midnight? I even asked you specially not to forget it. Do you know why I came back? I came back to kill you!”

He continues: “I walked out that time into the darkness and wandered through the streets, struggling with my inner self. And suddenly I felt such hatred for you that my heart could hardly bear it. ‘He’s the only one,’ I thought, ‘who has me in his clutches and can judge me […]’ And it wasn’t that I was afraid that you’d report me (the idea never occurred to me), but I thought: ‘ow am I going to look him in the eye if I don’t denounce myself?’ And even if you were on the other side of the world, but alive, I would still not be able to abide the thought that you were alive, that you knew everything and were judging me. And I began to hate you, as though you were responsible for everything. […] I simply hated you, and wanted to avenge myself upon you with all my strength. But the Lord overcame the devil in my heart. I tell you, though, you had never been closer to death.'”

There is much danger for the good people of this world. I do not know whether they know who we are, but, faced with them, we know who we are. And it hurts. May they always be protected.



About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
This entry was posted in Dostoevsky, Orthodoxy, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

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