Let Us Have Compassion

Friday, January 13, 2006

I think Victor Hugo and I would have gotten along. We are both verbose. We both find digressions within our points. Below is one of my favorite passages from Les Miserables...Hugo is writing about "people under chastisement" and by that he means people in prison, or up on charges. But where he goes with it....

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Let us have compassion for those under chastisement. Alas, who are we ourselves? Who am I and who are you? Whence do we come and is it quite certain that we did nothing before we were born? This earth is not without some resemblance to a jail. Who knows but that man is a victim of divine justice? Look closely at life. It is so constituted that one senses punishment everywhere.

Are you what is known as a happy man? Yet you experience sadness every day. Every day brings its major grief or minor care. Yesterday you trembled for the health of someone dear to you, today you fear for your own; tomorrow it will be money trouble, the next day the slander of a calumniator, and on the day after that the misfortune of a friend; then there is the weather, or some possession broken or lost, or some pleasure which leaves you with an uneasy conscience; and another time it is the progress of public affairs. All this without counting the griefs of the heart. And so it goes on; as one cloud is dispelled another forms. Scarcely one day in a hundred consists of unbroken delight and sunshine. Yet you are one of the small number who are called happy! As for the rest of mankind, it is lost in stagnant night.

Thoughtful persons seldom speak of happiness or unhappiness. In this world, which is so plainly the antechamber of another, there are no happy men. The true division of humanity is between those who live in light, and those who live in darkness. Our aim must be to diminish the number of the latter and increase the number of the former. That is why we demand education and knowledge. To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

But to talk of light is not necessarily to talk of joy. One may suffer in the light; its excess burns. The flame is the enemy of the wing. To burn without ceasing to fly, that is the achievement of genius. When you have reached the stage of knowing and loving you will still suffer. The day is born in tears. The enlightened weep, if only for those still in darkness.

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Man, I love that.