the rank of holy fool

“The kingdom of Heaven will come true, but first the period of human isolation must conclude.’ ‘What isolation?” I asked him. ‘That which is now reigning everywhere, especially in our age, but it is not all concluded yet, its term has not come. For everyone now strives most of all to separate his person, wishing to experience the fullness of life within himself, and yet what comes of all his efforts is not the fullness of life but full suicide, for instead of the fullness of self-definition, they fall into complete isolation. For all men in our age are separated into units, each seeks seclusion in his own hole, each withdraws from the others, hides himself, and hides what he has, and ends by pushing himself away from people and pushing people away from himself. He accumulates wealth in solitude, thinking: how strong, how secure I am now; and does not see, madman as he is, that the more he accumulates, the more he sinks into suicidal impotence. For he is accustomed to relying only on himself, he has separated his unit from the whole, he has accustomed his soul to not believing in people’s help, in people or in mankind, and now only trembles lest his money and his acquired privileges perish. Everywhere now the human mind has begun laughably not to understand that a man’s true security lies not in his own solitary effort, but in the general wholeness of humanity. But there must needs come a term to this horrible isolation, and everyone will all at once realize how unnaturally they have separated themselves one from another… But until then we must keep hold of the banner, and every once in a while, if only individually, a man must suddenly set an example, and draw the soul from its isolation for an act of brotherly communion, though it be with the rank of holy fool.”
– The Brothers Karamazov, 1880


Mr. Dostoevsky, whatever would you say if you were here now, if you saw our television heroes, our Hollywood ideals, our daytime advice-givers? How many new ways we’ve invented to use one another? Somehow I believe with you that this, even this relentless individualism, too, shall pass, and yet there are days I wonder how many centuries it will be before the end. And who am I, even I, to preach with you, to pretend I can “set an example”? I who fall mute under the weight of all the most important words, words so precious they must be shared but still I sit silent, afraid to lose my rein on them – I know as little of “brotherly communion” as any other grasping miser.

 And yet I see so very clearly how you see, how you still have hope, hope from the depths of the very depravity glowering stark against the beauty of the innocent world, somehow forgiving us by its own continued existence. I can see with you that Providence is everywhere and though we have sinned against everything in every way, He is yet larger and we are yet loved. It’s in your story and in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” following me about these past few days – love is not a victory march, at least not yet, instead it’s just humble.  Because that’s the truth of it, we don’t deserve any of this gorgeous world and those who think we do will soon learn to sing in a minor key; and yet those are the songs that stay with you, there’s another dangerous beauty to them.

How can I learn to say, Mr. Dostoevsky, what a sweetness there is beyond the shame of finally losing that grip on the last thing that’s ours? The day the truth finds us – there is nothing to rely on only in myself – let me find the strength not to seek out a lie, but instead walk bravely through the mourning at the loss of me, because there’s another self at the end of that road.

Only there lies the fullness of life.

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  June 27, 2012

    One of the best days of my life was when I stood in front of the Hoochie house and loosened my grip on everything in this world. I gave every single material thing, including Grammy’s dishes and silverware, to God, to burn clean down to the ground. I will never take all that crap back onto my back to cart around mentally. Things are things and people are people and it’s best we get and keep them straight.

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