the beautiful soul

An Essay By Ben // 7/25/2002

Last night I found myself reading and reading in bed while the sounds of my family rolled up the wood staircase and into my room. The water faucet in the kitchen, the clip-clop of my little sister's "ruby slippers," a piano key being played, and the voice of my father saying the goodnight prayer. But I hardly noticed the noises or the minutes slipping by then. Only now, looking back and creating a picture of myself in my mind, do those details come into view. Strange how that works. While I was reading, I was in a Russia of many years ago listening to a conversation about children in Switzerland. Remembering last night I do not remember how the hills of Switzerland were described, but I do remember the sounds my ears heard and my brain never really processed.

I am reading The Idiot by Dostoevsky, that sensitive and human Russian man. The story is about a man frequently called an idiot because of the way he talks, the way he carries himself in society. He's a man of about 24 – I'm not so sure of his age – who had to live in Switzerland in order to recover from the severe fits he had in his childhood. That's the simple reason why he lived there. He is very simple, honest, forthright. He speaks with eagerness and then feels embarrassed. Yet, he has a reason for everything he says, and he speaks poetically. He tells stories very well. And what stories! His feelings about a man whom he saw executed for a crime. A young consumptive girl named Marie who lived in his village and who everyone despised for her ugliness and her sin. He tells how he kissed her not because he loved her but because he felt so sorry for her. And the children of the village saw him do it and threw stones at him until he began talking to them. Then they, too, loved Marie and brought her food when she was hungry and small gifts when she was utterly alone. They believed the idiot really loved her; and on that point, he says, he did not tell them the complete truth: that he was only sorry for her. But in everything else he was honest to them, for children understand as much as adults. He told them stories and they grew to love him, too, and to follow him around. The town people became angry with him and tried to keep their children from going to him.

I know the picture you must be forming of this man can't be as deep or as real as the one Dostoevsky carefully and sensitively puts together. The idiot is different, but he's real. A real man who could have lived. There's a quote of Dostoevsky on the back of the book where he says, referring to the book, "it has been my intent to show a truly beautiful soul."

In my small experience writing stories I know how hard it becomes to paint the portrait of a good man or woman without losing the sense of reality in them. Maybe this is hard because I am not as good as the person I want to create? I would treasure such an ability. Come to think of it, the same happens in drawing. If I told you to sketch the face of a beautiful mother in her mid 40s, or the face of an infant, you would become frustrated – or I would not be satisfied easily with your effort. But, on the other hand, if I were to tell you to draw the face of a twisted monster or a raging man, you would make something much more satisfactory. Look at most of the fiction coming out in bookstores these days. Adultery, murder, science fiction, drama, adventure... everything – but I haven't found much that deals with the beautiful soul, have you? I can imagine layers of complexity onto an otherwise shallow character, but when will I find a man or woman in literature or movies for whom I can truly say, "I admire him, I admire her." I don't want to see the perfect soul, if that means the person will ring false, mechanical. I wonder if we can even fathom what that perfect soul would be like, much less communicate it. Or maybe we see perfect souls all the time – maybe we see so many miracles that we don't recognize them.

Still, throw the word "beautiful" in instead of "perfect," and I begin to have hope in our ability to portray the soul and the man. Every artist I respect has captured some aspect of the beauty of the human soul in his or her work, I believe. Blind Homer felt the soft wind blowing his hair, the coarse sand on his feet, the water rolling against the roots of olive trees, and the silence on the mountain top. And he saw – really saw – Penelope weeping in her valley and looking past the waves at the horizon for her husband, Odysseus, and his return home.... So many years and cultures later and different, and here we have Jane Austen who never married, who died young, who wrote about people like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. She helped us meet two people who had good and bad intentions but who grew and learned and married their virtue together. In Russia Dostoevsky came within minutes of being executed himself, spent time in prison, time in Siberia, married a wonderful woman who brought color back to his life. And he wrote about a man who loved children, a man who was wiser than he believed himself to be, who smoked, who kissed the portrait of a beautiful lady just because it was beautiful.

Today I sat at a computer at work hacking at medical products for nine hours. I don't hate the work; I don't love it. Sometimes I enjoy it. Yet where, would you say, does this work connect with The Idiot? How does air conditioning, a large computer screen that aches at the eyes, tepid coffee in a Styrofoam cup, seven foot respiratory tubing, and a conversation between two women in the cubicle next to me about how they may get married to the men they live with someday – how does all this reconcile with peace in nature, beautiful souls, love of some art, vocation? Where do they come together? I have an idea of the answer. We all have a sense of it hidden somewhere.

Enjoy apricotpie!

Ben

Comments

beautiful soul

U made me cry.....Thank You

Anonymous | Sun, 10/07/2007

Navigation

User login

Please read this before creating a new account.