Day 104 of A Year of War and Peace
While on a walk through the rustic Sicilian countryside New York City gangster Michael Corleone once crossed paths with a lovely local girl and was immediately stopped dead in his tracks. It was as if his heart were simultaneously elated and arrested by an overwhelming pulsing through his veins of awe and desire. His Italian bodyguards described his condition as being struck by the “thunderbolt.”
Very little is known about the thunderbolt other than that it is native to all lands and it may strike at any time without warning.
Today it strikes Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.
Perhaps Prince Andrei’s heart was ripe for the striking. You’ll recall that in yesterday’s reading he ruminated forlornly on an oak tree and the hopelessness of life. That depression carries into today’s chapter, at least in the early stages as he leaves his estate to visit the district’s Marshal of Nobility on an errand. As it turns out the Marshal is none other than Count Ilya Andreevich Rostov.
Old man Rostov, it turns out, is still the same old incorrigible profligate. He’s entertaining everybody in the district with “hunts, theatricals, dinners, and music.” It’s into this scene of debt fueled plenty that Prince Andrei enters by carriage. As he enters he hears the merrymaking of some female voices. He spots one of them, Natasha, running around and shouting something to her friend.
A pang bangs his heart.
Later, at dinner, he can’t keep his eyes of her. But, still the prematurely aged curmudgeon, he asks himself, “What is she thinking about? Why is she so happy?” Clearly, for ponderers of hopeless oak like Prince Andrei, Natasha’s mirth and jocundity is an alien concept. It doesn’t turn him off though. Quite the contrary.
At bedtime he can’t sleep so he goes to the window and contemplates the vista there before him. But in the room above him he hears the rustling of dresses and followed by Natasha’s voice. He freezes, fearful that any noise he makes will betray his unintentional presence there.
Natasha, it turns out, can’t sleep either. She’s too excited. Sonya attempts to get her to go to sleep but Natasha refuses. She says the night is simply too beautiful to ignore. She draws Sonya’s attention in particular to the moon. She finds it absolutely enchanting and glorious. She wants to curl up into a ball and just float away towards it.
It’s curious to note how different Natasha’s moon is from Andrei’s oak. Natasha’s moon is skyward, light-giving, and aspirational. Andrei’s oak is immobile, grounded, and bleak in its old age.
But maybe Natasha’s moon, shining down, can cast a new light on Andrei’s oak. Maybe. We’re told, after all, that Andrei goes to sleep that night with “an unexpected turmoil of youthful thoughts and hopes, contrary to the tenor of his life.”
So strikes the thunderbolt.
And is the image of our frail mortality for ever present with you, to throw a damp on your gayest hours, and poison even those joys which love inspires? Consider rather, that if life be frail, if youth be transitory, we should well employ the present moment, and lose no part of so perishable an existence. Yet a little moment and these shall be no more. We shall be, as if we had never been. Not a memory of us be left upon earth; and even the fabulous shades below will not afford us a habitation. Our fruitless anxieties, our vain projects, our uncertain speculations shall all be swallowed up and lost. Our present doubts, concerning the original cause of all things, must never, alas! be resolved. This alone we may be certain of, that, if any governing mind preside, he must be pleased to see us fulfil the ends of our being, and enjoy that pleasure, for which alone we were created. Let this reflection give ease to your anxious thoughts; but render not your joys too serious, by dwelling for ever upon it. It is sufficient, once, to be acquainted with this philosophy, in order to give an unbounded loose to love and jollity, and remove all the scruples of a vain superstition: But while youth and passion, my fair one, prompt our eager desires, we must find gayer subjects of discourse, to intermix with these amorous caresses.
David Hume, The Epicurean