Thursday, October 12, 2006

As You Would Children--More on The Brothers Karamazov

Reading, blessedly, Brothers Karamazov a few Sundays ago--and, as one “can live for two months on a good compliment” (Mark Twain), one can live on a good prose fragment at least that long--I was struck with Zossima's wisdom, as related by Alyosha: “care for most people exactly as one would for children, and for some of them as one would for the sick in hospitals.” That was not an indication of a level of paternalism, but a level of care and tenderness, wisdom and understanding. (Appreciation and excitement could be included, too.)

Example: Last night my four-year-old son found me after finding himself in a compounded mess. I cleaned him up, then cleaned the mess up (no, it wouldn't have been better for him to do it--trust me). I was in a high level of displeasure last night, but this morning it comes, as it always does, clearer: He was trying to do the right thing--he was trying to avoid a problem, but didn't make it in time. Then he was trying to fix a problem, but really couldn't on his own. And finally, he was seeking help from someone who had an interest in his wellbeing--me. What had he done worthy of reprimand?

Maybe that's what's indicated in treating people like children: not the rude and selfish ways children are sometimes treated (and as I acted last night, propelled appropriately by duty to help the boy, all the while thinking how inconvenienced I was), but the way I knew I could have treated him: with perspective, appreciation for what he tried to do, appreciation for what he is, and a large measure of compassion because I make bigger messes, figuratively speaking, that are not at all as innocent, and certainly more consequential.


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