Charles Wagner.

The better way (L'ami) online

. (page 5 of 12)
Online LibraryCharles WagnerThe better way (L'ami) → online text (page 5 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


time up to hatreds or vanities the dead are twice
dead. Every day they pass farther into oblivion.
But living in fraternity, in the things of the
higher life, we draw nearer to all, the living and
the dead alike.

LET us prepare for that eternal meeting
which our wavering faith realizes but
imperfectly, by a life tending gradually
toward the higher Union.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH M

GOD alone is the whole truth. He alone
possesses it in its measureless compass.
As for us, we can only pray to be
brought nearer and nearer to its light, as close as
our eyes will bear.



nr



HIS is a mysterious and truthful say*
■ ing of Christ's: " It is expedient for

"*• you that I go away; for if I go not
away, the Comforter will not come unto you."

That we must lose in the flesh in order to pos*
sess verily in the spirit is a grievous truth estab-
lished by a thousand facts.

It is through his regret for the dear ones gone
from the sight of his eyes, through the going out
of his thoughts toward those he has lost, that man
has drawn most of his certitude aboiit life beyond
this sensible world. Through the sacred cult of
remembrance he has come to look out upon a world
huge in its vastness, the existence of whose thresh-
old even, the man immersed in the visible does not
suspect*



Digitized by VjOOQIC



92 THE BETTER WAY

THE CHILD AND DEATH

The Friend: We should not fear to speak of
death to our children while they are well, if the
subject arises of itself and unavoidably; but we
should accustom them to see in death a return to
God, and teach them to know its liberative side
rather than that aspect which inspires in men the
sentiments of a slave. Happy the child who,
through the discerning love of his parents, learns
early so to think of death. In its role as one of
the powers of destructipn death has been given
an absolutely scandalous place in human thought,
religious thought included — ^that is, an unnatural
and deformed kind of religious thought, directed
away from its clarifying source. The nobler
teachings of our sacred traditions ought to arm us
against the fear of dying; but, alas! who knows a
God that saves from death? Our God handles
death as Jupiter does his thunder-bolts: it is his
principal weapon. Too often have religious beliefs
cultivated the fear of death, assigning it a lead-
ing place among our motives for action. Fear is
a demoralizing force, a generator of craven sen-
timents. We poison our souls with it. If you



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH 93

love us, teach us to combat the fear of death with
faith in God: instead of reducing us to servitude,
free us!

Nowhere else does the horrid wrong done by
terrorizing souls so clearly show itself as in the
critical moments of grave illness or great danger.



THE LAST HOUR

IN my last hour it shall be as God wills, if
only that grace remain in me which recom-
penses for all else. And yet certain deaths
which are beautiful make me envious. Why amr I
so moved reading of this poor newsboy, killed while
he was crying his journal?

The Friend: It is because he died at his post,
in the midst of his work. He recalls the courier
of Marathon who fell announcing the victory; he
recalls to each of us some obscure hero or heroine
toiling valiantly to the end through untold suf-
fering. Such lives electrify us. We should all
like to die in harness. But after all it doesn't
matter how we die, and, even if it did, we could
still have no choice. We may only ask to die
peacefully and courageously, accepting the suffer-



Digitized by VjOOQIC



94 THE BETTER WAY

ing and the weakness. Let us not give to the
thought of death the time that life demands. Lost
days make a poor pillow for slumher.



IMPRESSIONS OF EASTER

EASTER is here, the feast of renewal.
For those who have kept some contact
with tradition, if only through early mem-
ories, such a celebration brings its own reflec-
tions. For others, at this particular moment of
the year, when in our climate the awakening of
nature is seen on all sides, similar impressions
come from other- sources. To both classes the
grave question out of which come all others, the
question of life, offers itself in a guise more com-
pelling and more insinuating than its wont.

I shall give free vent to the feelings of my
heart. More than one sympathetic reader will be
with me in spirit.

My heart, whether it be touched by the grace
of spring or by that breath of eternity which the
festival of Easter symbolizes, is specially near to
those whose hope wavers or has gone out in suf-
fering and in weeping. For many, life is a great



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH 95

shadow^ a long night. They move through it^
not knowing whence they come or whither %h.ej
g09 staggering under blows whose meaning they
do not understand; bleeding from wounds whose
origin escapes them. And everything that brings
them face to face with the fact of existence stirs
in the depths of their being unutterable anguish.
Lif e, that nightmare which each day begins anew^
becomes more poignant with every springtide.
What do they want with us^ these buds that swell
and bursty these flowers piercing the ground and
opening into bloom? Bird songs wake in the
wood^ the air is full of the whir of wings^ nests
are built and made ready for the brood. And
why is all this so? Is it not the same old error
over again? To what end save suffering and the
grave is this colossal and vain efi^ort for being?
What is behind this inconceivable attempt? The
bee returning to the golden flower-cups^ the spar-
row gleaning among the grass broken bits to
weave the house of her little ones — do they bring
together aught but the proof of our irremediable
end? O Life! flower and bird possess you, and
know it not. If the morning smiles upon them,
they do not foresee the night. " They toil not.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



96 THE BETTER WAY

neither do they spin." That is much; but they
think not^ neither do they search^ nor doubt^ nor
feel disquiet about their end. Tliis is their peace.
Man knows nothing like it. To him belongs the
sad privilege of sums that add up to zero^ of bal-
ance-sheets establishing a deficit. He has the
terrible faculty of sensing active destruction^ even
in the seed.

He stumbles over the graves of children^ over
grass-grown ways once full of life and movement,
over the cold marble that covers the vanquished
in the struggle for justice, for mercy, for liberty.
The most he knows of life is the pain of living.
Those whom the spring makes melancholy have
the greatest need of the Easter message. It
brings joy with it, but not the joy of beings who
flourish in the sunshine, in health, and prosperity.
It is a joy that has its source in the crucible of
pain.

EASTER is the oasis in the desert, the rose
on the thorn-bush. Easter is life issuing
from death, having first triumphed over
it. The beast dies, but has no conception of
death; man conceives it, and succeeds in turning



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH 97

it into life by entering it with all his faculties.
He quaffs it, savors it, exhausts its bitterness, and
at last consumes it

The just man dies, no longer constrained there*
to, but willing it. Through love he gives himself,
casts himself into the gulf, and lo! the gulf is
£lled! So it is that from death comes light. He
is dead in despite of death. Let such as weep
over the old-time fatality and disaster turn tow-
ard this new fact.

Only in suffering, in willing sacrifice, and in
death transformed into action, does the higher life
appear. Elsewhere are the rudiments; here is the
finished science; elsewhere are the steps * that
mount toward some far-off height; here is the
height itself.

"TT AM the way, the truth, and the life."
I This is equivalent to saying, I am the
-** way of the true life. To suffer, to
strive, to love, to believe; to take up the cross
and bear it hopefully; to renounce self, that is to
say, to renounce life for life : to sacrifice self, that
it may bring forth fruit — herein is the secret,
human and holy, of true living. Herein is every-



Digitized by VjOOQIC



98 THE BETTER WAY

thing transformed. Instead of the outward show
— ^transitory^ already judged, hopelessly decrepit
and miserable — of an existence which seems to us
.an impotent effort to endure and to remain, we
possess ourselves of the spirit of life. The
prophet of old compassed this twofold experience
in a single cry: — ^All flesh is grass and all the
goodliness thereof is as the flower of the fields;
• . • but the word of our God shall stand
forever.

THE path to these heights is long and
waste, but it is not solitary. Whoever
has done something more than simply
to be here and cling to existence, waiting till he
should be torn away from it in spite of himself,
has left along this way the best he had, to en-
courage those who follow. Easter is the day of
all who have sown themselves like grain in the
furrows of the future. There is more here than
one who was dead coming forth from a tomb;
there is a vast chain of life, conquered from the
grave, because given in love. All the world and
all human history trembles with renewed life, fil-
tered through the deep stratum of death, where



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH 99

no impure thing can pass. When this hopeless
age-old existence seems to grasp yon and hold
jou fast^ it is there the ascent begins. From
every halting-place^ from every itnpas»e, a pos-
sible way leads toward the happy issue. The life-
giving spirit forms with any sort of situation^
even the most desperate^ a combination capable of
bringing it to a definite result.



nr



HERE are old-time superstitions^ very
— easily explained^ which have transformed
-*- "The Life to Come" into a simpl^
continuation of what seems to their votaries the
appointed human round — ^a round they would pro-
long even beyond the stars. As in olden times a
man^ if he were a great lord^ might enter church
on horseback^ so they look forward to entering
the banquet-halls of eternity with titles^ arms,
and baggage, to find hierarchies still in vogue,
and to haviDg the already ingrained satisfaction
of feeling themselves first, still ahead of them.
One might say in that case, "the sitting is con-
tinued." Those who have sometimes had enough
of the session have ceased to think it would gain



Digitized by VjOOQIC



100 THE BETTER WAY

by indefinite extension. But these are not unbe-
lievers; they are men who have directed their ex-
periments toward a higher end.

No^ the fierce desire to keep a clutch on the
things of this worlds which is tlie inspiration of
all human meanness and cruelty^ could not guide
us toward that higher life whose meaning appears
in the more luminous moments of this one. It is
a desire that leads to disenchantment^ and weighs
down our flight. We must learn to love life, not
for its own sake, as one loves a luscious fruit,
but as useful material. From the cross of Calvary
and the Garden of Gethsemane we learn that life
is the reward of a science which consists in know-
ing how to die.

If you do not learn to spell out the principles
of this science you will be condemned to wishing
to arrest the flight of time, to stem the torrent as
it rushes onward. You will undergo day by day
the torture of feeling yourself fall, without ever
having the power to seize in passing the branch
of safety that your hand grasped at. You will
grasp smoke that will vanish, and in the teeth of
your wisdom and prudent foresight every calcula-
tion you make will miscarry. From very fear of



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH 101

grazing them you will run your bark on all the
tocks you try to steer clear of.

Raise your eyes toward another ideal. Do not
take to shelter; walk not too warily; choose the
high hazard rather than the discredited way
pointed out by the fear of losing your life or
your chattels. Collect your forces and give your-
self with all your heart! Knowing joy and free-
dom^ you will quit the role of trembler^ in which
you are a prey to every ill-omened foreboding,
and join ranks with those who have lightened
baggage that they may march swiftly and un-
trammelled under the order: "Be not afraid, only
believe."

To these belong the world and the future.
Through the spirit which inspires them they see
in the dark, are warm in the cold, are rich in
what is beyond purchase. The victims of man's
justice are for them the great conquerors, and the
dead whom they love are alive.

If we could only celebrate Easter in this spirit,
how the dead would arise and the granite jaws
of those tombs be broken wherein we are held
fast by inertia, routine, untruth, the love of what
destroys us, and the time-honored formulas that



Digitized by VjOOQIC



102 THE BETTER WAY

our lips still repeat^ though their flame has gone
out on the altar of our hearts! How our closed
and blinded eyes would open to look upon that
which offers peace!

Man proclaims life perishable^ because his mind
seizes upon the vanity within it. If he perceived
the value of the passing hour^ the splendor of
the task ahead^ the grain hidden in every human
husk^ the use that he might make of what he has,
he would strike out the divine spark from the very
stones of the highway.

Ancient vestiges of a faith forever new, faint
old symbols of a mysterious hope, words of heal-
ing and of life, shake off the cerements in which
time has bound you and rise up out of the ashes.
In our wretchedness we need your morning radi-
ance. You make us to remember our immortality.
Bear us up in the journey toward the splendid
goal in the distance.

And you, too, little flowers, that each spring-
time opens, be to us the angels of good tidings.
Say to those worn out in the fight that the issue
will be favorable, that there will never be an end
of love. Here in the shadow where we dwell be
witnesses to us of the eternal stars. Bring into



Digitized by VjOOQIC



THE GATES OF DEATH 108

darkened homes and darkened hearts the reflec-
tion of heaven's blue that dwells captive in your
corollas.

MY PEACE I GIVE UNTO YOU

FATHER, I believe in Thee, I trust Thee;
stay Thou with me. I do not ask Thee
to lift the veil. ' If always I know that
Thou art there, for life or for death, what do I
need beside? When I am very weary take me in
Thy arms and close them round me. Give peace
to those I love, and the courage to march on and
to fight.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



WITH THE YOUNG



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



WITH THE YOUNG

YOUNG AND OLD

The Friend:

WHY do you look so compassionately
on this young and joyful company?
— I seem to see the movements of
pitiful fools.
The Friend: What do you mean?
*— The world is full of misery and calamities.
Here^ they are dying of famine; there^ heroism
and freedom are no match for numbers; else-
where^ massacre is rif e^ or the earth vomits flames
upon its inhabitants. Evil passions are let loose
among men and the future is dark. What have
these young people to hope for? The youths
will soon be sacrificed in unrighteous war; the
young girls will become wives ill-treated or neg*
lected^ and mothers who^ faded before the time
from griefs and cares^ will raise their young with
107



Digitized by VjOOQIC



108 THE BETTER WAY

pain and difficulty. Where are they who gayly
danced twenty years ago ? The wheels of life have
caught them and ground them down^ and all their
joyous folly has taken wings. Over the wall of
yonder cemetery I see the crosses on graves dug
all too soon. How many of you who danced in
early days are lying there? It all makes me un-
utterably sad. You do not know how I suffer as
I watch this bright-eyed^ careless crowd entering
upon life with a confidence doomed to the worst
disillusionmenL

The Friend: I understand you. Your pain is
not imaginary^ and I share it; but what then?
Shall we propose to them to put on mourning in
anticipation of future woe, to lie down and wait
for the enemy's bullets, or for the development
of the diseases whose subtle beginnings are per-
haps already undermining their forces? Are we
able even to tell each of these striplings to what
to dedicate his future tears — ^whether to prema-
ture death or to a lingering, solitary old age?
And suppose they should burden their hearts with
the presentiment of all misfortunes united, and
imagine themselves dead in advance, victims of all
the epidemics, a prey to all the warring microbes;



Digitized by VjOOQIC



WITH THE YOUNG 109

and suppose they should see themselves in their
future careers^ betrayed^ persecuted^ slowly break-
ing under the stress of heartache — ^what good
would it do them? Would the picture upon which
we had invited them to look inspire them to effort?
— I follow the drift of your remonstrance^ but
my heart contracts with sorrow before this care-
less joy so soon to rush over unnumbered pitfalls.
The Friend: There is grief which does only
harm^ both to him who feels it and to others: I
fear yours is of that kind. It will never prevent
one of these far-away and unsuspected evils; all
it can do is to destroy the peace of the present.
To rejoice is an excellent thing. Your sadness
is a proof of distrust toward God Himself. The
tiny linnet that in spite of present dangers and
future tempests and winters^ sits on its eggs^ feeds
its little ones^ and chants its loves from the frag-
ile bough, is nearer the truth than you. The
graveyard is never far away, I know, and sooner
or later everything in the visible world must end
there; but is it such a dreadful end of all things
to fall asleep some day under the watch of God?
I do not care even to speak of the luminous space
on which this dark hole that is the grave opens.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



110 THE BETTER WAY

The dead are not of your opinion. They are
gracious toward misfortune; indulgent and clem-
ent toward laughing youth. The broken trunks
lying under the moss are a part of the forest,
and those who sleep are with us in heart. When
fresh and ringing voices celebrate life, anima-
tion, joy, the dead chant the bass and make the
harmony. Do you not love flowers?
— I delight in them. I believe they have souls.
They tell us with ingenuous grace of things splen-
did and undreamt of. They are the little sisters
of the stars, and, like their elders, they shed
heavenly light along our dark ways.

Thb Friend: But where are they lovelier than
on the mossy stumps of old oaks or on crumbling
walls? Do you know of anything more cheering
than this contrast between nodding swarms of
bell-flowers and wild pinks, and the wrecks and
ruins over which they clamber? Lay aside your
melancholy: the thoughts it inspires in you are of
doubtful quality. If your heart is like the crum-
bling ruin do not forbid the springtime to open
its buds there. Get into harmony with it. Do
better, if you can, by becoming a convert to joy.
The foolishness in this matter belongs to your



Digitized by VjOOQIC



WITH THE YOUNG 111

dark mood. You would be much less the fool if
you went among these children. A grown-up who
loves young people well enough to be young with
them is a man after my own mind. If your seri-
ous affairs leave you some leisure^ there is no
better way of employing it. To smile at youth,
under your gray locks, with the traces of sorrow
on your brow, and to rejoice when it rejoices —
such is the business of age as I understand it
Life is obscure; you carry about the proofs of
its obscurity. But this is only one more reason
for flooding its morning with lighL Love well
these young folk, and so far as you can, encour-
age them, comfort them, and illuminate them with
the inner light. There is in youth a vein of hope
that God Himself renews with each generation.
Take care not to breathe over this gracious and
fragile flower the breath of a false wisdom.
You should rather light again your torch at its
torch. If you know how to smile with them, they
will know how to be serious with you when the
hour comes to put into the heady wine of their
cup a little fresh water from the well of your
experience.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



118 THE BETTER WAY



ON GROWING OLD

IS it not sad to grow old?
The Friend: Say rather that it is a very
difficult art^ and one which few men have
ever acquired. But where is he who understands
his trade? Do the young know how to he young?
the rich to he rich? Graciously to hear health is
perhaps as rare as it is so to bear illness. Each
one dabbles in the business of others and gives
them advice.

To grow old is sad indeed^ if what you want is
to hold back the receding years^ to keep your
hair from growing white^ your eyes from becom-
ing dim^ and the wrinkles from chiselling their
way across your brow. But if from all these
vicissitudes to which life subjects you, you draw
a bit of wisdom, of profit, of goodness, to grow
old is to become free and large. One of the
most beautiful things in the world is an old per-
son who, made better by experience, more indul-
gent, more charitable, loves mankind in spite
of its wretchedness and adores youth without the
slightest tendency to mimic it. Such a person



Digitized by VjOOQIC



WITH THE YOUNG 118

is like an old Stradivarius whose tone has be-
come so sweet that its value is increased a hun-
dredfold^ and it seems almost to have a souL

UNEASY FATHERS

YOUfH is right hard7> nothing escapes
its ^^evolutionary spirit. My big lads say
at t^ble the most prepokterous things; it
is an every-day inatter to have them advance the
most subversive Ideas^ to their own delight and
my thorough discomfiture. What can I do to put
an end to it?

The Friend: These lordly youths have the
temper of their age: see that you keep that of
your own. They are hot-headed: you must be
well-balanced and moderate. Why should you re-
strain their speech? Because they talk rank fool-
ishness^ threatening to the peace of family life
and to established order? First of all^ are you
quite sure that their ideas are always bad? Truth
itself can be offensive^ and you know that it is
sometimes on the lips of babes. But if all they
say were foolishness^ it is infinitely less danger-
ous said than thought and kept hidden. Keep



Digitized by VjOOQIC



114 THE BETTER WAY

them from talking! — ^would you have them perish
from suppressed confidence?

You should be very careful about quelling their
exuberance. Let it have free vent under your
eyes. If a bomb explodes^ don't cry out. Listen
and ponder. Get your wisdom in readiness to
serve their inexperience when, the ^reworks once
let off, hours of calm reasonableness arrive. Do
not attempt to assail their position on the spot,
when they are transported with ardor and intox-
icated with the sound of their own voices. If
you do you will be overborne, like a straw in a
torrent. If you have patience, and know how to
detect the propitious moment, you shall cross the
torrent at a ford. There is in each of these
young fellows two persons: the one a radical, who
is often apparently most disrespectful and takes
pleasure in questioning whatever is accepted, and
contesting all recognized authority; the other, a
disciple, full of deference, who asks nothing bet-
ter than to follow a master. The radical is a dis-
turber of the peace, but he is necessary. His
function is to prevent the young from becoming
the chattels of the old. His bombs sometimes
break windows, but such misdeeds give us better



Digitized by VjOOQIC



WITH THE YOUNG 116

air to breathe. Let him accomplish his mission.
Watch him playing his part^ ready to do battle for
whatever he presents as true. It is the best fash-
ion of contending against that which is false and
abnormal. I^t him have full liberty to unpack
his arsenal, to expose its contents to the noontide,
to that good light of day in which everything
takes true form and proper place. So we shall
keep his confidence in us, which he would lose if
we rebuffed him and tyrannized over him. What
is more, our cordial fashion of treating the radical
will keep intact the good-will of the disciple, a
precious ally in his place, but faithful comrade
of the other, whose exile and disgrace he is ever
ready to share.

THE MOTHER'S SIDE

OUR daughters want to discuss everything
with us. It was different in our time;
we had more respect for our parents.
How can we avoid these painful clashes of opin-
ion, this hasty exchange of words that one after-


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryCharles WagnerThe better way (L'ami) → online text (page 5 of 12)