So You Still Believe in Life?

“So you still believe in life; thank God, thank God!” says Dunya to her brother Raskolnikov, in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

That belief, that affirmation of life, is not a given– not in Dostoevsky’s novel, not in our world today, not in the lives of people we know, not even in our own lives. The catalog of outrageous suffering is long, and believing in life will always will be something of a leap, a jumping out over a deep, dark chasm. Time is a mercy: temporal distance softens the stabs of shame, grief, regret and loss that accompany our days. Compassion is an even deeper balm, the salve (salvation) of shared burdens and pains.

Raskolnikov’s answer to his sister is equivocal: “I did not believe in it, but just now, as I stood with my mother’s arms around me, we both wept; I do not believe, but I have asked her to pray for me. God knows how that comes about, Dunechka; even I don’t understand any of it.”

He can’t affirm life intellectually (“I don’t understand it”), but he has believed in life through his body– with his mother’s arms around him, and in tears. Sometimes that’s all we can do, and it’s the best we can do: to hold and be held, and weep.

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