Five speeches that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave in the U.S. and in Britain in 1975 and 1976 make the book, Warning to the West. Today I sat on a log at the beach and got on with reading this collection that I’d started before Christmas; a while later I sat in my car overlooking the ocean and finished it.
It’s a nice little book, if you’d like a taste of Solzhenitsyn but don’t feel up to tackling one of his novels or The Gulag Archipelago. He said he prefers to write, but his speeches are powerful, and complement his writings. Taken altogether, these talks present a lot of history “from the inside,” and the perspective of someone whose analysis is based on thorough knowledge. His unique vantage point combines with true wisdom.
In different striking and blunt words to different groups, such as U.S. legislators and BBC listeners, he gives his prophetic message. While he uses details of events that were then recent history to make his points to his audience at the time, the heart of his concerns is ever pertinent and enduring.
“There is a German proverb which runs Mut verloren — alles verloren. ‘When courage is lost, all is lost.’ There is another Latin one, according to which loss of reason is the true harbinger of destruction. But what happens to a society in which both these losses — the loss of courage and the loss of reason — intersect? This is the picture which I found the West presents today.”
“It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that ‘revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.’ That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.”
We were sawing firewood when we picked up an elm log and gave a cry of amazement. It was a full year since we had chopped down the trunk, dragged it along behind a tractor and sawn it up into logs, which we had then thrown on to barges and wagons, rolled into stacks and piled up on the ground – and yet this elm log had still not given up! A fresh green shoot had sprouted from it with a promise of a thick, leafy branch, or even a whole new elm tree.
We placed the log on the sawing-horse, as though on an executioner’s block, but we could not bring ourselves to bite into it with our saw. How could we? That log cherished life as dearly as we did; indeed, its urge to live was even stronger than ours.”
“I wish you many years — but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in the world isn’t really so healthy. When a man is too happy inthis world, he forgets God and forgets death.”
— Elder Paisios
It is customary in the Orthodox Church to wish people “Many years!” or to sing the whole hymn, “God grant you many years…” (x3 of course) on any happy occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. Three birthdays of my children and grandchildren are coming up this week and next, so the quote is timely.
In the last ten days Soldier’s family and I did not think much about death, we were so happy together. Still, we didn’t forget God for long periods, because we know to Whom to be thankful. The children and their liveliness was the focus of our attention. When fear grips our hearts over what deathliness they will have to encounter in the future, we try to pray….
They departed yesterday, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Kate and Tom are in Panama, very securely quarantined there for their jobs, I’m afraid. I see their family on FaceTime. I don’t plan to visit Pearl in Wisconsin in the next months, because I already went there in fall and winter, and would like to experience that part of the country in a different season next time.
Pathfinder is in the middle of smoke; no one would want to go there unnecessarily. It’s kinda smoky where Pippin is, too, but I hope to go next week anyway, to be with Ivy for her birthday; I missed it last year.
Pippin brought her three down last weekend to see their cousins.
The kids gathered around the Lego bin right away.
We went to the beach again,
a different one with lots of marine plants to identify.
The sky was not orange that time.
One of those nights at bedtime Ivy asked me to fasten her nightgown in the back — the one I originally made for Aunt Kate decades ago — but only one of the three buttons could reach its buttonhole. Next morning we agreed that I would sew her a new nightgown, and we sat browsing flannel prints at my desktop; she started with the idea of a pink flowered nightie, but when she saw the cats, she changed her mind. I ordered the cat fabric.
“The Socialist saw plainly the rights of the Society; the Anarchist saw the rights of the Individual. How therefore were these to be reconciled? The Church stepped in at that crucial point and answered, By the Family—whether domestic or Religious. For in the Family you have both claims recognized: there is authority and yet there is liberty. For the union of the Family lies in Love; and Love is the only reconciliation of authority and liberty.” — Robert Hugh Benson
Liam found a California Sister butterfly (some might know it as “Arizona Sister”!) and when Ivy said, “Can I have it?” he let it crawl onto her hand.
“One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the marketplace. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happytoo, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.”
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Also while six grandchildren were on the premises, four of them helped Soldier to stack a cord of oak firewood. I had on hand children’s gloves for such a time as this. Even four-year-old Brodie was a willing worker who did not tire easily; he lugged logs for quite a while before he even interrupted his flow to put shoes on.
My son shopped all over town with me, considering which wood stove I should buy to replace my current one that is dying. It was so helpful to have help in choosing such a big item. It’s scheduled to be installed before winter.
“The family is the test of freedom;
because the family is the only thing that the free man makes
for himself and by himself.”
— G.K. Chesterton
Recently I got the bright idea to do as my grandfather had done when I was in my teens: Once when we were visiting him he told us four children, of whom I was the oldest, that we might take home and keep any four books from his vast shelves. I still own my four books. My own shelves are loaded with titles that I know my grandchildren of various ages would enjoy, but they aren’t ever around long enough to think of perusing the shelves.
So I told them the same this week, Please take as many as four books home with you. Two immediately wanted Socks for Supper.
The younger children who aren’t fluent readers needed some help to choose books that they didn’t already have at home, but in the end everyone took at least one. No one took four, which was interesting; maybe they aren’t developing their grandmother’s book gluttony. Does it surprise you that I just ordered replacements for two of the books they took?
Scout carried off dog stories by Albert Payson Terhune, and a cookbook. Liam took Finn Family Moomintroll, Rockinghorse Secret, and The Five Sisters, which I recently bought but hadn’t read. Laddie settled on The Pig in the Spigot, even though the illustrations are weird, we all agree.
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” -C.S. Lewis
One of the last jobs we worked on together was dehydrating a few of the apples that we’d bought at the farm. I cored them, two boys sliced, and one arranged the slices on the trays. The fruit dried all through the night and the rings were packed into bags to take on their journey home. Good-bye! Good-bye! and Godspeed!
“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye
and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them with you
in your heart, your mind, your stomach,
because you do not just live in a world
but a world lives in you.”