Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
This post first appeared back in 2012, and has been featured several times since, each time for a new reason in an old story of evil versus good, fear versus hope, bondage versus freedom, despair versus redemption.
So once again to Nabokov.
Twenty-twenty has been a year none of us could have even imagined prior, where evil seems unleashed as never before, and hearts, heavier.
The kind of despair reflected in Nabokov’s little story (the subject of my original post) just prior to his main character’s own redemption of sorts now echoes even louder for everyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts attuned.
In our world today, I think many would agree this is a message we need to cling to because as heavy as evil in its myriad contortions weighs on one, even weights the world, it’s only ever for a season.
Hope, indeed, as Alexander Pope penned, springs eternal.
And hope can even spring suddenly in the quietest, seemingly insignificant small things that surprise us while we yet search, in our pain, for we know not what…or for an end to suffering as in the illustration offered in Nabokov’s tale of a father seeking an end to his grief amid the artifacts of his young son’s short life.
The word and Word for today on this topic that comes to mind is from the life of Joseph, who was himself besieged in various ways until his deliverance and then positioning by God to help others. It goes like this:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)
This Christmas, let the words of Joseph, Nabokov, and He Who is both Author and Finisher of our faith, and that thing which is hope, encourage and refresh you. The world is not likely going to get better soon.
We need words of hope and encouragement–and He from whence they come–as never before.
Because, beloved, we were not made for the evil ones.
We were crafted with intention by He Who beckons us, arms outstretched, offering the hope of a deliverance from what evil would wreak havoc “out there” and perhaps even “in here,” hope that can begin, perhaps surprisingly…
From Russia with Hope
The short story “Christmas” by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov is a little literary gem that for me addresses the temptation to despair when grief overshadows hope whether on a stark winter’s day or some unexpected “Christmas in July.”
Constrained with grief over the death of his young son, Sleptsov, the main character in Vladimir Nabokov’s short story “Christmas,” considers suicide.
The day after the child’s funeral, as the story goes, Sleptsov brings his son’s coffin, “weighed down, it seemed, with an entire lifetime,” to its resting place in the family vault near their summer home in the country. Finding no solace in being near the entombed body of the boy and bone-cold in the frigid Russian winterscape, Sleptsov treks back in the thinning light to the unoccupied summer manse and walks through rooms of shrouded furnishings and mute chandeliers, the flame from his kerosene lantern shadowing the walls with his solitary figure.
Arriving in the study, Sleptsov sets the lamp on the desk and opens a wooden box that holds the boy’s treasures: a butterfly net, a “biscuit tin with (a) pear-shaped cocoon,” a spreading board for mounting butterflies, and the boy’s notebook. As the father reads the son’s daily entries of the summer just past, hearing in them that beloved young voice now stilled, his grief crescendos. It is at this point he realizes what will end this “earthly life (that) lay before him, totally bared and comprehensible—and ghastly in its sadness, humiliatingly pointless, sterile, (and) devoid of miracles […]” It is at this point, Sleptsov decides to end his life. Just then he hears “a sudden snap—a thin sound like that of an overstretched rubber band breaking.”
The grieving father looks up and sees that the cocoon in the tin has “burst its tip, and a black, wrinkled creature the size of a mouse (is) crawling up the wall above the table.” Before his eyes, the Attacus moth that had lain dormant inside its “taut, leaf-and-silk envelope” slowly unfurls its great black and purple wings, emerging now because of a thin shard of warmth from the lantern’s light. The moth, rising finally under the power of those wings “(takes) a full breath under the impulse of tender, ravishing, almost human happiness”—as does Sleptsov, himself (Nabokov writes, between the remaining lines), who only moments before felt inextricably bound in his own kind of cocoon….
In this seemingly impossible scene—the metamorphosis of moth and of man in the dead of winter and of grief—hope transcends despair, a spirit bereft of comfort rekindles, and a miracle unfolds.
In Nabokov’s story, you might say that one in darkness sees a light, however fragile, even as those at the first Christmas saw a Light, emerging at just the right moment, a Light that overcame the darkness. And, another writer reveals, a Light that is “the life of men” through Whom “all things were made” (John 1:3,4) including cocoons that release extraordinary creatures, hearts that can change of a sudden, and hope that revives grieving spirits. And once again, the glory of the Lord unfurls.
I pray you too will be rekindled today in the light and warmth of Christ’s love, for He promised to never leave nor forsake you no matter how bleak the landscape of home—or of heart.
(on Nabokov’s “Christmas”)
for breath and flight,
man and moth emerge,
both lately from
the Crafter’s hand,
each sheltered while He worked.
A sinew here
a heartbeat there,
in silence crafted He,
’til at the last
His breath He gave
A sudden burst,
a shock to life
when Crafter stilled His hand,
but gave His Spir’t
to lead and guide
and clear ahead a path.
man and moth,
of new voice and wing,
the one to praise,
the other, soar,
both new life witnessing.
“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” -Jesus
Scripture: John 10:10, NIV
Image of oil lamp from PublicDomainPictures.net