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This week we read the final two chapters of the main text of War and Peace. You did it! (Or maybe not, and you’re just reading the recaps anyways, which is totally fine.) We’re now into epilogue territory for the next few weeks, which starts seven years later and with plenty of philosophical recapping from Tolstoy.
Before we get into all that, let’s take a brief look at how Tolstoy ended the primary story and the transformation the characters went through.
When I first read War and Peace in the spring of 2020, the ending didn’t stick with me. Perhaps I was in a rush to get through the epilogue and finish the dang thing, perhaps simply because my mind wandered a bit in the midst of the early pandemic days.
Whatever the case, after reading it again, I’m a little surprised that it didn’t stick—the last handful of chapters before the epilogue are just beautiful.
The final lines, in fact, are among the most moving of the entire book:
“Pierre’s madness simply meant that he didn’t wait, as in days gone by, for people to show personal qualities, what he might call virtues, before loving them. With his heart overflowing with love he loved people for no reason at all, and then had no trouble discovering many a sound reason that made them worth loving.”
It’s a stunning, revolutionary idea, isn’t it?
Here is where I see Tolstoy’s conception of Christianity most shine through. Here is where I see Tolstoy’s humanity shine through. Here is where I see the sheer beauty of this novel shine through.
Over the course of 1,000+ pages we’ve been annoyed by these characters’ lack of growth, their petulant attitudes, their shallow behaviors, their roller coaster of virtuous and downright evil actions.
And now, finally, Pierre seems to have arrived at something of a conclusion.
Earlier in Pierre’s quest for enlightenment, he’d focus all his energy on changing people—on getting them to live up to his lofty standards. He tried so hard to find purpose, almost like a Where’s Waldo? version of it, that he couldn’t see the life right in front of him.
But after the war, after his POW experience, and after reckoning with the trauma of the previous years, he had a true epiphany: love cannot wait. It must be acted upon with haste.
America is, obviously, at one of the most divided points in our national history. People with differing beliefs are not only unlikely to be friendly, but unlikely to even have a simple conversation. Nobody, on either side, is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to someone with the wrong political sign in their yard.
We look for reasons to not engage people. We look for reasons to not love them—all it takes is one thing: anti-vaxxer, pro-abortion, different parenting style . . . you undoubtedly know others. We find that thing, and write ‘em off. Or we find that thing and still give them a chance, but with a pessimistic, one-strike-and-you’re-out mentality.
As Tolstoy implores, through Pierre, we need to love first.
I need to love first.
Give people a chance to prove that they’re worth loving instead of the other way around.
“He loved people for no reason at all.”
Through all of Tolstoy’s philosophizing, through the windows he’s given us into the lives of Russia’s elite society, through all the societal upheaval, through all the needless war, this is the ultimate point of the novel—the ultimate point of life.
Maybe, just maybe, the novel is so long and sometimes meandering and frustratingly back and forth when it comes to character growth because it’s a true reflection of life itself.
It takes a while—plenty of ups and downs and forward steps and backwards steps—to figure what life is really all about.
If I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t realize some of life’s big truths until these pandemic years. As in War and Peace, it’s in upheaval that we often find real meaning.
Before, I hadn’t necessarily known the importance of my community of friends—I still classify myself as an introvert, but I now know just how important those social connections are. I call and text my friends far more than I used to. My wife and I decided to have a third kiddo sooner rather than later. I’ve made a career change with life in mind, knowing that work should fit into life rather than the other way around.
And even now, I certainly don’t have things figured out. I have to remind myself every day to love more and judge less. There are so many ways in which I’ve seen my own journey mirror Pierre’s—the false bravado of youthfulness, the impatience with other people’s lack of growth, the desire for heroism.
But in the end, it’s all about love.
I can only hope, through my own actions and growth, that someday I’m known as someone who “loved people for no reason at all.”
May we heed that call, especially in the midst of this holiday season.
Thanks so much for reading with me. In the coming week we’re reading Chapters 6-12 of the first epilogue.