Friday, March 13, 2009

A little Voltaire never hurt anyone...

I will soon be teaching a few chapters of Voltaire's Candide to my students. Poor young things! I was reviewing the text, and read the final page. Here's a quote from the philosopher (of sorts) of the story, speaking to the main character after many years of hardship:

"All events are linked together in the best of all possible worlds; for after all, if you had not been expelled from a fine castle with great kicks in the backside for love of Mademoiselle Cunegonde, if you had not been subjected to the Inquisition, if you had not traveled about America on foot, if you had not given the Baron a great blow with your sword, if you had not lost all your sheep from the good country of Eldorado, you would not be here eating candied citrons and pistachios."

Fundamentally, this is Adam's philosophy of life. His glass is half-full. Granted, Voltaire is satirizing this view, but still, that doesn't prevent some people from holding the very view he ridicules in poor Dr. Pangloss.

Life is strewn with troubles. They link life together like a daisy chain. It's said of the Greeks that peace, for them, was only a brief interruption between wars. It seems that in our life, times of relative prosperity and peace are just short spaces in which we catch our breath, readying for the next plunge into trouble. When will it be over?

But Adam maintains still that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Please don't take this to mean that he doesn't believe that heaven will be better! He honestly wouldn't trade his troubles. I sigh a little as I write that. I would trade them, as I experience them. After they're over, sure -- why not keep them! They have done their jobs of instruction. Everyone likes the teacher, once the class is over and passed.

Someday, we'll get to the final page of our story, and hopefully we will be enjoying citron and pistachios. And perhaps we won't get there, without today's grief. May it soon be over!

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