Volume 9 - Issue 03
March 2011
Other Articles

 

‘Where Love Is, God Is’

Leo Tolstoy

 

If ever a writer lived with an infectious love for life, it was Leo Tolstoy. A great and inspirational teacher of human nature, the world that Tolstoy creates is so real that his characters are highly recognizable. So vividly does he lead us into living their experiences that reading his stories gives a deep insight into our own everyday circumstances. Despite the thousands of miles that separate many of us from Tolstoy’s country and over a century from his time, his art remains deeply personal to each one of his readers anywhere in the world.

Where Love Is, God Is’ is a condensed version of the original story. Like most of his works, this adaptation too exalts the virtues of courage, compassion, and sincerity. It also underlines that it is not the grand gestures, but the small ones, that determine the quality of our relationships with those around us; it is the smallest acts of kindness that can make a world of difference in another person’s life.

In a certain town, there lived a cobbler, Martin by name. He had a tiny room in a basement and through a window, all he could see was the feet of people passing by. Martin could, however, recognize everyone by their boots. There was hardly a pair in the neighborhood that had not gone through his hands, at least once or twice.

Martin had plenty to do, for he worked well, used good material, did not charge too much, and could be relied upon. He had always been a good man. However, in his old age, he began to think more about his soul and how to draw closer to God.

Not long ago his wife had died, leaving him with a three-year-old son. His other older children had all died in infancy. At first, Martin thought of sending his little son to his sister's house in the country, but then he felt sorry to part with the boy and decided to keep him.

 

As luck would have it, when the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a source of support and joy, he fell ill and died. Martin buried his son and gave way to despair so great that he continually murmured against God. In his sorrow, he prayed again and again that he too might die, reproaching God for having taken the son he loved, his only son, while he, old as he was, remained alive. Soon afterwards, Martin stopped going to church.

One day, an old pilgrim called on Martin on his way back from the Tróitsa Monastery. Martin opened his heart to him and told him he no longer wanted to live and how he has been asking God to take him too.

The old man said he had no right to say such things. “We cannot judge God's ways. It is not our reasoning but God's will that decides. If God willed that your son should die and you should live, it must be best so. One must live for God alone, for He has given us this life,” the pilgrim replied.

Martin was silent awhile, and then asked, "But how is one to live for God?"

The old man answered, "How one may live for God has been shown to us by Christ. Can you read? Then, buy the Gospels, and read them. There you will see how God would have you live. You have it all there."

The more Martin read the Gospels, the more he was fascinated by it, and his heart grew lighter and lighter. The more he read, the more clearly he understood what God required of him and how he might live for God. Earlier, when he went to bed, he would lie down with a heavy heart. But now, he only repeated again and again, "Glory to Thee, glory to Thee, O Lord! Thy will be done!"

From then onwards, Martin's life took a turn for the better. When he finished his day's work, he would take the lamp down from the wall, stand it on the table, fetch the Luke’s Gospel from the shelf and sit down to read. The more he read, the better he understood and the clearer and happier he felt in his mind. One day, in the sixth chapter, he came upon the verses:

"To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak, withhold not thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

He also read the verses where our Lord says,

 

"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like. He is like a man which built an house, and dug deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth, against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great."

When Martin read these words, his soul felt glad from within. He took off his spectacles and laid them on the book, and leaning his elbows on the table pondered over what he had read. He measured his own life by the standard of those words, asking himself,

"Is my house built on the rock, or on sand? I don’t know. God must preserve me from sinning.”

So immersed was he in what he read that he was loath to leave his book. And, instead of retiring to bed, he went on to read the seventh chapter. Coming to the 44th verse, he read,

"And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment."

Re-reading the verses, he wondered, "He gave no water for his feet, gave no kiss, his head with oil he did not anoint?" Martin took off his spectacles once more, laid them on his book and pondered, "He must have been like me, that Pharisee. He too thought only of himself, how to get a cup of tea, how to keep warm and comfortable; never a thought of his guest. He took care of himself, but for his guest, he cared nothing at all. Yet, who was the guest? The Lord himself! If He came to me, should I behave like that?"

Then, Martin laid his head upon both his arms and before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.

"Martin!" he suddenly heard a voice, as if someone had breathed the word above his ear.

He started from his sleep. "Who's there?" he asked.

He turned round and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then, he heard quite distinctly: "Martin, Martin! Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall come."

Martin roused himself, rose from his chair and rubbed his eyes, but did not know whether he had heard these words in a dream or when he was awake. He put out the lamp and lay down to sleep.

Next morning, he rose before daylight, and sat down by the window to his work. As he sat working, Martin thought over what had happened the night before. At times, it seemed to him like a dream, and at times, he felt that he had really heard the voice. He sat by the window, looking out into the street more than he worked, and whenever anyone passed by in unfamiliar boots, he would stop and look up, so as to see only not the feet but the face of the passerby as well.

 

A house porter passed in new felt boots; then, a water carrier. Presently, an old soldier from Nicholas' reign came near the window, spade in hand. Martin knew him by his shabby old felt boots. The old man was called Stepánitch; a neighboring tradesman kept him in his house for charity, and his duty was to help the house porter. He began to clear away the snow before Martin's window. Martin glanced at him and then went on with his work.

"I must be growing crazy with age," said Martin, laughing at his fancy. "Stepánitch comes to clear away the snow, and I imagine it’s Christ visiting me!”

Yet, after he had made a dozen stitches, he felt drawn to look out of the window again. He saw that Stepánitch had leaned his spade against the wall, and was either resting himself or trying to get warm. The man was old and broken down, and had evidently not enough strength even to clear away the snow.

"What if I called him in and gave him some tea?" thought Martin. "The samovár is just on the boil."

He stuck his awl in its place, tapped the window with his fingers, beckoned Stepánitch to come in, and went to open the door.

"Come in," he said, "And warm yourself a bit. I'm sure you must be cold."

"May God bless you!" Stepánitch answered. "My bones do ache, to be sure." He came in, first shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor, he began wiping his feet; but as he did so, he tottered and nearly fell.

"Don't trouble to wipe your feet," said Martin "I'll wipe up the floor.  It's all in the day's work. Come, friend, sit down and have some tea." Filling two tumblers, he passed one to his visitor, and pouring his own out into the saucer, began to blow on it.

Stepánitch emptied his glass, and began to express his thanks, but it was plain that he would be glad of some more.

"Have another glass," said Martin, refilling the visitor's tumbler and his own. But, while he drank his tea, Martin kept looking out into the street.

"Are you expecting anyone?" asked the visitor.

"Well, it isn't that I really expect anyone; but I heard something last night which I can't get out of my mind. Whether it was a vision, or only a fancy, I can't tell. You see, friend, last night I was reading the Gospel, about Christ the Lord, how He suffered, and how He walked on earth. I came to that part, you know, where He went to a Pharisee who did not receive Him well. Well, friend, as I read about it, I thought that man did not receive Christ the Lord with proper honor. Suppose such a thing could happen to such a man as myself, I thought, what would I not do to receive him! But, that man gave him no reception at all. Well, friend, as I was thinking of this, I began to doze, and as I closed my eyes, I heard someone call me by name. I got up, and thought I heard someone whispering, ‘Expect me; I will come tomorrow.'

This happened twice over. And to tell you the truth, it sank so much into my mind that I keep on expecting Him, the dear Lord!"

Stepánitch shook his head in silence, finished his tumbler and laid it on its side; but, Martin stood it up again and refilled it for him.

"Here, drink another glass, bless you! And I was thinking too, how He walked on earth and went with plain people, and chose His disciples from among the likes of us, from workmen like us. ‘He who raises himself,' He said, ‘shall be humbled and He who humbles himself shall be raised.' ‘You call me Lord,' He said, ‘and I will wash your feet.' He said, ‘Blessed are the poor, the humble, the meek, and the merciful.'"

Stepánitch forgot his tea. He was an old man easily moved to tears, and as he sat and listened, the tears ran down his cheeks.

"Come, drink some more," said Martin. But, Stepánitch crossed himself, thanked him, moved away his tumbler, and rose.

"Thank you, Martin Avdéitch," he said, "You have given me food and comfort both for the soul and body."

"You're very welcome. Come again another time. I am glad to have a guest," said Martin.

Stepánitch went away and Martin poured out the last of the tea and drank it up. Then, he put away the tea things and sat down to his work, stitching the back seam of a boot. And as he stitched, he kept looking out of the window, waiting for Christ, and thinking about Him and His doings. And his head was full of Christ's sayings.

Then, he saw a woman come up in worsted stockings and peasant-made shoes. She passed the window, but stopped by the wall. Martin glanced up at her through the window, and saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. She stopped by the wall with her back to the wind, trying to wrap the baby up, though she had hardly anything to wrap it in. The woman had only summer clothes on, and even they were shabby and worn.

Through the window, Martin heard the baby crying, and the woman trying to soothe it, but unable to do so. Martin rose and going out of the door and up the steps, he called to her.

"My dear, why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him up better in a warm place. Come this way!"

The woman was surprised to see an old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, calling to her, but she followed him in.

They went down the steps, entered the little room, and the old man led her to the bed.

"There, sit down, my dear, near the stove. Warm yourself, and feed the baby."

 

"Oh, I haven't got any milk. I have eaten nothing myself since early morning," said the woman, but still she took the baby to her breast.

Martin shook his head. He brought out a basin and some bread. Then, he opened the oven door and poured some cabbage soup into the basin. He took out the porridge pot also but the porridge was not yet ready; so, he spread a cloth on the table and served only the soup and bread.

"Sit down and eat, my dear, and I'll mind the baby. Why, bless me, I've had children of my own; I know how to manage them."

The woman crossed herself, and sitting down at the table began to eat, while Martin put the baby on the bed and sat down by it. The woman sat eating and talking, and told him who she was, and where she had been.

"I'm a soldier's wife," she said. "They sent my husband somewhere, far away, eight months ago, and I have heard nothing of him since. I had a place as cook till my baby was born, but then they would not keep me with a child. For three months now, I have been struggling, unable to find a place, and I've had to sell all I had for food. I tried to go as a wet nurse, but no one would have me; they said I was too starved looking and thin. Now I have just been to see a tradesman's wife and she has promised to take me. I thought it was all settled at last, but she tells me not to come till next week. It is far to her place, and I am fagged out, and baby is quite starved, poor mite. Fortunately, our landlady has pity on us, and lets us lodge free; else, I don't know what we should do."

Martin sighed. "Haven't you any warmer clothing?" he asked.

"How could I get warm clothing?" said she. "Why, I pawned my last shawl for sixpence yesterday."

Then, the woman came and took the child, and Martin got up. He went and looked among some things that were hanging on the wall, and brought back an old cloak.

"Here," he said, "Though it's a worn-out old thing, it will do to wrap him up in."

The woman looked at the cloak, then at the old man, and taking it, burst into tears. Martin turned away, and groping under the bed brought out a small trunk. He fumbled about in it, and again sat down opposite the woman. And the woman said,

"The Lord bless you, friend. Surely Christ must have sent me to your window; else, the child would have frozen. It was mild when I started, but now see how cold it has turned. Surely it must have been Christ who made you look out of your window and take pity on me, poor wretch!"

Martin smiled and said, "It is quite true; it was He who made me do it. It was no mere chance that made me look out."

And he told the woman his dream, and how he had heard the Lord's voice promising to visit him that day.

"Who knows? All things are possible," said the woman. And she got up and threw the cloak over her shoulders, wrapping it round herself and around the baby. Then, she bowed, and thanked Martin once more.

"Take this for Christ's sake," said Martin, and gave her sixpence to get her shawl out of pawn. The woman crossed herself, and Martin did the same, and then he saw her out.

After the woman had gone, Martin ate some cabbage soup, cleared the things away, and sat down to work again. He worked, but did not forget the window, and every time a shadow fell on it, he looked up at once to see who was passing by. People he knew and strangers passed, but no one remarkable.

After a while, Martin saw an apple woman stop just in front of his window. She had a large basket, but there did not seem to be many apples left in it. On her back, she had a sack full of wood chips, which she was taking home. The sack evidently hurt her, and she wanted to shift it from one shoulder to the other. So, she put it down on the footpath and placing her basket on a post, began to shake down the chips in the sack.

While she was doing this, a boy in a tattered cap ran up, snatched an apple out of the baskets, and tried to slip away; but, the old woman noticed it and turning, caught the boy by his sleeve. He began to struggle, trying to free himself, but the old woman seized hold of his hair. The boy squawked and the old woman scolded him.

 

Martin dropped his awl, and rushed out of the door. Stumbling up the steps, and dropping his spectacles in his hurry, he ran out into the street. The old woman was pulling the boy's hair and scolding him, threatening to take him to the police. The lad was struggling and protesting, saying, "I did not take it. What are you beating me for? Let me go!"

Martin separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, "Let him go, Granny. Forgive him for Christ's sake. I'll pay him out, so that he won't forget it for a year! I'll take the rascal to the police!"

Martin began entreating the old woman.

"Let him go, Granny. He won't do it again. Let him go for Christ's sake!"

The old woman let go, and the boy wished to run away, but Martin stopped him.

"Ask the Granny's forgiveness!" said he. "And don't do it another time. I saw you take the apple."

The boy began to cry and beg pardon.

"That's right. And now here's an apple for you," and Martin took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, "I will pay you, Granny."

"You will spoil them that way, the young rascals," said the old woman. "He ought to be whipped so he remembers it for a week."

"Oh, Granny, Granny," said Martin, "That's our way, but it's not God's way. If he should be whipped for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins?"

The old woman was silent.

And Martin told her the parable of the Lord who forgave his servant a large debt, and how the servant went out and seized his debtor by the throat. The old woman listened to it all, and the boy, too, stood by and listened.

"God bids us to forgive," said Martin, "Or else we shall not be forgiven. Forgive everyone, and a thoughtless youngster most of all."

The old woman wagged her head and sighed.

"It's true enough," said she, "But they are getting terribly spoilt."

"Then we old ones must show them better ways," Martin replied.

"It was only his childishness. God help him," said she, referring to the boy.

As the old woman was about to hoist her sack on her back, the lad sprang forward to her, saying, "Let me carry it for you, Granny. I'm going that way."

The old woman nodded her head, and put the sack on the boy's back and they went down the street together, the old woman quite forgetting to ask Martin to pay for the apple. Martin stood and watched them as they went along talking to each other.

When they were out of sight, Martin went back to the house. Presently, he noticed the lamplighter passing on his way to light the street lamps.

"Seems it's time to light up," he thought. So, he trimmed his lamp and taking down the lamp, placed it on the table. Then, he took the Gospels from the shelf. He meant to open them at the place he had marked the day before, but the book opened to another page.

 

As Martin was just about to read the words, the dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though someone was moving behind him. Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear: "Martin, Martin, don't you know me?"

"Who is it?" muttered Martin.

"It is I," said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped Stepánitch, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.

"It is I," said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.

"It is I," said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too disappeared.

And Martin's soul grew glad. He crossed himself, put on his spectacles and began reading the Gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read:

"I was a hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

And at the bottom of the page, he read,

"Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me."

And Martin understood that his dream had come true and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed Him.
                                                                                                                                       (Adapted)

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