The Luminous and the Shady

I hope that this blog is what it set out to be, “A place to seek clarity on timeless issues and issues of the day.” Over the last ten years or so I’ve read at least one “classic” novel every year. I’m constantly amazed at the insights great minds of the distant past had, how well they presented those insights, and how applicable those insights are to today’s world.[i]

I’m currently reading Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.” VOLUME IV, BOOK SEVENTH of the novel contains a passage that fits nicely among the messages I aim to convey.



Let us have compassion on the chastised. Alas! Who are we ourselves? Who am I who now address you? Who are you who are listening to me? And are you very sure that we have done nothing before we were born? The earth is not devoid of resemblance to a jail. Who knows whether man is not a recaptured offender against divine justice? Look closely at life. It is so made, that everywhere we feel the sense of punishment.

Are you what is called a happy man? Well! you are sad every day.

Each day has its own great grief or its little care. Yesterday you were trembling for a health that is dear to you, to-day you fear for your own; to-morrow it will be anxiety about money, the day after to-morrow the diatribe of a slanderer, the day after that, the misfortune of some friend; then the prevailing weather, then something that has been broken or lost, then a pleasure with which your conscience and your vertebral column reproach you; again, the course of public affairs. This without reckoning in the pains of the heart.

And so it goes on. One cloud is dispelled, another forms.

There is hardly one day out of a hundred which is wholly joyous and sunny. And you belong to that small class who are happy!

As for the rest of mankind, stagnating night rests upon them.

Thoughtful minds make but little use of the phrase: the fortunate and the unfortunate. In this world, evidently the vestibule of another, there are no fortunate.

The real human division is this: the luminous and the shady.

To diminish the number of the shady, to augment the number of the luminous,–that is the object. That is why we cry:

Education! science! To teach reading, means to light the fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.

However, he who says light does not, necessarily, say joy.

People suffer in the light; excess burns. The flame is the enemy of the wing. To burn without ceasing to fly,–therein lies the marvel of genius.

When you shall have learned to know, and to love, you will still suffer. The day is born in tears. The luminous weep, if only over those in darkness.

[i] For a modern stab at a snippet of the issues addressed by Hugo, see “Life is suffering, so get your act together!

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