Only someone who has suffered the deepest misfortune is capable of experience the hight of felicity.The Count of Monte Cristo
How much of our story is what we do and how much is what happens to us? Are we free to choose what our lives are going to be? Are we doomed to broken paths and less than happy circumstances?
These are questions which philosophers, gurus, theologians, preachers, self-help coaches, therapists, and psychologists have all tried to answer. Mostly in vain.
We do not know why bad things happen to good people. We do not know why the good guy finishes last. And we do not know why we can follow all the rules, play nicely, and still end up losing everything to disease, economic collapse, or natural disaster.
Why has this happened to me? Where did I go wrong? How could God let this happen? Am I being punished? All these are questions which go through our heads repeatedly along with that most dangerous of thoughts: if only…
We wish things would return to the way they were. Even if the way things were was limiting.
He clung to one idea: that of his happiness which had been destroyed, for not apparent reason, by an unprecedented stroke of fate.The Count of Monte Cristo
For Edmond Dantes, life’s tragedies were nightmarish. He was desperate to remember who he was and to fend off depression. In Chapter 15, “Number 34 and Number 27”, we see him go through all the emotions any of us may have felt in our own life tragedies.
Dantes may have done well in the life had expected to lead. Ship captains made a decent living, and Mercedes would have made him a wonderful wife. Compared to the painful memories and regrets which came later, it might have been preferable—even without the vast fortune the Abbe Faria gave him.
It’s easy enough to say so, at least.
But then, it’s also easy for us to descend into a maelstrom of endless questions and negative self-talk. It’s even easier to give up. We saw that with August Dupin in Murders of the Rue Morgue. He gave up on getting justice and lived a very limited and introverted life.
Mercedes chooses a similar life to Dupin, even though Dantes assures her she didn’t need to punish herself. But then, Dantes almost chooses the same fate for himself until he accepts the happiness Haydee offers him.
Victimhood is a Mindset and a Circumstance
Anyone can become a victim. One hurricane is all it takes. Or one clogged artery, one new manager, one careless driver. One false accusation…
If you become a victim, you will always be a victim in a sense. Time or therapy can’t undo what was done. But you do not have to let your victimhood control your life.
You do not have to waste away for the rest of your life bemoaning the fact.
Dantes could have committed suicide. He could have killed his jailor. He could have even had his accusers assassinated or fought them in a duel.
He chose differently. He chose instead to show them the weight of their own crimes.
He also gave first rather than take. He saves his old employer from ruin, Ali from death, and Haydee from slavery.
Edmond Dantes made his victimhood count for something.
Did he get to live out the rest of his life with his childhood sweetheart? No. Did he get to hug his father one last time? No. But he didn’t let either of those things prevent him from living. He gained friends, people who respected him, and the love of a woman who had even greater fortitude than Mercedes.
Expanding Your Mind and Horizons Expands Your Capacity to Heal
Dantes was a simple uneducated man; to him, the past was covered by a murky veil that can be raised only by knowledge. In the solitude of his dungeon and the desert of his thoughts, he could not reconstruct ages past, revive extinct races or rebuild those antique cities that imagination augments…The Count of Monte Cristo
Dantes’ first step on the path towards his revenge and his recovery is to get knowledge. He knew he was uneducated. He knew those who had wronged him were much cleverer and worldly, too. He may have been a sailor, but he was one with very limited experience.
Had not Dantes wanted to better himself, however, he would not have been able to move the way he did or gained the friends he had.
We have a capacity to build mountains in our minds, to reconstruct palaces, and visions of happier times or of ancient people. We can, in fact, get on without many of the things modern society tells us we need if we take the time to nourish our minds.
Having a wider view of the world also makes it harder to hang on to past hurts. Once your opens to a wider world, you become aware you are not alone in your hurts and you realize how marvelous and beautiful the world can be.
This is the true power behind the Count. It isn’t just his monetary wealth or his determination to see justice done to the men who had denied it ot him. His capacity to think on a cosmopolitan scale and to appreciate the variety in the world, be that Japan, China, India, Africa, or beyond. He traveled the world and dedicated himself to learning all he could.
Choosing to Act and Heal
Healing from the wrongs done to you is a long process, and it’s never quite complete. If you’re hurt, the fact will always remain you were hurt . The wound will always be there somewhere in your mind.
At some point, you must move on from being a victim. There’s only so long you can sit and bewail your fate before you must act.
For good or for ill.
Making the worst moment of your life into the moment which ends up giving you a life beyond your wildest dreams is largely a matter of choice and action.
Bad things happen to good people. But those bad things can bring good people greater things than they could imagine.
It doesn’t mean that you will live a painless life. It doesn’t mean what happened will not haunt you. There are some hurts which time does not heal, after all.
It means that when you are hurting, you can make something come from your pain.
It’s ok to feel those wounds too: suppressing your emotions does only more damage. So does hanging on to the hurt so that it makes you inert.
If an emotion is keeping you from acting and bettering your situation, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate. Which is partially what next month’s theme of confessional literature will be doing.
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