Part 04, Chapters 31-40
Part 4, Chapter 31
I was born and raised in Newfie
Underneath a Newfie sky….
–Newfoundland Folk Song
At Resolute, David could talk with professors and researchers and businessmen, as well as with working-class people. He could talk with the sailors from Newfoundland, who were as extraordinary in personality and as rich in humanity as any group of men he’d ever met. They spoke a strange dialect of English, full of light and color, and quite incomprehensible as far as David was concerned. They wore rough clothing and behaved in a way that made it clear to him that they were certainly far stronger and more rugged than he was. At the same time, though, they were gentle individuals, in all senses of the word “gentle,” filled with a child-like nobility and playfulness that they expressed in what seemed to him like continuous outbursts of laughter and song.
The foreman of the Newfoundland crew possessed a kind of earthy wisdom, cheerfulness, and good will that David hoped he would have when he was an old man. He looked at the foreman sometimes, with his white hair and bright, cheerful face, and he thought how much he would like to preserve his existence somehow, to make it last forever, to allow others to see in that face what he had seen. He didn’t know how he could do that, though, except perhaps by trying to write about it, or by just doing what he could to grow into that kind of man himself, and then passing on that same kind of wisdom — even joy, perhaps — to another generation.
Of course, even though he might sit and talk for hours with these men, these conversations did little to satisfy his intellect. They did little to answer the question of how he should deal with everything that was beautiful in the world around him.
He might be sitting with people in a crowd, watching them play cards or listening to them talk, and he’d catch a glimpse of the sun shining through the tiny windows of the room they were in. Or he’d notice a particularly beautiful, enormous bank of clouds rolling past and feel almost stunned by it.
When this kind of thing happened, he’d again feel almost as if a voice were calling to him, almost as if all the beauty of the natural world were whispering in his ear, “See. See how beautiful I am.” And he also felt at times he wanted to cry out — speaking, in his own peculiar way, to all of creation — “Yes, of course you’re beautiful. But what am I supposed to do with it? What am I supposed to do with this knowledge of your existence?”
Others would laugh at him – or call him crazy again – but young, impressionable, oversensitive boy that he was, such questions presented real problems for him. They could even cause him something like anguish.
Of course he might be regarded as rather stupid, but David didn’t understand how much time it takes to answer such questions, or how many different ways of answering there really are.
At that time, though, these questions did force him to continue wondering — endlessly and repeatedly and painfully — how he would ever manage to do anything with his life. Sometimes when he was standing at the sink in the kitchen area of the mess hall, washing the dishes, he would look out through the window at the bright, pure landscape, and he would almost feel a kind of despair. Everything seemed lost. He wondered how he would ever learn to use his energy or his mind. What could he ever do with his life, now that everything appeared to be slipping away from him?
There were times, of course, when he felt he would do something, but he didn’t know what it would be or how he would do it. Then it dawned on him one day that if he stayed there at Resolute for a few months and saved his money, he would be able to return to Africa. And in all the bleakness and near-despair that sometimes surrounded him, the idea of returning to Africa became a distant goal, perhaps impossible, but a goal nonetheless, a tangible reason for going on every day.
He had no idea, naturally, what he would do if he ever did actually go back to Africa, but since he’d been happy there before, he was convinced he’d be happy there again. He knew that Africa was bound to be the same bright, sunny land he’d known before.
At certain moments that was all he knew, and that was all he lived for, because the pain of his situation seemed very bad.
After he’d been in the port camp for about two weeks, the process of unloading the cargo ship was completed, and he was returned to the main camp to live and work. It was the middle of September now, and the people who’d come to Resolute for the summer months were beginning to leave. There’d been a population of around two hundred and fifty in the camp in August. A month later it was half that number. By November the population would be down to less than sixty people in a complex of buildings built for four times that number, in the blackness of the long Arctic night, with the closest city thousands of miles away across the empty wastes of the Northwest Territories.
It was still the middle of September, he thought to himself, but he could see that even now the days had started to shorten dramatically. Huge chunks of daylight seemed to be removed from every twenty-four hour period and replaced by the advancing darkness. Every morning the sun rose much later and set much earlier in the evening. One morning when he woke up there was bright sunlight outside as usual, then the next morning at the same time it was still night. The dark season was coming on with almost frightening speed.
Part 4, Chapter 32
“The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death.”
Heart of Darkness
When David first went back to the main camp, he worked with a group of carpenters who were placing insulating material around an outside pipe, several hundred yards long, that carried water from a small lake to the buildings they occupied. It was his first experience working outside in the Arctic, and he felt as if he were at last on that frontier he’d been dreaming of.
Even at Harvard he’d daydreamed about such things. He used to imagine sometimes that he was at least on some frontier of human thought, alone, making a voyage that would one day be useful for other people. He’d had no idea, though, exactly what kind of voyage he’d be making. He didn’t know if it would be a journey into art or philosophy or into some other area of human thought, but he’d often tried to consider what dangers such a journey might involve.
First of all, he knew he’d be alone, for it’s in the nature of these discoveries, he was convinced, that they should be made by those who are alone. And that might be dangerous, because being alone anywhere, he knew, could be a very great danger, whether you were on a journey or not. Secondly, he might travel so far that he couldn’t find his way back. He might become completely lost, in one way or another. And even if he did return, would he be able to communicate to anyone else everything he’d seen? If he could communicate it, would he be believed?
He thought about all these things in the Arctic too, especially when he felt the beauty of the Arctic whispering to him the way it did: the gleam of the morning sunlight on the snow and the rocks, the purity in the colors and forms of the land, the great masses of clouds overhead, the tremendous orb of the sun that simply circled around the sky overhead during the months when there was no night. He didn’t know how to articulate to others what he felt about such things. He didn’t know what they would make of it if he could.
Of course in the world of today, these dilemmas seem ridiculous to most people, probably even incomprehensible, certainly unnecessary. Why should anyone worry so deeply about such things? Could anyone worry so deeply about such things? Wasn’t all that sort of thinking really a kind of intellectual affectation? Wasn’t it — as probably any Harvard psychiatrist would have said — really just a matter of pathology?
Or if it wasn’t pathology, wasn’t it simply a way of trying to compensate for the tremendous sense of pain he felt, the pain of knowing his intellect was wasting away and dying there, so far from the world of the university that had been the only thing of any real importance in his life, no matter how much he might at times have wanted to think otherwise?
He often asked himself such questions, especially when his experience of the Arctic focused not so much on the natural landscape but on the group of human beings he was a part of in that place.
It was in the Arctic that he had one of those encounters that can engage someone like David on such a deep level that they mark him forever, sometimes even changing his life. And even if he should forget such meetings completely, and erase them from his conscious mind, they are still alive within him, like the mustard seed in the gospels, as Dostoevsky might have put it, or the yeast that leavens the entire loaf. Such encounters can indeed be like the word that comes forth and does not return until it has accomplished what it was meant to do.
Nicolae was a middle-aged laborer from Rumania, who looked much older than the middle-aged man he was. He wore thick glasses that magnified eyes that seemed to be bulging from their sockets and that gave him a wild, almost demented look. He spoke with an accent so thick that his words were nearly unintelligible. The only way David could even be sure he was speaking English was to listen very carefully to words that seemed to be those of a man who had undergone some terrible ordeal and had not escaped whole.
He and David had worked together on the water pipe insulation project, and David had come to like him and even to feel a deep affinity for him, perhaps because David sensed that the very great pain in Nicolae’s life mirrored the far milder one in his own.
One afternoon, for reasons that would always be hard for David to comprehend, Nicolae began pouring out his story to him, as best he could with his limited English.
When he did that, David would always think, what Nicolae may really have been doing was contributing to David’s desire to lead what David called — and he knew how strange this would sound — a life grounded in goodness. Of course David would never in any way at all claim to have led such a life. But perhaps if he had not encountered Nicolae, he would never have even gone on wanting to.
Though David would in later life hear stories that were just as terrible, this was the first time for him to hear such things. And the things that Nicolae told him were so strange, sad, and horrible for David then, that he again felt that here was a man whose experiences had to be preserved somehow, that Nicolae had to be preserved somehow, although David didn’t know exactly how that could be done. He could only feel with every fiber of his being that suffering such as Nicolae’s had somehow to be made to serve a purpose. It could not be allowed to have been for nothing.
On the afternoon of their conversation, they finished their work outside and then went into the bar for a beer. The nine hours of manual labor, in temperatures below freezing, had been so exhausting that they all but collapsed into a couple of large armchairs, and while they waited for their beer, Nicolae began his story. “During the war,” he said, “when the Nazis came to their town, one of the first things they did was to round up all the boys who were still healthy enough to work for them.” He paused, as though he were carefully watching something going on in front of him. “I was seventeen then.”
He stopped again, and his enormous eyes seemed to look past David, apprehensively, as though something frightening were approaching over David’s shoulder. “They took us away to a place where they told us there were bodies of soldiers and other people who’d been killed in the fighting going on around the town.”
All feeling then drained from his voice, as though a connection had been severed between his words and his emotions. “We had to walk over the fields collecting corpses that stank to the high heavens. I couldn’t help throwing up, again and again. They made us carry the bodies to trucks, and the trucks took them to huge open pits that the Nazis had dug.”
He stopped again. “We had to ride on those trucks and then pull the bodies off and throw them into the pits.”
Part 4, Chapter 33
Nancy Mitford asked Evelyn Waugh how he could behave so abominably and still consider himself a practicing Catholic. “You have no idea,” Waugh replied, “how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”
–The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh
Terrible as these things were, David would hear of things still more terrible as he grew older. He would later realize, though, that when Nicolae told was telling him what he had lived through, Nicolae may have simply been trying to make sense of it all, even though that may ultimately have been impossible for him. David would never really know, of course, but it would also occur to him that the conversation might have had a larger purpose as well.
Nicolae looked into David’s eyes, as though he were asking him if he could imagine what such a thing was like. Nicolae saw, of course, that David could not, but perhaps he also saw that David at least understood that no one who had not experienced such a thing could really know what it was like.
“Then I ran away,” Nicolae continued. “It was near the end of the war, and it was easy to run away then. I was little more than a boy, but I was able to make my way clear across Europe, working at different jobs and trying to find my way into a life that made some sense.”
Now there were tears in his eyes, and perhaps in David’s as well, for it was the first time David had ever spoken with someone who’d experienced such sheer physical horror, the worst, it seemed to him then, that it was possible to suffer in this life. In the years following, of course, David would become a little less naïve. He would hear stories so terrible that they would make Nicolae’s story seem like a pleasant children’s fairy tale.
“Finally I made my way to Brazil,” Nicolae went on. “South American countries were the only ones that would take people like me. In America they didn’t want us,” he said matter-of-factly. “But there was nothing for me to do in Brazil. I had no work, nothing. I had nothing to eat, no place to live. I couldn’t speak the language. There was no one to talk to.
“One day I found myself sitting on some rocks near the sea, and I was so miserable and so lonely that all I could do was pray for death. I’d never in my life felt so despairing. I had hope during the war, hope at least that the war would end. Now I didn’t have anything at all to hope for, except that the sea would reach up and pull me down into it. I stayed there the whole day, and cried.” He looked at David from behind the thick glasses. “Yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried. I cried until I had no more tears left to cry with.”
Nicolae paused again. David shifted in his chair and waited for him to continue. Other people were coming into the bar now, but David hardly noticed them. He wanted Nicolae to finish the story, although he realized that in a way the story was even now not finished, probably would not be finished for a long time, perhaps not until the man came to the end of his life.
Still, David wanted to know how Nicolae had escaped the misery he’d found in Brazil. Nicolae continued to look at David with the intensity of a man who had something extremely urgent to communicate. “By late afternoon that day,” he said, “I was so tired and so unhappy that I simply fell asleep, curled up there in a hollow of the rock where I was, with the waves breaking on the shore far below me.”
He looked around now, as if he were trying to find out if anyone else could overhear him. The room was almost full now, but all the other people were talking among themselves in small groups, sitting at tables, standing around the bar.
“I don’t know exactly how long I slept,” he went on, “or how deeply, or how many times I may have woken up and fallen back to sleep, but all at once I thought I heard my mother’s voice, calling to me, like in a dream. When I called back to her, there she was, all of a sudden, there in front of me. She was holding a little bouquet of wildflowers that I had given her years before, when I was a boy, and she thanked me for them and said how beautiful they were.”
Every time Nicolae paused, David became aware of the large shifting crowd of people that were gradually filling up the bar. He wanted Nicolae to bring the story to an end quickly, whatever the end might be, before there were so many people around them that they couldn’t talk anymore.
David stared at him. Perhaps Nicolae sensed what David was thinking. “There’s not much more to tell,” he went on. I woke up after that dream, and I didn’t feel so bad. I knew it was only a dream, of course, but still it seemed to me it had been a kind of blessing too. I thought then that perhaps I might survive.”
“And you have,” David said, and as he said it he knew it sounded stupid, but he didn’t know what else to say.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” Nicolae answered, “but that’s all I’ve done.” He looked steadily at David again and spoke the sort of words that cannot be forgotten, as though they were hammered in stone. “But you will do more than that,” he said. “You will have more success in life — though this success may be different from what you expect right now. You’re lucky because you don’t want the things I wanted. I wanted money more than anything else, but you want more out of life. You want to help people, you want to be a decent, honest person.”
Perhaps that had really been the whole point of the conversation, whether or not Nicolae or David had understood it at the start. No matter how moving Nicolae’s story may have been, his desire to define David as a good man was what made the most lasting impression on David. At a time when David was trying to cope with his own sense of loss and despair, an almost total stranger cared enough about him to remind him what it was that he should really be living for. Nicolae’s words may have been one of the things in David’s life that was needed to just tip the balance in favor of his long term survival. Nicolae’s words may have been one of those small factors that were nevertheless powerful enough to keep David from being completely destroyed over the years.
Perhaps it would be true to say that Nicolae was like a character out of Dostoyevsky. Of course it was just another of David’s illusions, but he thought that talking to Nicolae was a little like having Dimitri Karamazov return from Siberia and remind him what the purpose of his life really was.
The experience may have been one of those small things that can mark a young man and shape him forever. It can’t be said that David ever became a really very good person, but he would probably have turned out to be a much worse individual without Nicolae’s influence, or the influence that people like him had on David.
It would be tempting to say that this is the way grace may operate, except that the idea of grace for most people in today’s world falls into the category of magic wands and fairy godmothers.
Better not even to hint at such things.
Part 4, Chapter 34
“It is nonsense to pretend, for instance, that at this date there is something daring and original in proclaiming yourself an anarchist, an atheist, a pacifist, etc. The daring thing, or at any rate the unfashionable thing, is to believe in God….”
Unpublished Essay, quoted by Christopher Hitchens, in The Permanent Adolescent, The Atlantic Monthly
During all that time in the Arctic, David still believed in all the old ideals, of course. That hadn’t changed, although as usual he felt so lost and confused that he could do little more than simply hope that in the end everything really would be well and that the old ideals were worth living and suffering for. He wanted to believe what Nicolae thought of him, but he wasn’t always sure if he was–or could become–the kind of man Nicolae seemed to think he was.
Not long after that, though, the work outside was finished, and the dark season was coming on. He was assigned to work as a clerk in the supply office, where he remained until he left Resolute six weeks later. It was not a very happy place for him, but then probably no place would have been happy for him then. In a way, the job was not very different from what it would have been in an office anywhere, and he found that a little depressing. He had to find some means of giving purpose to what he was doing.
He let his mind play with the idea that the Arctic represented some vast new frontier, one that would someday be settled and developed just as the rest of North America had been. He was almost able to convince himself that he was part of an early phase in the creation of an immense new country. And no matter how foolish that idea may be, it perhaps indicates how desperately he wanted and needed to find something that would give a larger meaning to his life. For again, he would one day come to believe that what he really needed in the Arctic was the significance that only a sense of transcendence can give to human life. He didn’t understand, though, how his life could acquire that kind of significance. He didn’t even try very hard to understand.
He spent nine hours a day, six days a week typing in a large, shabby room, and it would be easy for anyone to ridicule him for doing that. It would be easy for anyone to point out how stupid he was for not doing something else, how foolish it was of him to follow such an almost unendurably boring routine in an office that was so painfully ugly, especially when compared to the luminous natural world outside.
From a certain point of view, of course – and perhaps this cannot be stressed too much – David really was rather ridiculous, and even somewhat stupid and foolish. And yet would it be wrong to point out that he believed he couldn’t do anything else, that he didn’t know how to do anything else, that he thought he had no other choice?
Perhaps it would be wrong to criticize him in that way. It’s difficult to know, really. Later, of course, he would acknowledge his own obvious stupidity himself, although this would not be easy for him. He would eventually realize how limited his thinking was and how much his whole life was a testimony to his limitations and his stupidity.
If his life story was stupid, though, and badly conceived, it was nevertheless an attempt to deal with all those sufferings that a part of him believed he should never talk about. There was a terrible conflict within. There was this conflict between the need to cry out and the desire to strangle that cry, and perhaps that is one reason why his life story was so absurd. The compulsion to keep silent was not strong enough to keep him from crying out, but it was in fact strong enough to keep him from crying out in an intelligent way. It was strong enough to keep him from expressing anything about his situation that other people could really comprehend. The compulsion to silence forced him to speak about himself in a kind of disjointed code. And yet he always had the hope that someone would be able to decode his words and understand what it was he was really saying. Even if no one could, he still had the hope that someone, somewhere, sometime would understand. In the end, he thought to himself, perhaps that was all that mattered.
Anyway, he continued working at his typewriter in the large shabby room on the frozen island in the middle of a frozen sea. The only other people there were his boss and another young college drop-out, from Vancouver. David’s boss was a tall, balding man in his early thirties with a strangely distorted face and a lame leg. His name was Rob, and he was from one of the Canadian maritime provinces. The college student’s name was Jamie. He was tall and very often seemed to have a rather sad expression, but then David probably did too, much of the time.
Jamie and David came from similar social backgrounds. Both had attended university, and so they were able to spend hours talking to one another about life in general, about their own lives in particular, and about the way they saw the world.
It might not be too much to say that they both seemed to share a sense of bewilderment and loss, and if there was seldom a smile on Jamie’s lean, dark, Irish face, then of course there wasn’t very often a smile on David’s either.
If Jamie seemed to David to move around the office extremely slowly, as though he were making his way through a viscous sea of depression, it’s quite possible that David moved the same way. Perhaps their friendship was based simply on the support they gave each other during a difficult time, and perhaps they would not have survived at Resolute without that support.
When Jamie started thinking about going back to Montreal in November, at the end of his three-month contract, David began thinking along the same lines. Winter was starting to close in, and the days were now almost completely dark, except for a kind of twilight around noon. A lot of the people there, it seemed to David, were starting to deteriorate, psychologically anyway, before his very eyes. They all always seemed to be slightly disorganized. At least, that was the impression he had anyway. The total number of residents at the base had now dropped to around fifty, and most of them — including his boss — appeared to spend much of their time drinking, and not just in the evening, but during the day as well.
It got so that the whole atmosphere became a little frightening for him.
David’s supervisor started showing up late for work almost every day. Sometimes he didn’t show up at all, and when he did come in, his puffy face and red eyes and general air of confusion and irritation made David think the man must have done a great deal of drinking the night before.
As other people seemed to deteriorate, David unconsciously began to compensate by becoming stricter with himself and — to a certain degree — with everyone else, at least in his thinking and in his attitude toward them.
He became more critical of everything around him. The work carried out at Resolute had always seemed to him to be done in a sloppy manner, but now he became extremely judgmental about it and about everything else as well. Part of his attitude of course resulted from the fact that he still looked at everything with that attitude of excessive fault-finding that perhaps only young people are capable of.
The impression grew in him that no one seemed to care about anything very much, certainly none of the supervisors seemed to care. It seemed to him that the general attitude of people at Resolute was this: as long as everything could be made to work for just a few more weeks or months, as long as nothing ever collapsed or stopped working completely, no one in management — either at Resolute or at company headquarters in Montreal — and no one in the government either — would ever criticize the generally poor quality of the work done on the island.
It’s quite possible that things really were as bad as they seemed, but in his naiveté David still hadn’t learned that such a situation is by no means a novelty in human affairs in general.
He didn’t understand that he was perhaps at last just starting to see the world as it really is.
Part 4, Chapter 35
“Þuhte me þæt ic gesawe syllicre treow
on lyft lædan, leohte bewunden,
The Dream of the Rood, c. 700 A.D.
“It seemed to me I saw a wondrous tree
reaching upwards, encircled by light,
the brightest of beams.”
The Dream of the Rood, c. 700 A.D.
It would be hard for him to imagine it later, but he was then still the kind of innocent, naive young man who is deeply disturbed by any example of what he considered to be evil in the world. He was therefore very disturbed by the situation at Resolute, at least as he saw it.
Of course it’s probably true that what he was really concerned about, unconsciously, was the potential for evil in himself. However, he still was, apparently, even after everything that had happened in his life, an extremely idealistic young man who was surprised and disappointed and sometimes indignant that the world itself could be not only immoral and corrupt, but evil as well.
Unfortunately, the longer he was at Resolute, the more waste, inefficiency, and mismanagement he saw, all of which spelled corruption and evil as far as he was concerned. He knew so little about life. How could he know that Resolute was really no worse than any similar situation elsewhere in the world?
He thought it was worse, though, and the situation there probably resonated in his own mind with an unconscious perception of the fact that – as Augustine expressed it – all human beings are capable of what any human being is capable of, and so he too was capable of evil and corruption. And so he became perhaps too preoccupied with somehow erasing what he saw as the vast amount of wasteful, inefficient, and incompetent activity he thought he perceived at Resolute. He became so preoccupied with that, in fact, that he wrote a long, adolescent letter to the man in Montreal who had hired him for the job at Resolute, the man who was also Jamie’s father.
It was a stupid letter, a childish letter. It reflected all of David’s very strong indignation over the situation at the base; it reflected the tremendous discrepancy between the way he expected the world to be, and the way it actually was. The letter was also, of course, an exaggeration, although he had not meant to exaggerate. Anyone reading it might have thought that Resolute had been overrun by derelicts and alcoholics and that the whole facility was about to collapse.
Of course that’s hardly what Jamie’s father thought when he received the letter. He was an extremely experienced, level-headed man. He probably thought what most people would think if they read such a letter: the problem was not in the situation itself, but in the person who was describing it.
Still, he passed the letter along to the head of the company that had contracted with the Canadian government to operate and maintain the base at Resolute, and a short time later, the company head paid a visit to the island. He met with a number of people but of course never spoke to David. And David didn’t even try to speak with him. It seemed to David that in the lowly position he occupied, meeting the head of the company was simply too much to expect. He was almost certainly at least vaguely aware that almost everything he’d written in the letter was really quite idiotic, and he probably felt — without realizing it — somewhat ashamed of himself.
The head of the company flew back to Montreal after a few days, and everything went on exactly as before. David went on bringing to his work at Resolute the same kind of motivation and perfectionism that he’d brought to his work at Harvard. He was convinced – or was trying to convince himself – that everything he did must have some significance. Everything he did had to be done as well as possible. In fact, it had to be done perfectly and according to all the rules and regulations. There could be no short-cuts for David. He could not take the easy way out.
Since this sort of attitude did not quite fit in with the prevailing work ethic at Resolute, David of course began to feel more and more uncomfortable. But the more he was confronted with what he considered to be the sloppiness of the work around him, the more rigid and unyielding his attitude became. Within a few weeks of starting to work in the supply office, he was no longer on speaking terms with his boss. All verbal communication between them had ceased. This bizarre situation actually made David’s poor boss feel even more uncomfortable than David did, even though David suffered from the additional pain of being walled up in his citadel of earnestness and self-discipline.
As always, though, it may be better to try not to ridicule the young man David was then, at least not too much. Perhaps if his education, his energy, his sense of discipline, and his desire to do the best possible kind of work could have all found expression in some more demanding and complex situation, then he might have been able to accomplish more, not only at that time, but during the remainder of his life. He might have been able to do something that was of some greater and more obvious value to everyone. Instead of doing that, unfortunately, he continued driving himself to fulfill unnecessary requirements in an insignificant position in a completely unimportant place.
Unnecessary, insignificant, and unimportant — at least judged from a purely material and human perspective. Sub specie aeternitatis, however, things may appear different. At least, that’s what David hoped then, and that’s what he would always hope. He had the conviction then — and that conviction would grow during the rest of his life — that all those days of pain and effort must somehow contribute to something greater than he could ever really be aware of. He also had the hope — a hope that would ultimately become more of a certainty than hope — that in the eyes of a creator that human beings hardly seem aware of, everything he went through at Resolute — indeed, all of the apparently meaningless pain and effort of his entire life — would perhaps have a significance that he would apprehend only in a world beyond this one.
Years later, when he looked at his life from that perspective, there seemed to him to be no point in trying to answer the question of whose “fault” it was that nearly all of his life was in a material sense wasted. All of the unresolved questions and conflicts and crises that ultimately turned his existence into such an apparently purposeless and drifting affair, were really, he would decide, nothing more than an expression of the great contradiction, the one that is ever the same, the contradiction that is in a way the axis of the world, the contradiction that provides the world with a still point around which it can cohere, the contradiction that is the hidden force preventing the world from dissolving into randomness and chaos. He was thinking – and certainly many will ridicule David for this idea, and deservedly so, perhaps – of the contradiction of the cross.
Part 4, Chapter 36
“Cartier called it Mont Royal, Montreal…. East, west, and south, the mantling forest was over all, and the broad blue ribbon of the river glistened amid a realm of verdure. Beyond, to the bounds of Mexico, stretched…illimitable woods.”
France and England in North America
Of course during that period David sometimes thought about going back to Harvard. In fact, it would seem to him in later years that he thought very often about going back. He longed so much for what he’d found good at Harvard.
Still, he couldn’t bring himself to go back. He couldn’t face the possibility that the same things would happen again that had happened before: he’d start hearing his professors directing their lectures at him; they’d be telling him he should simply accept and even enjoy what he saw as evil in himself and in the world, telling him there was in fact no such thing as evil, telling him in addition that he had something extraordinary to achieve in life.
No, he said to himself, he can’t deal with all that again, and he was afraid he would have to do just that if he went back to Harvard. He thought he could escape it all by not going back.
But then, if he didn’t go back to Harvard, where could he go?
He could go, he thought to himself – or he could try to go – back to the only place he’d ever been happy. He could go back to Africa.
He’d saved twelve hundred dollars at Resolute, a large sum of money then. It was enough to pay for a round-trip ticket between Montreal and Nairobi — he knew he’d never get into the country without a round-trip ticket. Obviously, though, that amount of money alone wasn’t enough. He’d need something to live on for a while after he arrived in Tanganyika, until he found a job. And there was no question in his mind that he’d find a job. He’d found one there before. He’d found jobs in Canada. He could always find a job anywhere, he told himself, doing something.
The additional money he needed for Africa would not be earned at Resolute, though, it would have to be earned somewhere else. He’d almost completed his three-month contract, and the atmosphere on the island was more oppressive than ever, now that the dark season had begun. There were less than fifty people remaining in the place, and they seemed to be in a drunken stupor most of the time. He was afraid he might become like them if he stayed there. And he would have to stay there through the winter if he extended his contract. The only choice was to extend it for six months or not to extend it at all.
But if he left Resolute then, he didn’t know where he could go to save the rest of the money he needed. Then one day when he and Jamie were talking, Jamie said to him simply, “Why don’t we go back to Montreal together?”
It was evening, and they were in the large room that served as their office, doing Canadian Air Force exercises – in those days, the “in” thing for young men David and Jamie’s age was doing Canadian Air Force exercises. If you wanted to stay in shape at that time, that’s what you did, whether or not you were Canadian. The exercises were so popular that it sometimes seemed that half the young men under twenty-five all across North America were doing them at any given time.
Jamie and David were resting at their desks in T-shirts, sweating in the overheated room. The early-evening Arctic darkness made the windows black. “You could stay with me and my parents for a few days,” Jamie was saying, “and my Dad could give you some ideas about working in British Columbia. You’d have no problem finding a job there.”
Since David had already made up his mind to leave Resolute, he didn’t have to think about Jamie’s invitation for very long. Besides, he knew if he stayed on at Resolute, and Jamie returned to Montreal, there’d be no one else on the island that had even the remotest interest in literature or the intellectual life. He’d be alone with the alcoholics and the winos, he thought to himself, and who knows what would be left of him when the light season came again in March? He might be a total wreck himself.
So he left Resolute when Jamie did. He got on the plane and left, as he’d already left – and would in the future leave – so many places in his life.
His mind was filled with a sense of fear and anxiety about the future. That had happened before, and it would happen many times again, whenever he left one place and went to another. It was a sheer joy, though, after weeks of Arctic darkness, to see the sun again. He thought that people who had never lived at one of the poles during the winter could have no idea what it means to see the sun, to have light outside. David realized that after even a few weeks of twenty-four hour night, most human beings become almost physically hungry for the sun, hungry for light. There were moments during the dark season when he thought he would give anything to see the sun again.
Montreal, even now in the grip of winter, looked as beautiful as it had in the summer, and best of all there was sunlight. Still, after a couple of days there, with little to do but worry, it was a relief for David to get on a train and head for Vancouver. Jamie’s father had said David could easily get a job in a pulp mill or a logging camp, and he was eager to see if that was true. He was also eager to get another job, because he was worried he might wind up spending all the money he’d saved at Resolute. He felt he’d worked hard to make that money, and he was determined not to squander it while he looked for another job. He was afraid that could happen, though, and he was determined that it should not, he was determined to keep that money for Africa. He had to go back to Africa. No matter what happened, he told himself, the only thing he would use that money for was a ticket to Nairobi.
As the train pulled out of Windsor station in Montreal one freezing afternoon toward the end of November, he thought to himself that his fears and worries would be suspended at least for the few days it would take to cross the continent.
One of the other things he discovered at Resolute was that if you spend many weeks in isolation with the same small group of people, it’s something of a shock suddenly to see so many other faces you’ve never seen before. You have the impression of suddenly being surrounded by an incredible variety of human types.
This new experience also helped suspend his worries for a time, as he watched and talked to what seemed to be the kaleidoscope of humanity that he now saw around him, everywhere he turned.
The worries and fears, though, were still just at the back of his mind. They brought to mind an image of his poor, tortured mother, sharpening her claws, preparing for the attack, ready to bear down on him, screaming, tearing apart everything in her path as she exacted her revenge for some nameless wrong he couldn’t understand he’d committed.
Part 4, Chapter 37
“Cui mater media sese tulit obvia silva,
virginis os habitumque gerens, et virginis arma
Spartanae, vel qualis equos Threissa fatigat
Harpalyce, volucremque fuga praevertitur Hebrum.
Namque umeris de more habilem suspenderat arcum
venatrix, dederatque comam diffundere ventis,
nuda genu, nodoque sinus collecta fluentis.“
–Publius Vergilius Maro
“Lo! in the deep recesses of the wood,
Before his eyes his goddess mother stood:
A huntress in her habit and her mien;
Her dress a maid, her air confess’d a queen.
Bare were her knees, and knots her garments bind;
Loose was her hair, and wanton’d in the wind;
Her hand sustain’d a bow; her quiver hung behind.
She seem’d a virgin of the Spartan blood….”
Aeneid, Dryden Translation
In his compartment on the train to Vancouver there were two other people: a young man about his own age and a well-dressed middle-aged woman, who behaved with a kind of steely cheerfulness, a sort of enforced gaiety that seemed to David to have something threatening about it, as if she were constantly sending out the subliminal message – as he perceived it, anyway – “Laugh when I laugh, smile when I smile, and don’t even think of disagreeing with me, or you’ll regret it.”
To David, she seemed obsessed by a need to dominate everything around her, and beneath the frenetic gaiety, he sensed sadness and desperation. His first reaction was, “Good grief, how am I going to deal with this woman all the way across Canada?” His second was, “I can stand anything as long as I know there’ll be an end to it. Somehow I’ll get back to Africa, where I won’t have to put up with people like her.”
The other young man in the compartment managed to escape by putting forward some excuse or other, but somehow David wasn’t able to do that. He felt like a mongoose hypnotized by a cobra.
Once they’d established the rules of the game — she would always win the conversational game, and he would inevitably lose, unless she decided otherwise — she settled back and smiled, apparently extremely content with herself. She had made her impression on him, an impression that was even deeper than it might otherwise have been because he had recently spent so much time in a place where he’d had no really meaningful exchanges with the people around him, except for Jamie, because they were almost all living in what seemed to David to be the lower depths. In comparison to the people at Resolute, this woman appeared refined and powerful, certainly much more so than she would have seemed if he’d met her when he’d just come directly from, say, Cambridge.
At any rate what she made him feel more than anything else was that he’d better be on his guard, at least at the beginning. No telling what she might do. He’d learned that much, he thought, from having to deal all his life with his sad, crazy mother.
She was expensively dressed, had retained a certain beauty from her youth, and introduced herself as Helen Connelly. “I’m going to Edmonton,” she said, “to visit my son and his wife.”
“And I’m going to Vancouver, to look for a job,” David said, and as soon as he spoke the words, his whole situation seemed once again so weird that he could hardly believe it. How had he come so far from that first year at Harvard, he wondered, when he had been so full of dreams? Perhaps it was because he had been so full of dreams.
“What do you do?” she asked him, and the way she put the question rang alarm bells in his mind. It sounded to David like a question his mother might have asked when she was probing for a weakness to exploit.
He answered her, though, the way he always answered in such situations. He told her everything about himself that she might possibly want to know. He was afraid to do otherwise. He gave her the complete story of his life, going into great detail about the recent past, the period since he’d left Harvard.
“You didn’t like college very well?” she said.
He looked away. “I didn’t like Harvard very well. I could never quite figure out what was happening there or what people were saying or doing. It was a pretty confusing place.” Then he added, “At least it was for me.” He looked at her again. “What do you do?”
She smiled. “Oh, you could say I’m retired. I’ve spent the last twenty years in the Foreign Service — the Canadian Foreign Service.”
“That must have been exciting,” he said, and as soon as he said it, he thought what a stupid remark it was.
She smiled again. “Well, it wasn’t something I really planned. It more or less just happened by accident. If I’d had any choice, I’m sure my life would have been much different, much quieter. You see, I was married to a Foreign Service officer, and he was assigned to Athens. One day he was simply driving home from the office, and there was an accident. Apparently he swerved the car — to avoid hitting a child — and lost control. The car ran off the road and overturned.” She paused, and for a moment he thought he could feel some emotion stirring in her. “He didn’t survive,” she added calmly. “After that, I had to go to work to support myself, so I applied for a job in my husband’s department, and was accepted.”
Somehow, and without his really noticing that it was happening, she seemed to change before his eyes. Gradually, imperceptibly, she appeared less threatening, until finally, after a while, she actually seemed quite likeable. She became so likeable in fact, that David spent most of his time with her on the trip across Canada, always talking, always answering questions about himself. By the time she left the train in Calgary in order to head north to Edmonton, she had almost become — or he had almost made her — one of those women who appear in the ancient epics, goddesses who appear quite mortal but who are there at decisive moments to help heroes like Aeneas or Odysseus.
When she and David said good-bye, she turned the moment into a kind of blessing, one that he also recognized as a warning, though. “I know you’ll land on your feet,” she said.
After Calgary, there wasn’t much left of the trip, and the apprehension he’d been able to put out of his mind came crashing back in. They crossed the Rockies at night, and the next morning he woke up and felt the cold, dark grasp of fear again as he realized they were moving through the forests of British Columbia, moving inexorably closer to Vancouver and to whatever unknowns might be waiting for him there.
When David was older and had made so many similar journeys into so many strange cities, it wouldn’t be easy for him to bring to mind the true extent of the fear and dread that he felt then. He had no idea what the future held for him, he had no idea how he would survive, and yet he believed he had no other choice to go on as he was.
He thought to himself again and again that he couldn’t go back to Harvard, and he certainly couldn’t go back to his mother and stepfather’s house. Both of those options were impossible for him, they were choices that would lead him back into worlds that were confusing, incomprehensible, and even insane.
The only choice he thought he had was to go on into the unknown, and to try to make his way alone, everywhere. Or at least to try to make his way alone while relying as much as possible on the source of all those beliefs and ideals that had shaped his life. He was still able to cling to those ideas, to a belief, even to a vague and confused belief in God, because that was the only thing that gave his life any meaning. It all would have been pointless otherwise. The reason he had left Harvard, left that whole world of intellectual and academic life, was because his beliefs – and his desire to lead a good life – had been threatened.
He’d left everything. And he thought he’d gotten nothing in return.
And he was almost constantly – and unspeakably – afraid.
Part 4, Chapter 38
“De profundis clamavi ad te….“
–Psalmus 129 (130)
“Out of the depths I have cried to thee….“
–Psalm 129 (130)
When David did finally arrive in Vancouver, the weather was clear — he didn’t know yet how unusual that was — and the December air felt mild after Montreal. He checked into a cheap hotel and soon realized that the only way he could control the anxiety that threatened to overwhelm him was to get a newspaper and start looking for a job and a place to live right away. He was determined not to spend any more of the money he’d saved at Resolute. He told himself again and again he’d use that money to go back to Africa and for nothing else.
He might still be clinging to his belief in his old ideals, but at the same time, in another part of his mind, he was absolutely certain that the only thing that would ever make him happy would be just to be in Africa again. He’d been happy there before; it was impossible for him to imagine he wouldn’t be happy there again.
First, though, in Vancouver, before he could get a job, he had to find a place to live. He looked at ads in the paper, got out his map, then went from one cheap and dingy boarding house to another until he finally found a basement room that was tolerable and not too far away from the center of the city. It was a damp and dark, just a room in a basement, but it didn’t cost much, and he hoped he wouldn’t be there very long.
David had always been susceptible to a sense of panic, whenever there was the slightest reason for panic, and certainly this was true in Vancouver then. Within a few days, after looking at the help-wanted section of the paper, and then going from office to office all over downtown Vancouver in a cold December rain that never seemed to stop, after being rejected for every job he applied for, he very soon became terrified he wouldn’t be able to find a job at all and that he would use up all the money he’d saved for Africa. He became so seized with a sense of near terror that he experienced one of the blackest depressions he’d ever known. Would all the work at Resolute be for nothing? Would he be forced back to his parents again? What would he do? Where would he go? He wondered how in God’s name he would ever survive.
He became so increasingly obsessed by the fear that all the money he’d carefully saved at Resolute would disappear that he began to wish from the bottom of his heart that he’d just stayed at Resolute. This fear, in fact, became so great and overpowering that in later years he couldn’t even really call it to mind. When he could safely stand outside of the terrible circumstances that caused it, he could remember it only as a kind of detached fact that no longer had anything to do with him.
He would be able to recall the effect this fear had on him, certainly, but again only with a sort of objectivity that drained it of all immediacy, as if his mind were protecting itself from the most intense sort of pain. He felt as though his life had reached the most horrible kind of dead end and that there was nowhere to go.
He had no idea what in the world he was going to do.
Part 4, Chapter 39
“(F)or I will slay the children I have borne; there is none shall take them from my toils….”
David had had so many absurd dreams at Harvard. This is what he acknowledged to himself again and again. Now there seemed to be no possibility at all of realizing even those dreams that had perhaps not been so absurd. He’d hoped to do something useful and important with his life, but now all of that seemed over.
At those times when he felt more self-pity than he usually did – and he would later feel contempt for that self-pity – he used to think that if there’d been someone who’d cared enough to help him, he could have survived, he could have achieved something. However, such thoughts of course really indicate how little he grasped the truth. And the truth was that reasons for his failure lay with him alone. He alone was to blame. And even though he might have tried to be so very conscientious about living up to his ideals and achieving his quite ridiculous goals, at Harvard and elsewhere, he really had no idea at all what those ideals or those goals meant. Nor did he in any way understand the larger reality they were part of.
And if he could not even begin to comprehend that reality, it goes without saying that he could not understand what might be called the great paradox: that the moments of survival and greatest accomplishment in life – even for people like David – can sometimes be precisely those moments when life seems to have been completely destroyed and nothing appears to have been accomplished. Understanding that paradox, however, was beyond him, and probably always would be.
His poor mother and stepfather, of course, were incapable of helping him. In time, he would come to know that. They were incapable of understanding his situation or the state of mind he was in or the terrible problems and dilemmas he saw confronting him. Some people, of course, have blamed him for not trying harder to make himself understood. Others have indicated that his mother probably understood all too well what was troubling him, and that she apparently believed that doing nothing would eventually force him to return to her and stay with her and be bound to her forever.
Those who suggest such things might be right, of course, but if so, then it’s difficult to understand why — whenever David was at home with his mother — she always did things that he could only respond to by going away? The answer, probably, is that she simply didn’t know that that was the only way he could respond.
At any rate, David knew one thing at least: if he ever had a son, he would never take the risk of letting him roam the world so aimlessly without trying in some way to help him, without suggesting that he return to university somewhere at least. Sadly, David’s mother and stepfather either would not or could not do that. Later David would eventually admit he couldn’t even speculate on what in the world must have been going through their minds, where he and his future were concerned.
At that time, though, he did speculate, at Harvard, in the Arctic, everywhere. Eventually he came to believe what he told Dr. Bradley at Harvard, and what perhaps convinced Bradley that David was simply paranoid: he came to believe that his mother was one of those unhappy, miserable women who seem to have an overpowering need to dominate and psychologically castrate every man they know. He believed that his mother had dominated his father, and partly destroyed him, at least for a time. She had worked to gain a certain dominance over his stepfather as well, and would probably destroy him too, or so it seemed to David. And she was also continuing to try to dominate him.
Whether or not any of that was really true or not, it is difficult to say. There is only David’s description of the situation. What is true, though, is that he was afraid of his mother, even in his twenties, afraid of the neurotic and hysterical behavior she often displayed, behavior that his father had never been able to respond to effectively. And if his father couldn’t do anything, David thought to himself, then he certainly wasn’t able to change his mother’s behavior in any way. And if the poor woman really had been as successful in destroying others as it seemed, then there was no way he could defend himself against her except by avoiding her. For he knew what would happen if he went home again. First, he would be treated as though he were invisible, and made to feel that nothing he’d done was of the slightest importance. And if he tried to show some degree of independence or self-reliance, his mother and stepfather would again somehow interfere, would ridicule him and make him feel small and incompetent.
He couldn’t go back to that. But he couldn’t go back to Harvard either. He couldn’t deal with the craziness he was afraid would be waiting for him, the crazy ideas he’d been free of ever since he’d left Cambridge. Whatever else he might have to suffer now, at least he didn’t have to sit through lectures anymore and be terrified that his professors were directing their remarks at him alone, trying to convince him that there was nothing wrong with what he’d been taught was evil, or nothing wrong with believing there was some extraordinary task he had to perform in life, something great he had to achieve or create.
So, for him at that time, dealing with his parents or Harvard – or both – was far worse than the cold, damp room in a basement in Vancouver. In his basement room he could get up every morning believing that through all of his suffering he was surely working out some kind of redemption for himself. And that was certainly was far better even than Harvard, he told himself, because he believed he could now at least try to find meaning in his ideals, and maybe even realize them.
It would be natural for most people to consider him hopelessly misguided and to want to ridicule him for that. There would be many times in his life when he would do the same.
Part 4, Chapter 40
“And oft his cogitations sink as low
As, through the abysses of a joyless heart,
The heaviest plummet of despair can go….”
For most people, it will sound bizarre to keep repeating this, but in order to understand David, it’s important to stress that it was the faith he was raised with — or raised himself with — that continued to be the only thing that offered him any real possibility of survival at all. In Vancouver, for example, there were times when he would walk miles just to find a church where he could go to confession.
That certainly will seem bizarre – or worse – to most people, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that going through that familiar religious ritual gave David – at least in his own mind – the inner resources he needed. Without those resources, it would have been impossible to face the — for him — unspeakable hopelessness of the situation he had put himself into.
In spite of that apparent hopelessness, what he believed — of course in a perhaps illusory way — was that all of his grief and suffering would ultimately have some meaning sub specie aeternitatis. His grief and suffering would not be simply the pointless results of random events, and he would not be crushed by the weight of an absurd and meaningless existence, if he could cling to his ideals.
Again, it should be remembered that seeing existence as absurd and meaningless was a popular Weltanschauung among intellectuals then, certainly among many of the people David knew at Harvard. In the face of all that, David’s ideals gave him the ability to grasp, at least in some distant way, the concept that he was perhaps being strengthened and pounded into shape by the inscrutable designs of a wise and loving God.
But whatever faith he had then — and it may really not have been very much — was a quite blind and superficial faith. It certainly did not represent any kind of living reality for him; it was rather something abstract and therefore far less real than the world he experienced around him every day. However, what is perhaps important is that this faith was for the moment sufficient for him to grasp at it as an antidote to suffering. Even when he could not really feel the truth of it, that faith helped him survive the long expanses of time when the pain of loss and loneliness became very great. It was then that he wondered how it was possible he could feel the pain so intensely, and not be so overloaded with it that he became numb to its presence.
As in the past, however, this faith — such as it was — was not strong enough for him to find any sense of joy in his difficulties or in the things he suffered; that was an ideal he admired in his poor, lost saints, but it was an ideal that was beyond him. David’s faith allowed him only to endure what his life had become.
The dawn seemed gray and cold and bleak every morning when he woke up in the little basement room and washed and got dressed and then went out into the cold rain of December to visit the offices of various pulp mills and logging companies, looking for work. Those gray mornings seemed to go on forever. He could not imagine that they would ever end — even though in real time they did not continue for very long. They were wet, freezing mornings, as he walked up and down the streets of Vancouver, trying to find something to do.
The first time he came close to getting a job, he felt elated. He had an interview for some sort of clerical position at the head office of a paper mill. The personnel manager was a friendly young man who said he had a job for him and was ready to hire him. David left his resume, together with the names of people at Harvard that he should contact. The man asked David to telephone him in three days.
For three days David was on top of the world. He’d actually found a job! Everything would be all right. He’d have a place to stay and food to eat and he could keep the money that he’d been saving for the return to Africa.
When he went back to see the man he’d spoken to, though, the man’s attitude toward him had changed completely. He was cold and distant, and he told David there was no possibility of work at his company.
He was crushed. He felt wounded. Once more he was tormented by fear. What was he going to do? He thought he’d gone through so much, and he didn’t know how much more he could take. It never occurred to him even to try to find out why he’d been refused. And if he’d tried to guess the reason, he would probably have never figured it out even then.
Years later it would occur to David that perhaps the man he’d talked to, or his superiors in the personnel department, had contacted Harvard and been told David had been given “permission to withdraw.” Perhaps they’d also been given an indication of the reason why, and they were not about to hire some insane Harvard dropout to work in their offices.
Perhaps something like that had happened, or perhaps it was something else. Whatever the truth was, though, he had no choice but to go on, he told himself, to endure everything he could, everything he had to endure.
Finally, as so often happens, just at that point where he wondered how much longer he could keep himself from despair, as he wandered around downtown Vancouver one more day in the freezing rain, he saw a notice on a bulletin board outside the office of one of the city newspapers. It said that the local headquarters of a large pulp mill were accepting applications for general laborers. They wanted men who would work at the company’s plant at the northern end of Vancouver Island. The starting pay was $2.43 an hour, Canadian currency.
As soon as David read the announcement, he went to the address listed, filled out an application, and was accepted, practically on the spot. Perhaps it’s a measure of how close he was to despair that as soon as he’d gotten this lowly job — and fortunately he didn’t know then that “lowly” would hardly describe it — his mind was flooded by an almost outrageous sense of happiness. He could be certain now that he wouldn’t be forced to spend all of the money he’d saved and that he’d be able to go back to East Africa eventually. He began to feel a new sense of hope, a conviction that things in the end would be all right after all, a hope that he would survive, and that he would, surely, find some opportunity for doing something meaningful with his life, or at least something useful.
Sometimes, much, much later, when he’d think about that whole period of his life, he’d be torn between two points of view concerning himself, as he was then. First, he’d feel a certain sorrow — or perhaps it would be only self-pity — that he could have been so benighted in his search for a life that had a purpose and a sense of achievement, because he seemed to carry on that search in all the wrong places. Secondly, though, he’d have to admit to feeling a certain contempt for the stupidity of the boy he was then, contempt for the ridiculous and even idiotic ways in which he tried to reach the goals he had, contempt also for the way he had allowed his life to become such a laughable series of errors. There would also be times when he’d perhaps feel a sense of anger too, anger over the way circumstances and people seemed to have contributed to what he’d at times consider his destruction.
Eventually he would come to think he’d outgrown that kind of thinking — or at least he’d hope so. To feel any sense of anger about the circumstances of his life and the people around him would be to feel angry at the ideals he had, or thought he had, and probably would always have, or try to have.
In any case, the day after getting his new job, he packed up his things. The morning after that, he was on a bus, traveling through the cold, pre-dawn darkness of Vancouver’s streets toward the airport.
David felt no sense of joy at that point, though. His feelings had by that time changed to a sense of apprehension and fear. Now he felt he was being carried along by forces he could not control. For a time it seemed he’d lost the ability to make any decisions about what he did or what he achieved. Probably all that was only a kind of residual sorrow, though, over his lost dreams and the lost world he’d left behind at Harvard.
So he went on blindly, hoping against hope that everything would happen in his life according to some plan — if not a plan of his own, then possibly some providential plan — and that in the end everything would make sense, that in the end he would see the purpose of all the apparently mindless suffering.
What is perhaps surprising is that he didn’t understand that he was — with or without good reason — really causing that suffering himself. Probably, though, it wouldn’t have made much difference one way or the other if he had understood that.