Answering the What For?

This quote is from a water damaged sign on the wall of the Catholic Worker (St. Josephs) in New York photographed by Jon Erikson for the book A Spectacle Unto the World:

“While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned not with his intellect but with his whole being, by life itself, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfaction of simple human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity. And now during these last three weeks of the march he had learned still another new, consolatory truth—that nothing in this world is terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he need be unhappy and lack freedom. He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that these limits are very near together.

The harder his position became and the more terrible the future, the more independent of that position in which he found himself were the joyful and comforting thoughts, memories and imaginings that came to him. He had learned to see the great, eternal and infinite in everything. . . and gladly regarded the ever-changing, eternally great and infinite and unfathomable life around him. And the closer he looked the more tranquil and happy he became. That dreadful question, What for? which had formerly destroyed all his mental edifices, no longer existed for him. To that question, What for? a simple answer was now always ready in his soul.”

Leo Tolstoy

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