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      Requiem for Len Weinglass

      “It’s all there in Tolstoy,” Len told me as he lay dying last April. Stricken in the winter, lying now in a hospice in the Village, this would be his final spring. He was alert, watching the news of the Arab Spring, but was entering a deeper state where his friends could not go. When I asked if he was finding a spiritual meaning, he said he was reading War and Peace, adding, “It’s all there.” I didn’t get the page number in Tolstoy, and never saw him again.

      Now, more than a year later, I was able to open War and Peace to the pages I believe Len was reading. (Modern Library ed., pp. 911-12) These excerpts are to be shared with you all.

      “Prince Andrev did not only know that he would die, but felt indeed that he was dying; that he was already half=dead. He experienced a sense of aloofness from everything earthly, and a strange and joyous lightness in his being. Neither impatient, nor troubled, he lay awaiting what was before him…The menacing, the eternal, the unknown, and remote, the presence of which he had never ceased to feel during the whole course of his life, was now close to him, and – from that strange lightness of being, that he experienced, almost comprehensible and palpable…

      "In the past he had dreaded the end. Twice he had experienced that terribly agonizing feeling of the dread of death, of the end, and now he ceased to understand it…The first time [after being wounded in war] that he knew death was facing him…he had come to himself after his wound, and instantly, as though set free from the cramping bondage of life, there had sprung up in his soul that flower of love, eternal, free, not dependent on this life, he had no more fear, and no more thought of death…

      "As he fell asleep, he was still thinking of what he had been thinking about all the time – of life and of death. And most of death. He felt he was closer to it. “Love? What is love?”, he thought. “Love hinders death. Love is life. All,, all that I understand, I understand only because I love. All is, all exists only because I love. All is bound up in love alone. Love is God, and dying means for me a particle of love, to go back to the universal and eternal source of love.” These thoughts seems to him comforting. But they were only thoughts. Something was wanting in them; there was something one-sided and personal. Something intellectual: they were not self-evident. And there was uneasiness, too, and obscurity. He fell asleep.

      “He dreamed he was lying in the very room in which he was lying in reality, but that he was not ill, but quite well. Many people of various sorts, indifferent people of no importance, were present. He was talking and disputing with them about some trivial matter. They seemed to be preparing to set off somewhere. Prince Andrew had a dim feeling that all this was of no consequence, and that he had other matters of graver moment to think of, but still he went on uttering empty witticisms of some sort that that surpised them. By degrees all these people began to disappear, and the one thing left was the question of closing the door. He got up and went towards the door to close it and bolt it. Everything depended on whether he were on time to shut it or not. He was going, he was hurrying, but his legs would not move, and he knew that he would not have time to shut the door, but still he was straining every painful effort to do so. And an agonizing terror came upon him. And that terror was the fear of death; behind the door stood It. But while he is clumsily and helplessly struggling towards the door, that something awful is already pressing against the other side of it, and forcing the door open. Something not human – death – is forcing the door open and he must hold it to. He clutches at the door with a last straining effort – to shut it is impossible, at least to hold it – but his efforts are feeble and awkward; and under the pressure of that awful thing, the door opens and shuts again.

      “Once more IT was pressing on the door from without. His last, supernatural efforts are in vain, and both leaves of the door are noiselessly opened. IT comes in, and it is DEATH. And Prince Andrew died.

      “But at the instant in his dream when he died, Prince Andrev recollected that he was asleep; and at the instant when he was dying, he made an effort and waked up.

      “’Yes, that was death. I died and I waked up. Yes, death is an awakening,’” flashed with sudden light into his soul, and the veil that had till then hidden the unknown was lifted before his spiritual vision. He felt, as it were, set free from some force that held him in bondage, and was aware of that strange lightness of being  that had never left him since…

      “With his awakening from sleep that day there began an awakening from life. And in relation to the duration of life it seemed to him not more prolonged than the awakening from sleep in relation to the duration of a dream. There was nothing violent or terrible in this relatively slow awakening…

      “Natasha and Princess Marya wept too now. But they did not weep for their personal sorrow; they wept from the emotion and awe that filled their souls before the simple and solemn mystery of death that had been accomplished before their eyes.”

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      Reader Comments (1)

      In part, from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last sermon, the "Drum Major Instinct," given on February 4, 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Excerpts of its recording were played at his funeral on April 9, 1968 in the same church.

      "If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That's a new definition of greatness.

      And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don't have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant. . . .

      Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness . . .

      I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world."

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