Sonia to me is a fairy tale half told or a lyric half lost in fancy, a delicate melody unsung. Had she grown into full womanhood, she might have become an intellectual; for she was deliberate and clearcut in her language, precise in her reasoning, and keen in sensing nuances which maturer minds about her could not appreciate; then I should have remembered her as reason grown into wit and perhaps into philosophy, but the impression of a fairyland would have been forever lost, the glamor of its poetry never felt even in vague suggestions, and the delicate melodies never perceived. As a friend suggested to me when grief was most oppresive: "You shall always remember her as a child." How beautiful I felt it was! For nothing but poetry could give such a feeling. In such a moment, reason would have destroyed me with consummate triumph; for if I had tried to explain why God had snatched away from me the thing I loved best in life, I would have allowed reason to rob me of sorrow to show me the way to a more beautiful, more full, and nearly perfect life. Sonia shall always live in my memory as a child who wonders why the stars shine in the sky and the rain drops from heaven and the grass grows on the wayside; as a child who finds all things pure and true in her innocent eyes. I shall look in those eyes and see so much confidence and faith when I feel that I am losing my own faith and confidence. I shall draw from my memory of her a child's enthusiasm for life when my heart is heavy and my eyes are dim with age. This is my ideal; to see the whole of life with a mind mellowed by age, through a heart of forever young, wise, and happy!
Daysb before she died, I had a premonition of her death, but I dismissed it, consoling myself with the thought that if such a thing should come to pass - heaven forbid! - I should perhaps be rewarded by becoming a true, sincere, and humble artist through the suffering that would come from such a shocking experience. For the first time in my life, the idea of becoming an artist suddenly lost all its charms. I would rather remain obscure than lose my greatest masterpiece, wrought in my own blood, and polished by the greatest love that I was capable of giving. Like the reeds in the river, I would rather keep my leaves and flowers than be cut up by the great god Pan into a flute. The modest melody of the mind was enough for me as I bent rhythmically with its blowing; I would refuse the greater melody of art that exacts so much.
But when her hour came and the blade of death cleaved through my heart, I felt as if I too had died and a new soul had emerged, more beautiful because cleansed of all bitterness. How true it is, as poor Oscar Wilde wrote that "Pleasure is for the beautiful body but pain for the beautiful soul." But what costly knowledge this is! Experience has indeed taken away more than it has been able to give.
It has suddenly occurred to me that the real artist is measured by his ability to utilize misfortune in recreating the soul. I say "recreating," because art is the recreation of life and experience into that which best soothes and ennobles the soul. If a man with any artistic pretensions allows sorrow to destroy him, he is a mere artisan incapable of producing anything of worth; for the first thing an artist must recreate, before true art can be realized, is his own soul.
Moreover, sorrow must crush ere it can reshape the man in a mold of glory. The reed must have been cut to pieces, and holes bored through it, before it can have produced such magic melodies that at their sound,
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragonfly
Came back to dream on the river.
Before an artist can sweetly harrow the hearts of others, his own must have bled. There is a story told of an ambitious singer who thought he would sing for the grand opera. He sang before a celebrated maestro who, in the middle of an aria from Rigoletto, thundered out, "Enough! Enough! This will never do. Your heart has not been broken."
In De Profundis, Oscar Wilde made the following analysis of sorrow in its bearings upon art:
Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expression of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with spirit. For this reason there is no truth. Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of sorrow have the words been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain.
Indeed, was it not Zeus' head split open with an axe that Athene might spring full-grown from it?
Besides sorrow's power of giving birth to art, there is another blessing which must come with all art and suffering. It is a way of thinking that solidifies and satisfies, becomes profound and permanent; a real philosophy of life that grows in life is, therefore, a creation, an art in itself, and not the mere adoption of some powerful, second hand outlook that always proves worthless when put to the test.
Feeling that the lower forms of logic would be useless to me at the time of my deepest sorrow, I approached life by the highest route, through "the deepest voice of human experience"- religion. Early the next morning after Sonia's death, God's hand rested upon my shoulders. On previous occasions, the mere suggestion fo her death would drive me into imagining a sudden flight to some distant land, I knew not where, for an obscure place where I might forget or die. But that morning, I felt strangely calm. Not the remotest shade of thought about running away from my sorrowing family. Goethe's lines.
Who never ate his bread in sorrow,
Who never spent the midnight hours -
Weeping and waiting for the morrow,
He knows you not, Ye heavenly Powers.
live in my memory, I had eaten my bread in sorrow. I had passed the night weeping and watching for a more bitter dawn, and I felt the touch of the Spirit upon my being.
I went to the church of St. Ignatius in Intramuros where, humbled by sorrow, I sought the Lord's at the confessional. I offered up my Sonia, and also my two other boys, and even my own life if He desired to take back His own. The pagan protest that was surging in my bosom I painfully quelled.
It is difficult to give up the things we hold dear on earth. But when Sonia, whom I loved best, had been given up, to what could I not be resigned? I felt that I had grown generous even to magnanimity. I had ceased to fear for my future, and I was no longer vain - I gave up all silly notions of fame, and I became myself.
But what is better, I was born to a greater realization of truth, a fuller feeling of freshness - my new philosophy doubtless had given me a new sense of values. The things I had held dear, in common with other people, I discovered to be glittering tinsel and hollowness. We find ourselves only after we have lost everything we hold dear in our temporal habitation: we find our souls only after we have divested ourselves of all the flummery of the flesh. For indeed, how can we find our souls when we are wrapped up in matter so that we cannot take a step, or put out a hand, or lift up our eyes, but material things are all about us, following us even to our dreams? People say something pleasant to us, and though it be but "hot air," it is enough to puff us up. We would feed our souls upon vanity and know not it is a Barmecide feast. Could we but strip ourselves of pride and vanity, things would fall back into their proper places, and we should see the hidden harmony of creation and pierce through the things that alone are seen of the world to those that are unseen, setting no store by these fascinating shadows, even before the time when they crumble away and vanish into naught, as all worldly things must, soon or late.
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes-or it prospers; and anon
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two- is gone!
The climax in this grand ascent of sorrow is the perception of reality. When in moments of devastating grief, my being seemed consumed, I treid to deceive myself by pretending that it was all a dream and I would wake to find Sonia's death a mere fancy; the forced illusion would always vanish and a newer; more vivid, more convincing, more permanent if painful realization would reveal to me that the whole of human experience this side of Eternity is nothing but a dream which, with death, finally comes to an awakening to the only Reality intended by the Maker of Life. I am convinced that life in this temporary habitation is a vague and miserable dream, a nightmare in which the dreamer is driven from one pain to another, now frightened by life, now terrified by the thought of death; until one realizes that there is in this nightmare a symbol of the Reality that is coming with the dawn and the awakening.
This realization of the Reality must make a real artist of a man. Broken with pain, the soul dies to be reborn, stronger and more beautiful; enriched and ennobled by sorrow, the artist in the man rises above himself; shorn of all fineries and pettiness- all nonessential, in a word- the artist flows naturally toward the Infinite whither all artistic effort must be directed.
Thither must I direct my art. Art to me has ceased to be careful and artificial. It has become the natural life of the sou, it is the voice of my soul crying out to heaven for a vision of Sonia, pleading for a communion with her. I shall remove everything about me. When the last word is written and my hand drops limp and lifeless by my side, I hope to hear the gentle patter of little feet and feel the tender touch of little hands around my neck.