Where There Is Love, God Will Be There Too
A story by Count L. N. Tolstoy
[Translated by Kristin E. Hiller]
There was a cobbler named Martin Avdeich who lived in the city. He lived in a cellar, in a little room with a single window. The window looked out onto the street. Through the window, it was possible to see people passing by; and although only their feet were visible, Martin Avdeich recognized the people by their boots. Martin Avdeich had lived in the same place for a long time, and had many acquaintances. It was a rare pair of boots in the district which had not been in his hands once or twice. He would put half-soles in some, patches on others, some he would sew up, and other times he'd even make new uppers. And he would often see his own work through the window. There was much work because Avdeich worked hard, he used good material, wouldn't take more than necessary, and he kept his word. He would accept a job if he could complete it by the deadline, but if not, he wouldn't even try to deceive anyone, but would say so straight out. And everyone knew Avdeich, and his work did not cease.
Avdeich had always been a good person, but in his old age he began to think more about his soul, and drew nearer to God. When Martin was still living with [a master craftsman], his wife died, leaving their little boy, three years old. Their other children did not live. All the older ones had died earlier. At first, Martin wanted to give his little son to his sister in the village, then he felt bad; he thought: "It would be sad for my little Kapitoshka to grow up in someone else's family, I'll keep him with me."
And Avdeich left [the master] and came to live in an apartment with his little son. But God didn't give Avdeich good fortune with his children. Just as the boy had grown up enough to begin to help his father, and to bring him joy, Kapitoshka fell ill; the boy took to his bed, burned with a fever for a week and died. Martin buried his son and fell into despair. His despair was so great that he began to grumble at God. Such weariness came over Martin that more than once he
begged God for death, and reproached God for the fact that He took not him, an old man, but his beloved only son. Avdeich also stopped going to church. And then one day an old fellow countryman from the Trinity Monastery called on Avdeich; he had been journeying for eight years already. Avdeich got to talking with him and began to complain to him about his sorrow.
"I don't even want to live any more, holy man," he said. "I only want to die. I ask God only for this. I've been left a hopeless man now."
And the little old man said to him:
"It's not good to speak like this, Martin, it is forbidden for us to judge God's affairs. [It is not for our reasoning, but God's judgment.] God's judgment was for your son to die, and for you to live. Well then, so much the better. And that you despair -- this is because you want to live for your own happiness."
"And what is there to live for?" asked Martin.
And the little old man said, "You must live for God, Martin. He gives you life, and you must live for Him. When you begin to live for Him, you will not grieve over anything, and everything will appear easy to you."
Martin was silent for a while, and then said, "But how am I supposed to live for God?"
And the old man said, "Live for God as Christ has shown us. Do you know how to read? Buy the Gospels and read them; there you will learn how to live for God. Everything is explained there."
And these words were imprinted in Avdeich's heart, and he set out that very day, bought himself the New Testament in large print and began to read. Avdeich meant to read only on holidays, but as he began to read, his soul became so [contented] that he started reading every day. Sometimes he would be so engrossed in reading that all the kerosene in the lamp would burn out, and still he could not tear himself away from the book. And so Avdeich began to read every evening. And the more he read, the more clearly he understood what God wanted from him, and how he had to live for God; and his heart became ever lighter and lighter. It used to be, formerly, that he would lie down to sleep and moan and groan, constantly thinking about Kapitoshka, but now he just repeated, over and over, "Glory to Thee, glory to Thee, Lord! Thy will be done!"
And from that time, Avdeich's whole life changed. It used to be, formerly, that he would drop in at the tavern to celebrate the holidays, drink a little tea, and he wouldn't pass up a little vodka. He would drink with a fellow he knew, and although he was not quite drunk, he would, nevertheless, leave the tavern feeling tipsy and saying senseless things -- he would shout at and even slander a person. Now all of that had left him. His life became peaceful and joyful. In the morning, he'd sit down to work, put in his time, take the lamp down from the hook, set it on the table, get the book off the shelf, lay it out and sit down to read. And the more he read, the more he understood, and the brighter and more cheerful his heart became. Once, when it was late, it happened that Martin was absorbed in reading. He was reading the Gospel of Luke. He was reading verses from the sixth chapter:
"To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your coat as well. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods, do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them." He read on to those verses where the Lord says: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great."
Avdeich read these words, and his soul was filled with joy.
He removed his glasses, laid them on the book, leaned his elbows on the table and was lost in thought. And he began to apply these words to his own life. And he thought to himself: "Well, is my house on rock or on sand? It's good if it's on rock. And it's easy sitting alone like this, it seems that you have done everything as God commanded, but then you lose your focus and sin again. All the same, I'll try. It's already very good! Help me, Lord!"
So he thought, and he wanted to lie down but it was a pity to tear himself away from the book. And he began to read the seventh chapter, too. He read about the centurion, and about the son of the widow, he read about the reply to John's disciples, and came up to the place where the rich Pharisee invited the Lord to be his guest; and he read how the sinful woman annointed His feet and washed them with her tears, and how He justified her. And he came to the 44th verse and began to read:
"And turning toward the woman he said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment."
He read these verses, and thought, "He did not give Him any water for His feet, or any kisses, and did not annoint His head with oil. . ."
And Avdeich took off his glasses again, laid them on the book and became lost in thought once more.
"The Pharisee was, evidently, just like me. . . I guess he too only thought about himself: how to get a cup of tea to drink, and to be warm and comfortable, but not thinking about his guest. He thought of himself, but had not even the slightest concern for his guest. And who was that guest? The Lord Himself. If He came to me, would I really do the same?"
And Avdeich leaned both of his arms on the table, and did not notice that he began to nod off.
"Martin!" something suddenly breathed above his ear.
Martin started sleepily: "Who's there?"
He turned around and looked at the door -- there was no one there. He dozed off again. Suddenly, he heard clearly:
"Martin, oh Martin! Look out onto the street tomorrow, I will come."
Martin roused himself, rose from his chair and began to rub his eyes. And he himself did not know whether he heard these words in a dream or while he was awake. He turned off the lamp and lay down to sleep.
In the morning, before it was light, Avdeich rose, prayed to God, heated the stove, set his cabbage soup and kasha on it, lit the samovar, put on his apron and sat down by the window to work. Avdeich sat and worked, but continually thought about the events of the day before. And he thought [two different ways]: for a while he would think it was just his imagination, and then he'd think that he really did hear the voice. "Why," he thought, "such things have happened."
Martin sat by the window, not so much working as looking out the window, and when someone passed in unfamiliar boots, he would bend down and peer out the window in order to see not only their feet, but their face, too. A caretaker passed by in new felt boots, a water-carrier passed, and then an old soldier from Nicholas' reign drew alongside the window wearing old, stitched felt boots, and with a shovel in his hands. Avdeich recognized him by his boots. The old man was called Stepanich, and he lived with a neighboring merchant out of charity. His job was to assist the caretaker. Stepanich began to clear away the snow across from Avdeich's window. Avdeich watched him for a while and got back to work.
"See, I've evidently gone crazy in my old age," Avdeich laughed to himself.. "Stepanich is clearing the snow, and I think Christ is coming to me. I've gone completely crazy, an old coot." However, having made about a dozen stitches, Avdeich was drawn again to look out the window. He looked out the window again and saw: Stepanich had leaned his shovel against the wall and was half warming himself and half resting.
The old man was elderly and broken, and apparently didn't even have the strength to shovel the snow. Avdeich thought: "Perhaps I should offer him some tea, after all the samovar is about to boil." Avdeich stuck the awl in place, put the samovar on the table, poured the tea and tapped his finger on the windowpane. Stepanich turned around and walked up to the window. Avdeich beckoned to him and went to open the door.
"Come in and warm yourself a bit, perhaps," he said. "You must be cold, I guess?"
"Christ save you; the fact is, my bones do ache," said Stepanich.
Stepanich came in, shook off the snow, and began to wipe his feet so as not to leave footprints on the floor, but he staggered a bit.
"Don't trouble to wipe your feet. I'll wipe it up, it's all in a day's work. Come on in, sit down," said Avdeich. "Here is some tea, drink up."
And Avdeich poured two glasses and pushed one over to his guest, and poured his own into his saucer and began to blow on it.
Stepanich drank his glass, turned it upside down and set the leftover bit of sugar on it and began to give thanks. But it was obvious that he wanted some more.
"Have some more," Avdeich said, and he filled the glass again for himself and his guest. Avdeich drank his tea, but glanced out onto the street from time to time.
"Er, are you waiting for someone?" his guest asked.
"Am I waiting for someone? I am ashamed to say who I'm waiting for. I'm not really expecting anyone, but a certain story has stuck in my heart. I myself don't know if it was a vision or such. You see, my brother, yesterday I was reading the Gospel about Christ the Lord, how He suffered, how He walked on earth. You've heard, I guess?"
"I've heard tell of it," Stepanich replied, "but us folk are ignorant, and don't know reading and writing."
"Well, I was reading the part about how He walked on earth. I read, you know, how He came to the Pharisee, but he didn't receive Him. Well, so, I was reading, my brother, and I thought about this very thing yesterday: how he did not receive Christ the Lord properly! Say it happens, for example, to me, or to anyone, I thought, I don't even know how I would receive Him. But he didn't receive Him at all! So I was thinking like that and I dozed off. I dozed off, my brother, and I heard something call my name. I rose. A voice, as though someone whispered, "Wait," it said, "I will come tomorrow." And this happened twice. Well, would you believe, this sank deep into my mind; I scolded myself, but even so I keep waiting for Him, the Lord."
Stepanich shook his head and didn't say anything, but drank up his tea and laid the glass on its side, but Avdeich picked it back up and filled it again.
"Drink for your health! You see, I was also thinking while He, the Lord, walked on earth, He didn't disdain anyone, and went about more with common folk. He always went with common people, gathering the disciples mainly from our our brothers, sinners like us, and from workers. 'Whoever raises himself,' He says, 'will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be raised. You,' He says, 'call me Lord, and I,' He says, 'will wash your feet. Whoever wants to be first,' He says, 'will be the servant of everyone. Because,' He says, 'blessed are the poor, the humble, the meek and the merciful.'"
Stepanich forgot his tea. He was an old man, and easily moved to tears; he sat and listened, tears rolling down his face.
"Well, have some more," said Avdeich. But Stepanich crossed himself, gave thanks, pushed aside his glass and stood up.
"Thank you, Martin Avdeich," he says, "you have entertained me and have satisfied both my body and my soul."
"You're welcome, drop in another time, I'm glad to have a guest," said Avdeich.
Stepanich left, and Martin poured the last of the tea, drank it, cleared the dishes and sat down again by the window to work -- to stitch the back part of a boot. He sewed, but was constantly glancing out the window -- he was waiting for Christ, and was continually thinking about Him and His deeds.
And Christ's various sayings were constantly in his head.
Two soldiers walked by, one wearing state-issued boots, the other in his own boots; then the owner of a neighboring house passed by in polished galoshes; a baker with a basket walked by. Everyone walked by, and then a women in woolen stockings and village-made shoes came alongside the window. She walked past the window and stopped by the wall next to it. Avdeich peered at her from the window and saw: a woman -- a stranger -- poorly dressed, and with a baby, stood by the wall with her back to the wind and was trying to wrap up her baby, but didn't have enough to wrap it in. The woman was wearing summer clothes, and they were shabby. And from behind the window frame, Avdeich heard: the baby was crying, and she tried to hush it but was not able to do so. Avdeich stood up, walked out the door and onto the stairs and shouted: "My dear, oh my dear!" The woman heard him and turned around.
"Why are you standing like this in the cold with a baby? Come into my room, it's better to take him into the warmth. Here, in here!"
The woman was surprised. She saw: an old man wearing an apron, with glasses on his nose, calling to her. She followed him.
They went down the stairs and entered the room, and the old man led the woman to the bed.
"Here," he says, "Sit down, my dear, closer to the stove, you can warm youself and nurse your little baby."
"There's no milk in my breasts, I haven't eaten since morning," the woman said, but took the baby to her breast all the same.
Avdeich shook his head, went over to the table, fetched the bread and a cup, opened the oven door and poured some cabbage soup into the cup. He took out the pot of kasha, but it was not done cooking yet; so he only poured the cabbage soup and set it on the table. He got some bread, took the towel from the hook and laid it on the table.
"Sit down, my dear," he says, "have something to eat and I'll sit with the baby for a while, I had my own children, you know, I know how to take care of them."
The woman crossed herself, sat down to the table and began to eat, and Avdeich sat down on the bed with the baby. Avdeich smacked his lips at him, but he smacked them poorly because he didn't have any teeth. All the time, the little baby cried. And Avdeich got the idea to pretend to scare him with his finger; he would poke his finger at the baby's mouth and pull it back. He would not put his finger in the baby's mouth because it was all black, dirtied with cobbler's wax. And the baby couldn't take his eyes off the finger and quieted down, and then began to laugh. And Avdeich was delighted. And the woman ate and told who she was and where she was going.
"I'm a soldier's wife," she said, "eight months ago, they sent my husband far away and there's been no news. I lived as a cook, and then had a baby. They wouldn't keep me with the baby. For three months now I've been struggling without a place. I spent everything on food. I wanted to be a wet nurse, but they won't take me: too thin, they say. Then I went to the merchant's wife, a woman from our village lives there, and they promised to take me. I thought they meant right away, but she told me to come next week. And she lives far away. I am dead tired, and I've worn him out, the dear heart. Thankfully, the landlady pities us and, for Christ's sake, let us stay in the apartment. Otherwise I don't know how I would live."
Avdeich sighed and said: "Do you have warm clothes or not?"
"It's a fine time to talk about warm clothes! Yesterday I pawned my last shawl for twenty copecks."
The woman walked up to the bed and took her baby, and Avdeich stood up and walked over to the wall, rummaged for a while and brought out an old overcoat.
"Here," he says, "although it's an old thing, it'll be useful to wrap up in, all the same."
The woman looked at the overcoat, and looked at the old man, took the coat and burst into tears. Avdeich turned away; he crawled under the bed, pulled out a trunk, dug in it for a while and sat back down across from the woman.
And the woman said: "Christ save you, grandpa. He sent me, evidently, to your window. I'd have frozen my child. When I went out it was warm, but now it has turned so cold. And He, the Lord, guided you to look out the window and pity poor me!"
Avdeich grinned and said: "He did guide me. I wasn't looking out the window without a reason, my dear."
And Martin related his dream to the soldier's wife, and how he heard the voice that promised that the Lord would come to him on this day.
"Everything is possible," the woman said, and stood up, threw on the overcoat, wrapped the child up in it and began to bow and to thank Avdeich again.
"Take this, for the sake of Christ," said Avdeich, and he gave her twenty copecks to buy back her shawl.
The woman crossed herself, and Avdeich crossed himself and led the woman out.
The woman left; Avdeich ate some cabbage soup, cleaned up and sat back down to work. He was working, but kept the window in mind: when the window was darkened, he would immediately glance up to see who passed by. Both acquaintances and strangers passed, but there wasn't anyone special.
And then Avdeich saw: just across from his window, an old market-woman had stopped. She was carrying a basket of apples. By this time only a few were left -- she had evidently sold most of them -- and there was a bag of chips across her shoulder. She probably gathered them at a construction site somewhere on her way home. But evidently the bag pulled at her shoulder; she wanted to move the the bag to her other shoulder and she set it down on the footpath, put the basket of apples on a post and began to shake down the chips in the bag. And while she shook the bag, an urchin wearing a torn cap appeared out of the blue, grabbed an apple out of the basket and wanted to slip away, but the old woman noticed, turned around and caught hold of the lad by his sleeve. The boy cringed; he wanted to escape but the old woman grabbed him with both hands, knocked off his cap and seized hold of his hair. The boy screamed and the old woman cursed. Avdeich did not have time to stick his awl in place, and threw it on the floor. He rushed out the door and even stumbled on the stairs, dropping his glasses. Avdeich ran out into the street; the old woman was pulling the lad by the hair and scolding him, and wanted to take him to the police; the lad was resisting her and denying it: "I didn't take anything," he says, "what are you beating me for? Let go!" Avdeich started to separate them; he took the boy by the arm and said: "Let go of him, Granny, forgive him, for Christ's sake!"
"I'll pay him back so he won't forget it until the switch wears out! I'll take the rascal to the police!"
Avdeich began to beg the old woman: "Let him go, Granny," he says, "he won't do it again. Let him go, for Christ's sake!"
The old woman let go of the boy, and he wanted to run, but Avdeich held him back.
"Ask Granny for forgiveness!" he said. "And don't do it again. I saw you take it."
The little boy began to cry and to ask for forgiveness.
"Well, okay. And now here's an apple for you." And Avdeich took an apple out of the basket and gave it to the boy. "I will pay for it, Granny," he said to the old woman.
"You'll spoil them this way, the scamps," said the old woman. "You have to pay him back for this so he won't forget it for a week.."
"Oh Granny, Granny," said Avdeich. "That's our way, but it's not God's way. If we must whip him for the apple, then what must be done with us for our sins?"
The old woman fell silent.
And Avdeich told the old woman the parable about the master who forgave his servant's large debt, and how the servant went out and began to strangle his own debtor. The old woman listened, and the boy stood, listening.
"God ordered us to forgive," said Avdeich, "or else He won't forgive us. You must be prepared to forgive everyone, especially a foolish boy."
The old woman shook her head and sighed.
"That may be so," the old woman said, "but they are already very spoiled."
"And so it's for us, the old people, to teach them," said Avdeich.
"That's what I'm saying," said the old woman. "I had seven of them myself, only one daughter is left."
And the old woman began to tell where and how she lived with her daughter, and how many grandchildren she had. "Now," she says, "my strength is little, but I labor for them. I pity my grandchildren, but they're good little kids: no one will welcome me like them. Aksyutka -- well, she won't leave me for anyone. 'Granny, dear Granny, loving Granny!'. . ." And the old woman softened completely.
"Everyone knows, kids will be kids. God be with him," the old woman said about the boy.
The old woman was just about to lift the bag onto her shoulders, and the boy jumped up and said "Let me, I'll carry it, Granny. It's on my way."
The old woman shook her head and heaved the bag onto the boy.
And they walked along the street side by side. And the old woman forgot to ask Avdeich for money for the apple. Avdeich stood and watched all this and listened as they walked, talking all the way.
Avdeich led them off and returned home, found his glasses on the stairs -- they weren't broken -- picked up his awl and sat down again to work. He worked for a little while, but soon could not hit the mark with the thread, and he saw the lamplighter go by to light the lamps. "I guess I need to light the fire," he thought; he trimmed his little lamp, hung it up and got back to work. He completely finished one boot, turned it all around and looked at it: it was good. He gathered together his tools, swept up the scraps, cleared away the bits of thread and awls, took the lamp, put it on the table and got the Gospel down from the shelf. He wanted to open the book at the place he had marked the day before with a scrap of morocco, but it opened at another place. And as Avdeich opened the Gospel, he recalled his dream from the previous day. And just as he remembered it, he suddenly heard something like someone stirring, feet stepping behind him. Avdeich looked behind him and saw: it was as though people were standing in the dark corner, people were standing there but he couldn't make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear:
"Martin, oh Martin, don't you recognize me?"
"Who?" Avdeich pronounced.
"Me," the voice said. "You see, it is I."
And Stepanich stepped out of the dark corner, smiled, and dispersed like a cloud, and he was no more. . . .
"And it is I," said the voice. And the woman with the baby stepped out of the dark corner and smiled, and the baby laughed, and they too disappeared.
"And it is I," said the voice. The old woman and the boy with the apple appeared, and they both smiled and disappeared, too.
And Avdeich's soul rejoiced. He crossed himself, put on his glasses and began to read the Gospel where it had opened. And at the top of the page he read:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
And he read some more at the bottom of the page:
"As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25).
And Avdeich understood that his dream did not deceive him, that it was as though his Savior had come to him on that day, and just as though he had received Him.