Some books stay with you and influence all you do. When I was a boy, after eight, but before twelve, I read Nicholas and Alexandra. This book, and the many others I consumed on the Russian Revolution, left me with three distinct truths that have stayed with me:
Personal piety cannot replace professional competence.
Things may be bad, but sweeping away everything in a revolution will (almost) always be worse.
If your revolution needs the murder of children, your revolution is evil.
I never thought the family of the last Tsar perfect or attempted to sanitize the mistakes he made or the evils done in his name. The Revolution came and the Emperor had to be in some part responsible for the madness, yet to me, Nicholas II proved that if you could not live well, you could at least die well. You had to keep trying to do right (as he almost always had) and if you are blessed, then the world you control will grow small enough, small as a basement room filled with regicides, and your courage will be great enough to master the situation.
I do not know why, but the death of the last Russian Tsar left me with a periodic dream of his assasination . . .one of those dreams that leave a man more tired than when he went to bed and make him think. As a college student, I wrote a monk about this and he said he hoped all this interest would lead me to “the faith for which they died.”
And so it did.
Eventually, I would use the dream (and some other events in my life) as the basis for a novel. (Get it here.)
All he could hear was wind.
The voice of Max and the others vanished in the gale of his waking nightmare. It was dark, the kind of perfect darkness modern people rarely know and so find disorienting. And then he saw a circle, spinning like the outside rim of a wagon wheel and the dreadful sounds began, as he knew they would, and he watched the wheel spin, faster and faster. It was the howling of a gale passing through a space too narrow for the force. It was the sound of despair.
His vision of the scene become more expansive and the first spinning wheel became part of a larger system. It was joined by a second inner wheel turning in the opposite direction. This second wheel had parts, smaller spheres perhaps, attached to it. He couldn’t capture it fully and this infuriated him, because he was dimly aware that Max would have understood, but Max was outside the Dream. It was maddening. He wanted to shout out a question to his mentor, but he could not speak.
He knew what was coming and he did not want the dream to continue. “God, let it stop,” Peter prayed, but he knew it would not stop. It never did after this point. He was passing right through the center of the spinning circles. His body was burning and then as he reached the center his chest began to feel heavy. It was like being buried alive, but with no coffin, only mud and matter pressing down on his face and soul. Alive. Buried.Buried alive.
Until he was in that room, the room he hated once again, and the real dread began. His body pressed against the rough stone of the basement wall. Or was he the wall? Objects were easy to identify in the Dream, but he was not. He could not see himself and everything was washed out . . .soft focus. He was watching what amounted to fragments of a movie or pieces of history. The fragments were not more comforting as they became familiar: the angry men, loud orders, a father, a feeble mamma, four daughters, an invalid boy, friends of the family. All of them leaning on the wall . . . leaning on him. The voices of the angry men filled the room, but he, as always, could not quite understand what they said.
His vision blurred and his hearing became even more confused. He was not so much seeing and hearing as feeling his dream now. He could sense bits of emotions from the people in the dream room: mostly fear. Finally, as he knew he must, Peter saw Her and once again realized that he must save her and that once again he would fail. She would die. This woman. She, was being murdered with all her family. He knew her name, but could not say it. He could not pray, could not move, but could merely be the wall against which this young woman leaned as she died and into which spent bullets flew through her to him. He felt pain, but not from the lead burying into him. Instead he felt her nails, as she was dying scratching symbols into the wall . . . into him. He could feel that scratching, desperate writing cutting into his plaster skin. What was her final message? He could not tell. Her face filled his mind, becoming so sad and beautiful that it felt like a blasphemy not to venerate her.
This last part of the Dream was always, almost, bearable. The hatred that filled the room did not touch her. The greater the pain inflicted on her, and it was horrific, the less she seemed aware of it. She did not die in fear or the desire for revenge. He was, for just a second, overwhelmed by perfect love.
And then his mind began to awake, driven away from the best part of his Dream by the hatred of the men with guns. She was lost to him. Gone. In the whole scene he could soon make out only a few things: the yellow stripes on the basement wallpaper, the odd cap on the chief of the angry men, and the sickening smell. The great wind that brought him to the room began to suck him out. As he was yanked from the room, moving back again through the images and sounds and the last word of her father, the bearded man, dominated his mind. The word drowned out all thought. The father said it softly and patiently. It began to echo with authority and righteous anger. The start of a question spat out right before a bullet made speaking impossible. “What?” “What?” “What?”
The death of the last Russian tsar marked a beginning of some good, but much evil. Millions would be intentionally liquidated in the name of atheism, science, and progress so good could come, but no good came. You cannot do bad so good may come.
There is a lesson here. Some wisdom. Let us attend.