My dear Theo
The hours we spent together have at least assured us that we both are still in the land of the living. When I saw you again and walked with you, I had a feeling I used to have more often than I do now, namely that life is something good and precious which one should value, and I felt more cheerful and alive than I have been feeling for a long time, because in spite of myself my life has gradually become much less precious, much less important and more a matter of indifference to me, or so it has seemed.
When one lives with others and is bound by feelings of affection, then one realizes that one has a reason for living, that one may not be utterly worthless and expendable, but is perhaps good for something, since we need one another and are journeying together as compagnons de voyage. But our proper sense of self-esteem is also highly dependent upon our relationship with others.
A prisoner who is condemned to solitude, who is prevented from working, will in the long run, especially if the run is too long, suffer from the effects as surely as one who has gone hungry for too long. Like everyone else, I need friendly or affectionate relationships or intimate companionship, and am not made of stone or iron like a pump or a lamppost, and like any man of culture or decency I cannot do without these things and not feel a void, a lack of something – and I tell you all this to let you know how much good your visit has done to me.
[….] A change for the better in my life, should not I long for that, or are there times when one has no need for betterment ? I hope I do become much improved. But precisely because that is what I long for, I am afraid of
This is a part of the letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in August 1879. In the middle of July 1879 Van Gogh was told that his appointment in Wasmes could not be extended and so he moved to the nearby village of Cuesmes. He read a great deal of Charles Dickens, though drawing had meanwhile became his main interest. In the middle of August Theo paid him a visit and, as after all such meetings between the brothers, Vincent wrote a revealing letter soon afterwards. The letter is about the permanence of the close relationship he now enjoyed with his brother, his “compagnon de voyage”, traveling companion.
I stumbled upon this much-coveted classic book, the must in one’s collection of books, in a tiny yet wonderfully designed book store that is close to my work place. I went to this book store to buy a gift for my colleague, as part of the Christmas Gifting season….a brief visit to the next door book store, unexpectedly, proved a wonderful experience! the old man who takes care of the cash counter in the book store, walked around with me only to recall his evenings spent in the college library, reading Classic authors like Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Dostoevsky, etc in Kannada, the native language. It could be one of those briefest interactions I’ve ever had with a stranger, but indeed was richer due to the humbleness of it, someone who was not that articulate felt like sharing a piece of his life with me, something common had prodded him to recall, a tiny submission, a slight tremble in the hands while gift wrapping the books, ….left a lump in the throat! One need not sweat over major earth-shattering discoveries or cheer about dazzling fireworks of celebration exploding in the skies above, but need to just pause and listen to people, their memories, their desires, their dreams…..Humans, when you pause and listen, can be humbling and meaningful experiences….