It is a remarkable thing that man does not stand in great awe of himself. The children are justified, when they peep so curiously and timidly at a company of unknown faces. Each individual atom of everlasting time is capable of comprising a world of joy, and at the same time of opening up a fathomless abyss of pain and suffering. I understand now the old fairy-tale about the man whom the sorcerer allowed to live a great many years in a few moments. For I know by my own experience the terrible omnipotence of the fantasy.
Since the last letter from your sister—it is three days now—I have undergone the sufferings of an entire life, from the bright sunlight of glowing youth to the pale moonlight of sagacious old age. Every little detail she wrote about your sickness, taken with what I had already gleaned from the doctor and had observed myself, confirmed my suspicion that it was far more dangerous than you thought; indeed no longer dangerous, but decided, past hope. Lost in this thought and my strength entirely exhausted on account of the impossibility of hurrying to your side, my state of mind was really very disconsolate. Now for the first time I understand what it really was, being new-born by the joyful news that you are well again. For you are well again now, as good as entirely well—that I infer from all the reports, with the same confidence with which a few days ago I pronounced our death-sentence.
I did not think of it as about to happen in the future, or even in the present. Everything was already past. For a long time you had been wrapt in the bosom of the cold earth; flowers had started to grow on the beloved grave, and my tears had already begun to flow more gently. Mute and alone I stood, and saw nothing but the features I had loved and the sweet glances of the expressive eyes. The picture remained motionless before me; now and then the pale face smiled and seemed asleep, just as it had looked the last time I saw it. Then of a sudden the different memories all became confused; with unbelievable rapidity the outlines changed, reassumed their first form, and transformed themselves again and again, until the wild vision vanished. Only your holy eyes remained in the empty space and hung there motionless, even as the friendly stars shine eternally over our poverty. I gazed fixedly at the black lights, which shone with a well-known smile in the night of my grief. Now a piercing pain from dark suns burned me with an insupportable glare, now a beautiful radiance hovered about as if to entice me. Then I seemed to feel a fresh breath of morning air fan me; I held my head up and cried aloud: “Why should you torment yourself? In a few minutes you can be with her!”
I was already hastening to you, when suddenly a new thought held me back and I said to my spirit: “Unworthy man, you cannot even endure the trifling dissonances of this ordinary life, and yet you regard yourself as ready for and worthy of a higher life? Go away and do and suffer as your calling is, and then present yourself again when your orders have been executed.”