And what is this strange word, it would christen your site?
Platosha is one of my handful of lifeguards. They help me through each day, one-by-one. And so they help me hang on to life.
“Platosha” is the nickname of Platon Karataev. He shows up but for a handful of paragraphs– out of all the hundreds of pages– of War and Peace (W&P), by Count Lev Tolstoy.
We meet Platosha fairly late in the story. He is a POW walking westward with the stumbling French army on its harried, bitter retreat from Moscow in the terrible winter of 1812-1813.
Platosha had been but a simple, young serf when he had volunteered for Russian Imperial Army service. He had volunteered to take the place of– and thus spare the life of– a fellow serf who had been conscripted.
Now Platosha is but a simple, old private soldier who got caught. And this ordeal, indeed all the adversity of his decades in service, have been utterly unable to chip-away his rough-hewn, straightforward, solid Christian faith. While growing up in the serf village, he had been immersed in and strengthened by that faith.
Born of that faith, his simple serf’s peace of mind is triumphant.
I’ve introduced Platosha. Now, I’ll turn to someone much more qualified to describe him.
In the POW train with Platosha is a character more prominent– simply in terms of number of words– in W&P. This is the accidental nobleman Count Pierre Bezukhov. He and Platosha make a pair of comrades unlikely in any other circumstance.
Of Platosha, Pierre observes,
Karataev had no attachments, friendships, or love…but he loved and lived lovingly with everything that life brought his way, especially other people– not any specific people, but those who were there before his eyes. He loved his [pet] mutt, his comrades, the French, he loved Pierre who was his neighbor; but Pierre sensed that, despite all his gentle tenderness towards him…Karataev would not have been upset for a moment to parted from him.*
Platosha is an idiot savant. He talks continually in a random stream of insignificant consciousness. But occasionally, suddenly, among the slurry of his words, appears a priceless gem:
You suffer an hour, you live an age!**
There’s no safety from the beggar’s sack or the prison’s bars.+
How can you not be sad [at the site of the arson and pillage and ruin of what once was the magnificent city of Moscow]..?++
And when it’s all over? With his sterling, godly character, how does Platosha end up? I’ll tell you– with a lethal French musket-ball in his skull, baptized in a freezing, filthy roadside ditch, left to die, bereft of all loved ones.
For Platosha, no “Christian” illusions! For Platosha, Christian faith brings no exemptions from whatever may come anyone’s way upon the trail of this terrestrial pilgrimage. And neither does it matter too much to Platosha whether he considers any experience or encounter fortunate or unfortunate, adverse or favorable, pleasant or unpleasant.
Platosha has learned to be stoic (“Platon”, “Plato”, get it?). But his stoicism is not dour and aloof. Rather, Platosha’s stoicism is earthy, friendly, and joyous.
Finally! A Christian who lives in reality, and lives an example.
One may say, in hardship, Platosha has sunk. And so he has. All the way. All the way down…to bedrock. By definition, bedrock can’t move. Bedrock can’t break. And so– to paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth who spoke highly of this very thing– the life founded on bedrock is secure.
This sounds discouraging? Yes? But wait a minute! Consider: if one has no illusions one cannot suffer the pain of disillusion! Platosha shows us, models for us, lives for us the realities of Christian life:
Consequence does not necessarily follow character.
Consequence does not necessarily follow choice.
The entire spectrum of emotions may be felt.
The entire spectrum of events may be encountered.
Despite whatever experience you may consider adverse, unfortunate, unfair, unpleasant, God has not disappeared. God has not failed you. God has not lied to you.
In whatever circumstance you may find yourself, God is there with you.
God loves you.
Well, wait a minute! Why am I pontificating? Having learned from Platosha’s example, Pierre puts it so much better:
…Now, in these last three weeks of the [POW] march, [Pierre] had learned that there is nothing frightening in the world. He had learned that, as there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree…there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom…^
Well. I can’t top Tolstoy. Who could? All I can do is offer a feeble, “Amen”!
And now you know WTF is Platosha. And how he helps save my life. And why he christens my site.
War and Peace
Knopf NY NY 2007
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
*Volume Four, Part One, Chapter XIII
**Volume Four, Part One, Chapter XII
+Volume Four, Part One, Chapter XII
++Volume IV, Part One, Chapter XII
^Volume IV, Part Three, Chapter XII
© Landis McGauhey