Passion drives. Regard steers. Having directed our passions to conform to the welfare of all, we can begin more fully to practice the art of solicitude: an active caring for those we love.
A spouse who performs a household chore normally performed by the other and a child who cleans up after tracking mud into the house exemplify solicitude. We can be dispassionately solicitous of others but passion makes our acts of solicitude more enjoyable not only because there is “something” about that person but also because it reminds us that we have overcome the inclination to think solely about ourselves. When we do that, we reinforce practice of thinking of others; if we do it consistently enough, it becomes a habit.
(A slave mother writes of her child, from whom she has been separated:)
Days, weeks, and months passed, and there came no news of Ellen. I sent a letter to Brooklyn, written in my grandmother's name, to inquire whether she had arrived there. Answer was returned that she had not. I wrote to her in Washington; but no notice was taken of it. There was one person there, who ought to have had some sympathy with the anxiety of the child's friends at home; but the links of such relations as he had formed with me, are easily broken and cast away as rubbish. Yet how protectively and persuasively he once talked to the poor, helpless slave girl! And how entirely I trusted him! But now suspicions darkened my mind. Was my child dead, or had they deceived me, and sold her? . . . .
At the end of six months, a letter came to my grandmother, from Brooklyn. It was written by a young lady in the family, and announced that Ellen had just arrived. It contained the following message from her: "I do try to do just as you told me to, and I pray for you every night and morning." I understood that these words were meant for me; and they were a balsam to my heart. The writer closed her letter by saying, "Ellen is a nice girl, and we shall like to have to have her with us. My cousin, Mr. Sands, has given her to me, to be my little waiting maid. I shall send her to school, and I hope some day she will write to you herself." This letter perplexed and troubled me. Had my child's father merely placed her there till she was old enough to support herself? Or had he given her to his cousin, as a piece of property? If the last idea was correct, his cousin might return to the south at any time, and hold Ellen as a slave. I tried to put away from me the painful thought that such a foul wrong could have been done to us. I said to myself, "Surely there must be some justice in man;" then I remembered, with a sigh, how slavery perverted all the natural feelings of the human heart. It gave me a pang to look on my light-hearted boy. He believed himself free; and to have him brought under the yoke of slavery, would be more than I could bear. How I longed to have him safely out of the reach of its power!
- Marc Chagall, The Birthday (1915)
- Marc Chagall, Mother by the Oven (1914)
- Umberto Boccioni, The Mother (1906)
- Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Progress of Love: Love the Sentinel (1790-91)
Film and Stage
- Love: a daughter-in-law writes a series of letters “from” the elder woman’s son
- La Fille de La Valise (Girl With a Suitcase), a film that traces the line between doing for others and doing for ourselves.
- Matrimonio all’Italiana (Marriage – Italian Style): no fine lines here, both parties are our for self
- Amour(Love), a story of love and death, portraying the relationship between a long-married octogenarian couple as one of them slides into helplessness
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, 622
- Schubert, Four Impromptus, 899 (op. 90)
- Schubert, Four Impromptus, 935 (op. posth. 142)
- Dvořák, Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, 81, B 155 (1887): the opening movement best expresses the idea.
- Farrenc, Piano Quintet No. 2 in E Major, Op. 31 (1840)
- Gernsheim, Piano Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 47 (1883)
- Gernsheim, Fantasiestück, Op. 33
- Chausson, String Quartet in C Minor, 35 (1899)
- Fauré, Ballade in F-sharp Major, 19 (1879)
- Samuel Adler, Piano Quintet
- Myaskovsky, Cello Concerto in C Minor, 66
- Weinberg, Violin Sonatina, Op. 46 (1949)
- Raag Gaud Malhar: In painting, an anxious woman has made a bed of flowers for her lover. This raag is performed any time during the rainy season (performances by Amonkar, Vilayat Khan and Amzad Ali Khan).
- Miles Davis, “In a Silent Way”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Cat Stevens, Father and Son
- James Joyce, “A Flower Given to My Daughter”
Jean Valjean had taken no other part in the combat than to expose himself in it. Had it not been for him, no one, in that supreme phase of agony, would have thought of the wounded. Thanks to him, everywhere present in the carnage, like a providence, those who fell were picked up, transported to the tap-room, and cared for. In the intervals, he reappeared on the barricade. But nothing which could resemble a blow, an attack or even personal defence proceeded from his hands. He held his peace and lent succor. Moreover, he had received only a few scratches. The bullets would have none of him. If suicide formed part of what he had meditated on coming to this sepulchre, to that spot, he had not succeeded. But we doubt whether he had thought of suicide, an irreligious act. Jean Valjean, in the thick cloud of the combat, did not appear to see Marius; the truth is, that he never took his eyes from the latter. When a shot laid Marius low, Jean Valjean leaped forward with the agility of a tiger, fell upon him as on his prey, and bore him off. The whirlwind of the attack was, at that moment, so violently concentrated upon Enjolras and upon the door of the wine-shop, that no one saw Jean Valjean sustaining the fainting Marius in his arms, traverse the unpaved field of the barricade and disappear behind the angle of the Corinthe building. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume V – Jean Valjean; Book First – The War Between Four Walls, Chapter XXIV, Prisoner.]
One May morning, when the sun was rising on one of those dark blue skies against which Garofolo loves to place his Descents from the Cross, the recluse of the Tour-Roland heard a sound of wheels, of horses and irons in the Place de Grève. She was somewhat aroused by it, knotted her hair upon her ears in order to deafen herself, and resumed her contemplation, on her knees, of the inanimate object which she had adored for fifteen years. This little shoe was the universe to her, as we have already said. Her thought was shut up in it, and was destined never more to quit it except at death. The sombre cave of the Tour-Roland alone knew how many bitter imprecations, touching complaints, prayers and sobs she had wafted to heaven in connection with that charming bauble of rose-colored satin. Never was more despair bestowed upon a prettier and more graceful thing.
It seemed as though her grief were breaking forth more violently than usual; and she could be heard outside lamenting in a loud and monotonous voice which rent the heart.
“Oh my daughter!” she said, “my daughter, my poor, dear little child, so I shall never see thee more! It is over! It always seems to me that it happened yesterday! My God! my God! it would have been better not to give her to me than to take her away so soon. Did you not know that our children are part of ourselves, and that a mother who has lost her child no longer believes in God? Ah! wretch that I am to have gone out that day! Lord! Lord! to have taken her from me thus; you could never have looked at me with her, when I was joyously warming her at my fire, when she laughed as she suckled, when I made her tiny feet creep up my breast to my lips? Oh! if you had looked at that, my God, you would have taken pity on my joy; you would not have taken from me the only love which lingered, in my heart! Was I then, Lord, so miserable a creature, that you could not look at me before condemning me?—Alas! Alas! here is the shoe; where is the foot? where is the rest? Where is the child? My daughter! my daughter! what did they do with thee? Lord, give her back to me. My knees have been worn for fifteen years in praying to thee, my God! Is not that enough? Give her back to me one day, one hour, one minute; one minute, Lord! and then cast me to the demon for all eternity! Oh! if I only knew where the skirt of your garment trails, I would cling to it with both hands, and you would be obliged to give me back my child! Have you no pity on her pretty little shoe? Could you condemn a poor mother to this torture for fifteen years? Good Virgin! good Virgin of heaven! my infant Jesus has been taken from me, has been stolen from me; they devoured her on a heath, they drank her blood, they cracked her bones! Good Virgin, have pity upon me. My daughter, I want my daughter! What is it to me that she is in paradise? I do not want your angel, I want my child! I am a lioness, I want my whelp. Oh! I will writhe on the earth, I will break the stones with my forehead, and I will damn myself, and I will curse you, Lord, if you keep my child from me! you see plainly that my arms are all bitten, Lord! Has the good God no mercy?—Oh! give me only salt and black bread, only let me have my daughter to warm me like a sun! Alas! Lord my God. Alas! Lord my God, I am only a vile sinner; but my daughter made me pious. I was full of religion for the love of her, and I beheld you through her smile as through an opening into heaven. Oh! if I could only once, just once more, a single time, put this shoe on her pretty little pink foot, I would die blessing you, good Virgin. Ah! fifteen years! she will be grown up now!—Unhappy child! what! it is really true then I shall never see her more, not even in heaven, for I shall not go there myself. Oh! what misery to think that here is her shoe, and that that is all!” [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume II, Book Eighth, Chapter V, “The Mother”.]
- Maurice Carlos Ruffin, We Cast a Shadow: A Novel (One World, 2019): “The novel draws its power from this unnamed man’s love for his family, particularly for his biracial son, Nigel.”