A Reader’s Thousand Lives: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it when I chose this book as the next for my Thousand Lives project. I have two rules when it comes to my reading project: 1) nothing that would be more harmful to me than beneficial and 2) nothing that would hurt other people. So to try to take life tips from a book about a wronged man who swears revenge on all his enemies without hurting anyone or myself seemed impossible. I’m a big believer in forgiveness over revenge, in part because I so often fail at forgiveness.  I don’t want to undo any progress I’ve made on that front because a bitter character in a novel did it.

But when I started to really get into this book, I realized it’s not about revenge. Not at its heart. The takeaway message in The Count of Monte Cristo seems to be in the famous line: “All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope.” At one point after years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the hero, Edmond Dantes, becomes suicidal. When he befriends the Abbé Faria, they begin to plot an escape and Dantes realizes the enemies that framed him. He becomes more determined than ever to live so that he can one day enact his revenge. Not the healthiest motive, admittedly, but it gives him a renewed drive. Towards the end of the story, he also encourages his young friend, Maximillian Morrel, not to give in to his despair but instead to find reasons to “wait and hope.” It pays off for Morrel, too, not in death and vengeance but in life and a renewal of joy.

To me, The Count of Monte Cristo is not about vengeance at its core, but perseverance. It’s about finding the drive that gets you through the day when everything else seems lost.

I’ve known my two main “reasons to live” for most of my life. I’m a Christian, so my ultimate reason to live is to try to bring glory to God in as much time as I’m given on earth. I’m also a writer, and in dark times, I remind myself of my goals to be published and to have people around the world that I’ve never met read something that I wrote. There’s a good deal of waiting in both of those things. God’s plans almost never develop as quickly as we humans would like, and it takes even longer to know whether we made any kind of effect on the world. The process of trying to finish a piece of writing that I want to publish and getting that piece of writing published and distributed is a long, painful one. And I’ve never been good at waiting.

Even though I know that I have these things, and they’re important, they’re so long in the making that sometimes when life gets me down (as it has been wont to do, especially lately), it can convince me that these things are useless. Not useless for everyone, surely, but useless for me, because I’m not any good at them. Sometimes the drag feels stronger than my drive and I need as much encouragement as I can get. So for this novel, besides renewing my commitment to focus on the things that drive me and be patient, I’m going to make a list (not exclusive) of some things worth persevering for.

  1. Your favorite show or a movie you’re looking forward to. This sounds silly but honestly, I’ve had points where I think, “the only reason I’m even bothering with this day is so I can go home and watch Critical Role.” I had a friend tell me once that at one point, her favorite TV show was the reason she woke up in the morning. If you don’t wake up tomorrow, you’ll never get to know what happens next.
  2. The joke that you’ve had in your head for weeks and you’re just waiting for an opportunity to use it. You know the one. We’ve all been there.
  3. Your pet relies on you completely. Don’t have a pet? Get a pet (if you can)! Seriously, besides being adorable and helping you learn to be responsible for another life, pets are well-known to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  4. You need to know what Lin Manuel Miranda’s next project will be. I mean, we all do.
  5. Your dreams. This doesn’t have to mean your dream job or your dream house, dream marriage, anything like that. Maybe you’ve just always wanted to visit New York City, or have a little garden patch or read at an open mic session. Any of those things could still happen and might happen soon, because you don’t know what’s in store for you. I’ve had two friends this year that, for all their frustrations and discouragement, were offered their dream jobs. I’d like to think that maybe this is the year of making those things happen.
  6. Your friends and loved ones. And yes, there’s someone out there that does love you. If you don’t think so, talk to me, and I’ll be that person for you. I realize this one can be hard to see, though, when you’re so bogged down by your own problems and feel like you’re a burden to those around you, so I almost didn’t add this (especially if you’re like me, and constantly worried that the people that love you are really just pretending), but it’s worth noting.
  7. Your favorite weather. This is another thing that’s kind of small, but when it storms really hard or when we’re right in the heart of fall, my head feels so much clearer and I spend a good deal of time looking forward to the next time the weather is like that.
  8. That earworm of a song or album that you think you’ve burnt out, but after a few months, you listen to it again, and damn, it’s still good. And now you have to listen to it again.
  9.  The giraffe hasn’t had her baby yet. I haven’t been paying much attention to this, but my mom has and supposedly, the giraffe is not faking the pregnancy so it should be any day.
  10. The sky is going to keep doing a lot of cool things and you should watch them. Here’s a calendar of astronomy events for the year.
  11. Your perseverance may be inspiring someone else. Again, this is something that’s hard to see in the moment. It’s usually after the fact that someone tells me that I really helped them through something in a way that I never realized. But this is still a really valid reason for perseverance.
  12. Trump will not be president forever. There are movements to get him impeached now, and while I’m a little skeptical about the effectiveness about those movements, in three years and six months, we’ll be voting for president again and we can push and push and push to get rid of him.
  13. Escapism. I’m not sure if this is a reason to persevere, or just something that helps one to persevere, but it’s definitely something I’ve had to do a lot of lately, and as long as you’re not checking out completely, it can be healthy. You need to refresh yourself sometimes and not get bogged down by the real world. A hobby that you really enjoy, even if it’s a silly one, or a fantasy series or show that’s kind of silly but makes you really happy. For me, it’s my writing, reading, and Dungeons & Dragons. For one of my friends, it’s kdramas. Just something that lets you take a little break for a while and laugh.
  14. The chance to learn new things. You can never know absolutely everything, and you never know when to expect the next thing you’ll learn that really interests you. You don’t know how that can change you, so you should definitely keep your eyes and mind open for that.
  15. Spite. This is the one that the Count would definitely most approve of, and while I’ve already said that I think his methods were pretty unhealthy, spite can be a hell of a motivator. Whether you’re getting dragged down by mental illness, by people, or by some corrupt sort of system, the best way to piss off your antagonist is to keep pushing through. I’ve been in so many arguments when I’ve felt exhausted but told myself, “if I don’t say anything, they win. I have to say something so they know they’re not right.” That’s not really the best way to look at an argument, in which probably no one’s mind is going to change, and I’m slowly learning it. It might, however, be a good way to look at life. If you just call it now, they (whoever “they” are) win.
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