Thursday, February 26, 2015


I've been thinking a lot about Les Miserables lately.  Its a long-time favorite of mine, but recently I haven't been thinking so much about the contrast between Javert and Valjean, but between Valjean and the Thenadiers, with poor little Cosette tossed around by the decisions of everyone else in her life.

Javert is not the counterpoint to Valjean, he is the counterpoint to the Bishop.  Javert's pursuit of justice is absolute and unyielding:  it doesn't matter at all to him how charitably and selflessly Valjean has lived his life or how he has helped others; what he did was illegal, and he must take his stripes.  To Javert's way of thinking, everything else is wholly irrelevant. The law must be satisfied.  The Bishop sees a convict, as everyone else does, but he also sees a man.  He sees possibilities--what a man could become: something more, better, if only given the chance and the means.  And so he offers Valjean a tremendous gift, before any repentance has even been made.  He creates the debt by sacrificing his own precious things, and then expects Valjean to honor that debt by living worthy of the gift that has been offered to him.

The Thenadiers, on the other hand, offer a contrasting picture to Valjean and Fantine.  Valjean and Fantine try so hard to be good and decent, charitable and honest, and cannot seem to escape long-ranging consequences of foolish decisions made in their respective youths. The Thenadiers are consistently selfish and dishonest and unkind.  Their petty wickedness is terribly destructive.  For many years, not only do they seem to bear no ill consequences for their thievery, their extortion of Fantine (which ultimately leads, albeit indirectly, to her tragic death), or their questionable business practices, they instead seem only to prosper through all of it.

And in the middle of it is Cosette.  Her mother's youthful impulsiveness and poor judgment are responsible for her unfortunate living arrangements with the abusive Thenadiers.  Even after she is rescued by Valjean, who loves and dotes on her as a father, her life is restrictive and half-lived because of his need to be as unseen and unknown as possible because of his earlier mistakes.  She is an embodiment of the all-too-painful reality that you alone are never the only soul who lives with the consequences of your decisions.  Innocent souls with no power over the situation are often tremendously affected by the things you do--sometimes long after you've done them.  Remember that when tempted to do something selfish or stupid.

On the other hand, I think its important to remember how the story ends.  First of all (and this probably isn't the most important lesson, but I'm still petty enough that its important to me), the Thenadiers end up broken and miserable.  The prosperity does not last forever, and there are forms of justice to which everyone must eventually answer.   More importantly, however, is that Cosette obtains the life that those who truly love her hope she will have.  Because Valjean does repent (whether French law recognized it or not) and lives his life selflessly trying to protect and nurture and teach her, she finds a life of happiness and fulfillment.

And I think its just as important to remember that.  Your mistakes don't have to define you forever, and they will not define the people you love who may be now bearing some of the consequences, either.  When you have repented and are sincerely trying to do the right thing for the individuals that the Lord has placed under your stewardship, he will bless them with protection and direction, even if that seems impossible to believe right now.  We cannot control the consequences of our choices, and that it why it is so important to keep the commandments and to live as righteously as we are able. But we, and the people we love, will not be forever punished for our sins.  Just as the Bishop offered the candlesticks before Valjean even admitted taking the silverware, the Savior offered the Atonement before you realized you had gone astray.  It is infinite in expanse and endless in duration, and it can redeem and protect you.  When you offer sincere prayers for the innocent souls you feel unable to protect, the Lord hears you.  He has wrapped the redeeming, enabling love of that Atonement around them, too.  When the mists of darkness press down, hold tight to that rod and keep moving forward.  There is light at the end of that path, no matter how dark and stormy some of the seasons along the way may be.