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"I never cease to be overwhelmed by the view of nighttime sky," he said with delight. "It's only here, in the south, where the stars are so bright and innumerable. When I lift my gaze, first I see a few, like specks of silver paint on a charcoal canvas. As I stare on, new constellations emerge from the background and the more my sight tries to count them, the more countless they become. It fascinates me all the more to realize that their light was emitted aeons ago and now we might see what had long ceased to exist. Then I'm suddenly struck by the notion of how infinite the universe is and how insignificant we and our lives are, both in space and in time. I guess if everybody could regard their existence this way just for some minutes a day, they would live differently."

Pablo sighed, flashing a sad smile.

"What?" Andrew asked. "Wanna say it's time to quit being romantic when you're over thirty?"

"No," Pablo said. "It's never time to quit being who you really are. You shouldn't even try."

(PART 5, ALMAS DEL SILENCIO / Chapter 36, On the Beach)

PABLO: The limits of the possible—just like fears and prejudice—exist only within our minds. Nothing is impossible in the face of firm belief and unabated perseverance. As a professional athlete, I've ascertained it with my own experience.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 89, Labyrinth of Destiny)

PABLO: Master Gandhi taught that whatever you do in life may turn out insignificant, but it is very important that you do it, because perhaps nobody else is capable of the same. When you came into my life, my reason said, "You're nowhere near ready", and my heart immediately shouted in response, "Make him yours forever!" It was so unwise of me to disobey my heart, but that's what I did, and that's the only thing in my life I actually wish I had done differently. I hope someday you'll forgive me for all the lost time we could have happily lived together. I love you; I always loved you, even before I met you, and I'll ever love you, no matter where I am, no matter whether I am or not. Please remember that your best way to respond to my love is just to be happy, ever happy, even if I'm not by your side. If afterlife exists, I'm not saying to you "Goodbye". I'm saying to you "See you later."

(PART 9, A WINTER FOR TWO / Chapter 116, Closer to God)

PABLO: But what do you think the destiny is, Andrew? And who decides it? Is it a sort of mysterious script etched by God in the stone of heavenly tablets? Something predetermined, something fixed, something we can't change? Not at all, I daresay. I have to remind you about a platitudinous truth—life is about making choices. Destiny is what we shape with our own hands, every decision determining where we will end up. For the weak, destiny is like a train that can take them as passengers only where the track leads. For the strong, destiny's like an automobile that takes them wherever they choose to steer. As drivers at the wheel, they and only they decide where to turn at every next crossroad.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 89, Labyrinth of Destiny)

ANDREW: This country is much like Titanic, which struck an iceberg: No matter how many passengers it carries, no matter how grand and unsinkable it once seemed, now it’s doomed to founder in the stormy ocean of corruption and lawlessness. Some people on board, like me, would be willing to plug the hole with their bodies, but such people are too few while the hole is too large. So my self-sacrifice of settling for misery here and my attempts to fix it will be useless—I will drown along with this ship. If I want to survive, there’s no other way but to escape. And now, I am finally ready.

(PART 5, ALMAS DEL SILENCIO / Chapter 49, Las almas del silencio)

PABLO: Humility is truly a great Christian virtue, but humility doesn't imply submission, much like freedom doesn't entail permissiveness. Humility is not tantamount to settling for misery and obsequiously yielding to the evil. Instead, humility is the wisdom to respond the evil with an act of virtue rather than an act of the same evil. Figuratively, humility is raising the shield of your faith to protect you after you've been insulted, rather than inflicting the same blow on your offender and thus perpetuating the violence.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 80, One Day Closer)

PABLO: You might want to reproach me for being highly metaphysical and figurative, but I'll come up with another metaphor. It dawned onto my mind today, after I left my attorney's office and felt I needed to deeply reflect somewhere alone. I headed for one of your favorite places in Barcelona, Parc del Laberint d'Horta. You know, the life itself is like a labyrinth. You have a source, a destination, and though the shortest distance between them is a straight line, you're faced with a network of paths and hedges separating them. As you go through it, there will be a lot of blind alleys designed to lead you astray. In order to accomplish the mission of your spiritual quest, you must always stay oriented—remember where you are heading to, where you are coming from, and what blind alleys you've already passed, having to retrace your steps back after wandering into them. Sometimes, it may seem that you're going in quite the opposite direction from your destination, but it may be just a leg within the only right trajectory, a downward leg that constitutes an inherent part of your overall upward journey. If you remain faithful to the cornerstones of your spirituality and confident of what you want out of life, you'll ultimately arrive at the point of happiness, peace, and completeness.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 89, Labyrinth of Destiny)

ANDREW: But why then most people in this country seem content, don't grumble and get along with our reality, never conceiving of escaping to the West?

PABLO: It's so since most people are conformists. They tend to choose the path of least resistance, to adapt to existing norms and conditions, rather than to rebel against them and to make some change. Most people prefer to fish in troubled waters, rather than to move to another fishing site. It was so from the beginning of humankind, so it is now and so it will ever be. Remember the story you told me about Nathalie's father's offer to give up on medical profession and start working for his business? Back then, what did you choose? You didn't let him bring you to your knees. Despite severe financial difficulties and humiliation inflicted upon you, you chose to remain faithful to your predestination, to stick by your maxims. It was your choice, the right choice, the noble choice. The choice the majority of people would not have made.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 91, Right Choice)

"My huge thanks goes to you, Dr. Gordovsky," said Ilya, shaking Andrew's hand. "These thirty minutes were more useful to me than two previous years of residency."

"You're welcome, Ilya. There's nothing to thank me for. It's just my work," Andrew asserted.

"Your work is to make money. To be kind, helpful, and honest is not your work," Ilya countered, trying to sound cynical.

"You're dead wrong, my friend. To be kind, helpful, and honest is a part of every doctor's work. Those who are not like this barely deserve to be called doctors."

"Then who are most physicians working here? Butchers? Publicans?"

"They are just... grafters," Andrew opined. "But let them alone. Are you hungry?"

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 82, A Tale of Two Residents)

"Do you believe in God?" Andrew interrupted him.

Pablo stared at him with dumbfounded look and asked:

"Sure. And you? Don't you believe in Him?"

Andrew shrugged his shoulders. Albeit he'd been baptized in childhood, he'd never since crossed threshold of any church, nor had he ever dwelled upon religious issues.

"Then do you believe in the sky?" asked Pablo, sincerely surprised. "In the sea? In the earth? In the sun and the moon?"

"I don't know. At least, as to the sky and the earth, to the moon and the sun, I see them with my own eyes. But as to God, have you ever seen him, Pablo?"

"Never once. But I do sense Him. Every second of my life He is with me, and with you, and with every of us. It's due to Him that we exist, it is by Him that life goes on. I feel it with all my heart and soul," Pablo spoke as they reached a rise deepening into the forest.

Nearly choking with shiver out of cold, Pablo continued:

"You know what? I'll tell you a parable. Once in a mother's womb, two twins were talking. One of them was a believer, the other was an unbeliever. The latter asked his fellow, "Do you believe in life after birth?" The believer replied, "Sure, it's clear to me that life after birth exists and we are here to get strong and prepared for what awaits us later on." "What a crap," sneered the unbeliever, "of course, there's no life after birth. Can you imagine what it could be? Here we are warm and safe and we have the navel string that nourishes us. Our life will just be ended by the birth and thence, from the other side, no one has ever come back." The believer stated, "I don't know every detail about the life after birth, but I guess we will at least eat with our own mouths and walk with our own feet and whatever happens we'll see Mom and she will take care of us." The unbeliever asked, "Mom? Do you believe in Mom? Have you ever seen her? And where is she, then?" The believer exclaimed, "She's everywhere! She's around us, it's thanks to her that we are living and without her we are nothing! Sometimes, when everything stills, I can hear her sing to us and stroke our world! I firmly believe that Mom exists and our real life will begin after birth." So what, Andrew, do you believe?"

A confused pause hovered in mid-air.

(PART 3, I CAN'T SAY IT / Chapter 18, The Sound of Silence)

PABLO: I've long known it from sports. Whatever grand goal you set before yourself, whatever thorny path you tread on, it is not the first but rather the last steps of it that are the hardest ones. Now that you are a few feet away from your happiness, submitting to depression is not that silly—it's tantamount to treachery. I've betrayed you, but now don't you treat yourself the same way! Don't betray your bright dreams, don't let the disease ruin your future!

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 91, Right Choice)

PABLO: The point is not that you have suffered from delusions of grandeur for all your life. The point is that now you suffer from delusions of self-abasement. This is the truth.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 89, Labyrinth of Destiny)

PABLO: Sometimes, when I force myself to forget our pasts, to be oblivious to who and where we are, when I dismiss the notion of thousands of miles and barriers that so long have been tearing us apart, then it feels like you are a little lost child, and all I need to do is just to scoop you up in my arms and say, "Come live with me forever, and I will take care of you for the rest of your life." And once I can feel your last searing tears on my neck, once I can hear your sobs quieten, once I can hear your raspy breath grow calmer against my ear, once I can see the fear in your eyes disappear because of the tenderness and confidence you see in mine, once I can feel the beat of your heart get steadier pressed tight against mine, once you can unbosom to me your bottomless grief and I engulf your pain into myself—completely, consciously, without a ghost of doubt and regret—and reassure you it's gone forever, keeping my admiring stare at your big liquid eyes and wondering why God blessed this sinful, unworthy world with anything more beautiful, then, at last, I will surely know that I'm infinitely, truly happy, that my earthly mission is accomplished and I will stay with you like this forever, guarding your comfort from any threat, and even death won't be able to do our lives apart, since from that moment our lives would cease to exist separately, instead fusing into one ever-lasting, almighty, ever-winning entity of true love.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 94, A Little Lost Child)

ANDREW: Now it's my soul that's diseased. My soul—not my body. Souls are not material, and it's impossible to influence them by shifting some neurotransmitters in the brain. If I believe that my soul can be helped with a drug, then I accept the material essence of my being. I acknowledge that my soul and spirit are just a fancy, a couple of bullshit metaphysical terms in my imagination. I admit that all my dreams and hopes and feelings are not real, that only my body and my brain with its broken biochemistry are real, and the drug serves to mend this biochemical failure.

These notions deeply undermine my whole worldview. I can't accept that we are material in the first place. I do believe in the independent and primary existence of a human soul and its spiritual essence. Soul is such a complex structure. It is a mechanism consisting of thousands of details, we don't have the slightest idea about the way it functions. If something breaks within, it must have its own mechanisms to heal itself. All it needs is time. It isn't right to intervene into it with some medication, 'cause this intervention may cause a fatal, unfixable harm.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 92, A Birthday Present)

PABLO: You never spoilt my life. You blessed it with your appearance, and the day we met was its most blessed day. I don't dream about remote future, I don't know whether we will own a house by the sea and whether your career will succeed in my country, whether your depression will ever recur or not, but I'm sure you'll be better with me anyway. Please, always remember that whatever you are, strong or weak, intelligent or silly, sane or insane, self-confident or desperate, I need you in my life. No matter whether you are by my side or two thousand miles away, I need to feel your presence in this world so that I could breathe. My heart is always with you when you cry and when you laugh, in the days of your sorrow and your joy, in your darkest nights and your sweetest dreams. When you feel desperation grip you, just call me in your mind, and I shall be here to save you from the darkness, to comfort you, to embrace you, to love you.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 92, A Birthday Present)

Pablo soberly estimated his condition, because he was his soul mate and with time he clearly imagined the horrors that Andrew had been living through since February. Thanks to the Internet, Pablo got increasingly educated in the issues of mental health, and now he was aware that Andrew had all those physical symptoms of depression not because it was endogenous. He had this severe, diverse clinical presentation of mental disorder just because it was way too advanced. In a mental health article he recently discovered, he came across the theory that major depression was a condition of so-called learned helplessness. This concept implied that, if a person is being stricken by an overwhelming external stressor they can't escape from for a period of time that is long enough, then the sense of helplessness will be internalized and will last even after the stress factor is gone. A biological illustration of this was the well-known experiment of a rat locked in a metal cage and shot by jolts of electricity conducted through the bars. First, the animal would start to frantically dash around the cage, trying to find a way out, but it wouldn't find one. After two minutes of being repeatedly shocked with the current, it would lie down and indifferently submit to the suffering, feeling powerless and helpless. Most important, it would continue to lie that way when the electroshocks ceased after three minutes of shooting. Technically, the animal would be still alive, with its heart beating and its breath occurring, but it wouldn't move anywhere. It would stagnate in numbness for indefinite time. It wouldn't take food although it might starve because even its most basic biological instincts like hunger would be paralyzed by the universal, visceral fear—the fear of life itself. Projecting it onto humans, the whole theory posited that, in clinical depression, the helplessness learned even in one overwhelmingly stressful situation could be later generalized to the rest of reality, even though the original stressor might be no longer present.

It precisely described what had happened to Andrew. Due to negative experiences in his personal and professional life, he had been living in frustration for many years, although he spared no effort to rise above misery and to achieve his rightly chosen goals. He worked to the best of his ability and made right, honest choices everywhere—from his studies to his career to his marriage—but, within the cage of his reality, those choices were not appreciated and those efforts didn't pay off. Although he never gave up faith in a brighter tomorrow, this amount of negativity was big enough to start to trick him into thinking that something was wrong with him. However, when he came to Spain and met Pablo, he started to think outside that cage. He got a hope of starting over and building a better life from scratch in a foreign country. He got a hope of being able to grow in a new reality, which, unlike his, was not plagued by ubiquitous corruption and blatant social inequality. He got a hope of being able to live in an inclusive society where being kind and respectful to one another was considered a norm of behavior rather than a sign of weakness. In Spain, he got a hope of being able to achieve professional self-fulfillment in the industry where talent and diligence counted more than bribes and connections, like was the case in his country. He got a hope of finally breaking free from the clutches of poverty that had been cramping his life since young age. Lastly, when the real nature of his relationship with Pablo became clear, he got a hope of living by the side of a person whom he truly loved. On the one hand, these hopes helped him get through years of his tough life in Russia, but on the other hand, emotionally, too much was at stake for him in the possibility of emigration. And too many obstacles stood in the way. When Pablo communicated the fear that their relationship might endanger his career, the piece of Andrew's dream perilously close to his heart was amputated. Now, thinking about it with the benefit of hindsight, Pablo realized that, after his visit to Moscow in May 2008, during one year of their withering, increasingly formal electronic correspondence, Andrew already showed early signs of depression in the way he wrote his messages. As the memories of that time were coming back now, Pablo lay in bed unable to fall asleep, feeling stinging tears of remorse well up in his closed eyes. Back then, he was so busy with his burgeoning affair with Monica and so excited about the possibility of their picture-perfect, tinsel marriage, that he ignored both the fact that his feelings for her had never been true and the fact that the person he truly loved, the person who was left two thousand miles away in the cage of his miserable reality just because Pablo lacked the courage to respect their love and chose his celebrity status over it—that person sounded apologetic in his short emails, as though his presence in Pablo's life was an unwanted nuisance. And back then, Pablo did nothing to dissuade him. Back then, Pablo did nothing to speak the truth about that needed to be spoken, at least within the limits of private correspondence. And how did it all end? Pablo was disgusted with himself as he recollected what he said to Andrew in the miserable scene after introducing him to Monica, at the same place where he had confessed to Andrew four years before. He was disgusted with himself for making a choice to hit the person he knew he still loved on his most vulnerable spot, even if he made that choice on the spur of the moment. He was disgusted with himself for regretting that choice but never reaching back to Andrew because of fear and shame. He was disgusted with himself for proceeding with his marriage despite his heart telling him it wasn't right. He was disgusted with himself for putting his career and his celebrity before his honesty and his love. He was disgusted with himself for robbing Andrew of the dreams and hopes that he had been cherishing for years, instead of encouraging him and helping him to make them come true, even if their relationship would be limited to friendship in the public eye. He was disgusted with himself for using the power on his hands not for Andrew's benefit but to hurt him. But as much as he blamed himself, he was sober enough to switch the focus of his reflection in a direction different from his own feelings. He thought about the amount of damage that his actions inflicted on Andrew's already hard life. He realized that he was one of people who taught Andrew the very idea of helplessness and worthlessness, and that he had more emotional influence on Andrew than anyone else, ever. So was there any wonder that Andrew developed major depression as a result? No way! Was there anything wrong with Andrew or the way he felt? By no means! When the whole story was taken into consideration, it was obvious that his reaction was absolutely appropriate. It was clear the severity of his current condition reflected how vital the feelings and hopes that Pablo so recklessly shattered were to him. Pablo realized that, following their breakup, Andrew had been living not for days or week but for many months mired in the dark, bottomless swamp of grief, without anyone around him he could have trusted it with, without anyone around able to help him. That was helplessness being perpetuated. That was major depression being increasingly aggravated. Therefore, it was sad yet unsurprising that now that Pablo had come back into his life, repenting and willing to restore the justice, Andrew was unable to forget what had happened and to easily rid himself of his devastating pain. Andrew no longer believed him. Andrew no longer believed in their love. Because, most tragically, at the bottom of depression, Andrew no longer believed that he as a human being was worthy of being loved.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 92, A Birthday Present)

Over the years Sofia had known him, she concluded that Andrew had an altruistic understanding of help. Andrew was utterly willing to help to others—from his colleagues who asked him to translate scientific articles from English to Russian (of course, for free) to his former patients who called him in a few months after having been discharged and received another consultation over the phone, making Andrew visit with them for half an hour in the evening instead of having supper with the family (this was for free, too), to an occasional woman on the bus stop who couldn't lift a baby carriage up the steep steps of the bus (there were no low-floor buses in Moscow at the time), to an occasional sight-impaired old man who stood at the beginning of a pedestrian crossing and didn't venture to step forward, since most drivers in Moscow didn't condescend to slow down—never mind to stop—before crosswalks, and pedestrians had to wait for minutes straight until a small gap between speeding vehicles appeared and allowed them to run across the road remaining alive. Such sprints were out of question in old people, and those with impaired vision were at highest risk of being knocked down by a car, especially considering that drunken drivers were quite a few. When Andrew approached a crosswalk, he not only instinctively released the gas and depressed the clutch, moving his right foot over to the brake. If he saw a pedestrian, he came to a halt, perfectly aware that if it hadn't been him who stopped the traffic, no other driver would have, and the pedestrian would have to wait for another couple of minutes. If he saw an old man or woman with a cane, not venturing to step out, he braked his car within a yard past the pedestrian crossing, turned the hazard lamps on and got out, locking the vehicle. He would retreat to the crosswalk, take the hand of the old man or woman and guide them across the road, covering them with his broad-shouldered body. Even when he heard a plethora of thankful words like, "God bless you for your kindness, young man! Few are like you!", he found this gratitude strange—helping another was an inherent trait of his nature, and he couldn't help it. After such small pieces of virtue, he felt fulfilled and his existence felt justified, even though back then he didn't believe in God. Unlike most drivers in Moscow, Andrew would always stop if he saw a woman squatting at the punctured wheel of her car amidst the road, staring at it and not having the slightest idea how to get it off and mount the spare wheel. No matter whether the woman was young or old, pretty or not as much, Andrew always offered his help, and he frequently heard from her that despite the dense traffic he was the first man to stop by in a whole hour, while others just drove by and honked their horns, scowling at her through the windshield for the fact she created a traffic congestion. These were the moments when Andrew was struck especially sharply by his nonconformity to the society he had lived in. When a lonely middle-aged Romanian woman living next door called and said that the faucet in her kitchen was leaking, asking whether Andrew could come check on it, Andrew would always mend it, even though he might have had plenty of his own work at the moment. Recently, Andrew material welfare reached the lower than average level (in Russian terms) which allowed him to normally buy food and clothes and pay for fuel expenses and utilities, but Andrew had not lost compassion for the people in gritty need even earlier, in the times when he barely started to climb out from the pit of poverty.

Once, in the years of his residency, when he received tips for the second time in his life directly from patient's hands, he was joyous and content given that he had no salary at all. It wasn't much, a sum equivalent to sixty dollars, but back then it appeared to him a fortune. On his way home, Andrew suddenly felt an urge to drop by a grocery store. It was not that he needed something particular, but an unaccountable force from within made him stop by. Back then, there were no Russian gourmet shops in Moscow, but that grocery was outstanding since it was one of the first opened in the city by a new French retail chain. Unlike local groceries, those food stores were kept clean and neat and provided wide assortment of mainly European provision, thoroughly selected in terms of quality, yet priced very reasonably. That evening, Andrew dropped there for an unclear purpose, driven by pure intuition, and he slowly walked down the aisles, hoping that he would somehow realize why he'd come in the first place. He reflected that he earned good tips that day and therefore he, who was hungry most of the time, should now treat himself with something especially delicious. Strangely, as he scanned through the stands with fruits, cakes, dairy products, meat, and fish, though knots twisted in his stomach, he couldn't decide what exactly he wanted. He picked up an item after an item, and perusing their packs he concluded that there was too little protein or it contained too much saturated fat or hydrogenized oil fat which he believed to be carcinogenic, or the product swarmed with artificial flavor enhancers and preservatives and all this chemistry stuff, and Andrew immediately set it back onto the shelf. Yes, he had always been picky about healthy food. When he finally found what met his strict requirements of being fully natural and ecological, its cost made Andrew set it onto the shelf again. Still bewildered what he came there for, he felt couldn't leave with empty hands. He grabbed a couple of pears, a pack of orange juice, a can of olives and a small pack of sliced cheese and headed towards the check-out. Passing by the fruit aisle, from the corner of her eyes he saw a figure of old woman and something in his heart clicked. He stopped and swiveled, giving the woman a studying glance. The woman leaned her back against the side of a stand and set her walking stick beside. She was small and thin, her completely gray hair was covered with a dark green shawl and she wore a brown overcoat, frayed but clean. She was dressed poorly but tidily, which made Andrew think she was not homeless. Deep wrinkles on her face hid her blue eyes, and Andrew was unable to immediately see her expression. Her shopping basket was dropped beside her feet. Coming a little closer, Andrew made out that it contained a loaf of wheat bread, a bottle of milk, a piece of cheese, all products being the cheapest ones in the broad assortment of the store. Now, she craned her head and straining her impaired vision, she used her left hand to pick big coins from the heap which her right hand held. Fingering the coins she'd already retrieved and counting them, she cast a look at the price tablet over the apple boxes, and her face fell, since obviously, her scarce money wouldn't be enough to buy even these cheap fruits. Andrew stood immovable and watched the scene for a minute before realizing it was the real reason why he had come to this very grocery store at that very time. He strode towards the woman and stared at her.

"Good evening, ma'am. Can I help you?" he asked, already knowing he could.

The old woman didn't look up immediately. Obviously, she was really sight-impaired, and she slowly raised her gaze, making out Andrew's features through her poor vision.

"Look, I'm giving you this," he said in a second, before she could respond, grabbing two bills from his wallet and putting them into the woman's hands. "I wish I could give you more, but I don't have. It's not much, but with this money you can buy fruits and vegetables and some meat or fish."

The woman silently nodded as tears started to run down her wrinkled face. She wasn't a beggar. She wasn't asking for anything; she was just counting her scarce coins. She couldn't expect that someone might come into her life and wish to help at the only sight of her trouble instead of passing by.

"Your virtue shall surely come back to you, sonny," she whispered.

"I don't reckon on it," Andrew demurred. "I'm doing it because... just because I feel it's the right thing to do."

"What is your name?" the woman asked. "Tell me it so that I could pray for you."

"Andrew. My name is Andrew," he smiled. Even though he didn't believe in God at the time, he wanted the woman to keep good memory of him."

The woman blessed him with the sign of the cross, and Andrew wandered off with a lump in his throat, trying not to look back. He realized that if it hadn't been for him, nobody might have given any money to the poor woman, because most people in his society were indifferent.

That day, when he received sixty dollars as his tips from the patient, and he felt content because he finally saw that his work was rewarded. But when he gave away forty dollars to the old needy woman, he started to feel truly happy, and it was completely different, for just like true love, true happiness comes from giving rather than from receiving. Another precious lesson which Andrew drew from this situation was that behind any heartfelt urge, even as seemingly absurd as dropping by a grocery store with no purpose of buying anything, there was always a providential reason, and intuition might sometimes guide us to that very place at that very right time when we are absolutely needed.

When it came to the vagrants in the streets, the whole thing was different. Andrew knew that most of them were either feigning physical disability and in fact were controlled by the mafia who grabbed all their daily collections, instead giving them a filthy place to sleep and crappy food to eat, either drunkards, drug addicts, or unemployed hobos who ruined their lives themselves. And yet, amongst them there were people who became homeless without their own guilt, like lonely old people who were swindled into abandoning their properties to third parties and were subsequently evicted from their homes; like children who escaped from abuse in their families or became homeless orphans after their parents died or were killed. Andrew couldn't see through their minds and know for sure who of them really deserved a handout and who not, but he preferred to give a nickel to everyone. In his opinion, it was better to mistake by rewarding the undeserving majority than by neglecting the deserving minority. After he became a devoted Christian and started to read Bible, he found a fragment in the Old Testament that confirmed the validity of this principle. In the Genesis, Book 18, when Lord revealed to Abraham His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, because "their cry was great and their sin was very grievous", Abraham asked whether God would spare those cities if fifteen righteous people were found in them, to which God agreed He would not destroy the cities for their sake. Abraham then inquired for God's mercy at progressively smaller numbers of the righteous (from 45 to 10), and each time God agreed. Andrew found it genuinely just and humane that God's love for the life of every single righteous, innocent person outweighed His rage for hundreds and thousands of sinners. It was in the next lines of the same Old Testament piece where Andrew revealed that alleged Christian disapproval of same-sex relationship was far from obvious. Particularly, when two angels in the form of pilgrims came to Lot's house and lodged there for a rest, a mob of male citizens encompassed his house, prompting him to bring out the strangers so that they could rape them. In this context, the grievous sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was represented by an attempt of gang rape rather than homosexuality itself, and this made great difference.

(PART 8, ANAESTHESIA DOLOROSA / Chapter 97, Virtue Shall Come Back to You)

The joy of regaining something we considered indestructible but nevertheless lost is overwhelming. Andrew stood beaming with such joy before the icon of Our Lady, his eyes closed, his lips whispering the infinite gratitude to Her. He was pulled back to the ground from his devotional exaltation by a tap on his shoulder. When he turned back, he saw smiling Father Alexander.

"Hey, Andrew. Seems like you're improving, aren't you?"

No wonder the priest noticed it. The joy was all over Andrew's face and there was a twinkle in his eyes that Father Alexander had never seen.

"Good afternoon, Father. Hopefully, thanks to God's grace, things are moving," Andrew responded, confused that he couldn't keep his happiness in secrecy.Though, Father Alexander would be one of the few people who would share this joy and never wish him anything bad.

"I haven't seen you at the Mass in the morning. Why didn't you come?" the priest asked, and his tone was nowhere near reproaching.

Andrew dropped his glance, figuring the most proper way to respond.

"Is it that you have slept in?" Father Alexander asked.

Andrew flashed a brief smile and nodded.

"And you didn't hear the alarm, right?"

Andrew nodded again. He didn't verbalize that he hadn't set the alarm in the first place.

"Father, I became finally able to normally sleep again," Andrew confessed. "I got finally able to normally eat again. From the wreck of myself, I'm coming back to the person I used to be!"

The priest smiled wistfully.

"No, Andrew, you're not coming back. From the wreck of yourself, you're going forward to a much better person than you used to be. To the person who will not only normally sleep, eat, or work. To the person who, most importantly, will never forget God, who will regularly talk to Him in prayers, who will regularly confess his sins to Him through Confessions and take His Holy Body and Blood through communion. This was the reason behind your disease."

Andrew blinked at the priest, processing the words.

"You have so many times told me that the illness smashed you into ruins," Father Alexander continued. "But sometimes, ruins are a blessing. Sometimes ruins are the way to transformation. A way to a purer, better, brighter life."

Andrew's heart fluttered at the last words.

"Father, please give me your blessing for this new, purer, better, brighter life," he asked.

Father Alexander blessed him with the sign of the cross.

(PART 9, A WINTER FOR TWO / Chapter 103, Catch the Breeze Again)

ANDREW: Dear God, now I realize that all the mental abilities I lost during the disease, like intelligence, memory, creativity, ability to love, to hope, and to dream—these were not truly mine. They were not my property. They were blessings that Thou gavest me. Thou needed to take them away, so that I could understand how senseless and unbearable life becomes without them, so that now that I have them back, I would treasure my sanity and use it to fulfill my vocation—to help people. If I ever achieve success in my work, I will never fall into pride, stating that my accomplishment is my merit coming from my outstanding abilities. I will know for sure that my success is because of Thy mercy, because it is Thou who blessed me with my talents in the first place, and it is Thou—not me—who should be proud that Thy slave realized his talent instead of burying it. Dear God, aside from my love, this is the main reason why I want to move. I should not let my abilities waste here, where they remain unrecognized and unclaimed. I need to find a worthy use for the potential you entrusted me with, serving the community with as much good as I can. In one of Thy parables, Thou said that when the master gave a talent to each of his three slaves, the worst doing was committed by the one who had buried it. I can't let the same happen in my life. I want to move out to a purer, better, brighter world. Although at my thirty-five years old it's late to start a career from scratch, it's still better than never. Dear God, I thank you profusely for healing my mind, but I also ask Thee: Keep Thy eye on me, guard me from evil and temptation, arrange the things and circumstances in my way so that I could eventually attain my goals. I don't beg of you that it would be an easy, smooth, straight way. I'm ready for challenges, turns, and blind alleys in the labyrinth of my life, like Pablo said in his metaphor. But I want that the light of true love, the light Thou blessed me with, the light that awoke my soul to reach for more and to grow into a better man, I want that this light would never fade away from my life and let my soul fall into the paralyzing coma of depression. To the contrary, may this light always illumine my way through the maze of life, guiding me to the point of happiness, harmony, and completeness.

(PART 9, A WINTER FOR TWO / Chapter 105, Perfect Sunday)

Only now it occurred to him that truly great people like Pablo didn't have to experience the suffering themselves in order to understand it, to empathize with others, and to help them. Pablo didn't have to be in orphan's shoes in order to see how sorely these children needed joy, magic, and care. Pablo didn't have to be mentally ill to realize the horrors of Andrew's suffering during depression. Pablo just had what people call big heart, and this heart contained so much love to give, even though it was diseased. It was so tragically unfair that this heart would cease to beat prematurely.

(PART 9, A WINTER FOR TWO / Chapter 112, Christmas Present)

PABLO: The best gift one can ever receive is a chance to give a gift to another, especially when another needs a gift much more sorely.

(PART 9, A WINTER FOR TWO / Chapter 112, Christmas Present)

PABLO: But the fact you keep something in secret from someone you love doesn't mean you that don't trust them. Sometimes, preventing them from learning the secret is the only way to keep them from getting hurt.

(PART 9, A WINTER FOR TWO / Chapter 116, Closer to God)

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