Antoinette gave me a copy of HAVEL: A LIFE by Michael Zantovsky for Christmas. I read it during the holidays. Vaclev Havel was the Czech playwright who was one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution that overthrew the Communist government, and went on to be the first President of the new democratic Czechslovakia and subsequently the new Czech Republic. I was in London during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Warsaw Pact invasion that squashed the reforms of Alexander Dubcêk. I well remember the Czechoslovakian students who had been able to leave the country for the first time to experience the West having to decide whether they would return and never again be permitted to travel or to stay in London and never see their families again.
Havel wrote Kafkaesque essays and plays satirizing the anonymous bureaucracy and absurdity of the Communist regime. He was imprisoned a number of times but was never embittered. His natural politeness and courtesy won over many of his enemies. The peacefulness of the revolution in 1989 was undoubtably due to in part his gentle leadership. He renounced the concept of collective guilt and refused to demonize all those who had participated in the Communist tyranny. Because of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by France and Great Britain at Munich in 1938 in an effort to appease Hitler, he believed that evil had to be confronted. He did not believe in standing on the sidelines and being indifferent to the suffering of others on the pretext that it was none of our business. He was supportive of the USA after 9/11 and in Iraq. He helped persuade President Clinton to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo on humanitarian grounds. He received the Dalai Lama and the Pope, and many anti-establishment figures.
On greeting Pope John Paul II from across the border in Poland, who knew what is was like to oppose Communism, when he arrived at the airport he said,
“I do not know if I know what is miracle. Still I dare say that at this moment I am witnessing a miracle: a messenger of love is coming to a country devastated by the ideology of hatred; a living symbol of learning is coming to a country devastated by a government of ignorants; a messenger of peace, dialogue and mutual tolerance, respect and kind understanding, a herald of brotherly unity in diversity is coming to a country, ruined until recently by the idea of confrontation and division of the world.”
“I strongly believe that your visit will remind us all of the genuine source of real human responsibility, the metaphysical source — of the absolute horizon to which we must refer, that mysterious memory of Being in which each of our acts is recorded and in which and through which they finally acquire their true value… I welcome you, Holy Father, among us sinners.” (p.385)
Zantovsky, who was Havel’s press secretary and longtime friend, writes that Havel was not a religious man but he was a man of faith.
“His God, if God it was, was a form of being that could not be named, pictured or otherwise identified. The ‘order of being’, where ‘all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged’, is a concept that permeates his writings. It is different from the concept of the last judgement in that it does not necessarily assume afterlife. Our actions are judged independently of us and of the fact or form of our existence. Havel’s existential sense of personal responsibility as a prerequisite of freedom and living in truth concedes too much to free will to be compatible with the concept of an omnipotent God… he questioned and endeavoured to transcend the positivist concept of science… largely reflecting modern science’s greater tolerance of paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty in the wake of the quantum theory, the uncertainty principle and the relativity theory. But unlike many people who pass through life without wondering, Havel was able to see the mystery of existence in every human action, every human impulse and every human dilemma. And the core of the mystery was moral.” (p.386f.)
When Havel wrote his last book, To the Castle and Back, he reflected on the condition of his last days in retirement when he was battling lung cancer after a lifetime of chain smoking.
“What am I actually afraid of? Hard to say. What’s interesting is that though I am here alone… I keep the house tidy; I have everything in its place, everything has to be aligned with everything else, nothing can be left hanging over the edge of a table, or be crooked. At the same time the refrigerator must always be filled with a variety of food that I can scarcely eat myself, and there must be fresh flowers in the vases. In other words, it’s as though I were constantly expecting someone to visit. But who? The unknown and unannounced guest? A strange and beautiful woman who admires me? My savior, who likes to show up unannounced? Some old friends? Why is it that I don’t want to see anyone, and at the same time I’m always expecting someone, someone who will really appreciate that everything is in its proper place and properly aligned.
I have only one explanation: I am constantly preparing for the last judgement, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden, which will appreciate everything that should be appreciated, and which will, of course, notice anything that is not in its place. I’m obviously assuming that the supreme judge is a stickler like me. But why does this final evaluation matter so much to me? After all, at that point I shouldn’t care. But I do care because I’m convinced that my existence – like everything that has ever happened – has ruffled the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant, and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what is was before.” (p.506f.)
I imagine that Havel in his humility and fallibility has now encountered his metaphysical understanding of Being in the person of the One who is eternally I AM.