What is love without courage?
The emotional meaning of truth.
The Fulcrum of Courage, Part 7
To have a wounded soul is to be constantly wary and tormented by painful memories.
Love and beauty get muted. Life seems pointless and confidence is lost.
First play, then ambition, dies.
When he wasn’t sluggish, Gerbert of Aurillac was anxious. When he wasn’t working, he was dwelling on the past.
He felt guilty all the time and ashamed for not being good enough.
If he had to take a break because of a headache or an upset stomach, he would punish himself by doing extra work around the monastery.
One afternoon in September of 972, Gerbert was in the gardens.
He was on his hands and knees in the dirt, trying to figure out a more efficient way to harvest medicinal plants.
He noticed someone’s shadow, so he looked up.
There stood a maiden, looking back at him.
For a moment, he thought he was dreaming. Her eyes were wide. Her stance was relaxed. She looked friendly and curious.
Suddenly he was acutely aware of his belly. It got significantly larger over the summer, and his shirt was embarrassingly tight.
“Does it really cure sorrow?” she asked.
She laughed and pointed at the purple-blue flower in front of him.
Meridiana was the Count of Roucy’s second daughter. She was the peacekeeper in her family and a clever negotiator.
Gerbert found her relatable and enjoyed her wit. He admired her curiosity.
She could read and was familiar with the medical writings of Pliny the Elder. They were comfortable chatting about life and the nature of things.
Above all, she valued friendship.
Gerbert spent so much time in the gardens Meridiana always knew where to find him.
Sometimes she would visit just to hang out. He always had room for her.
She didn’t try to change him. He never felt a need to avoid her feelings.
Sometimes she brought friends to meet him.
As the leaves began to turn, Gerbert stopped disciplining himself so harshly. He much preferred Meridiana’s company to chores. They genuinely had fun together.
Once, he made a brazen head – the face of a mannequin mechanically set up to nod yes or no. They unveiled it at a party. Meridiana pulled its strings from behind a curtain while Gerbert asked it questions to amuse their friends.
A 10th century demon would consume your soul slowly, bite by painful bite.
Each meal would begin with a personal boundary.
The demon would subtly dismiss appropriate fears and foster unjustifiable confidence. Then it would delight in belittling you for making a foolish mistake.
One evening in late October, the provost’s daughter saw Gerbert and Meridiana together.
Until then, she regarded him as rubbish. Suddenly there he was - laughing, happily, with a bright young woman.
The more she thought about it, the haughtier and more suspicious she became.
She felt a craving deep in her gut.
Meridiana couldn’t have him. Gerbert had to be hers!
She kept her distance and followed them back to the Count of Roucy’s palace, where she watched them say goodnight.
Meridiana stroked her hair. Gerbert’s voice was somehow deeper.
Their movements were complementary. He was comfortable with her touch.
Yet, they only took a moment to say goodbye. Afterwards, they seemed to float on air.
The provost’s daughter couldn’t stand it.
Gerbert and Meridiana were obviously attracted to each other. They expected to see each other again soon, but they clearly weren’t sleeping together.
If only she could get Meridiana to reject him, she thought.
The next day she snuck into the palace and stole one of Meridiana’s dresses.
In the 10th century, monks drank wine most days but Gerbert was a modest drinker. He lacked the tolerance of other monks.
That evening, he was siphoning wine by candlelight and needed to check its sweetness by tasting it. It was making him drunk.
The provost’s daughter put on Meridiana’s dress, styled her hair the same way, and plucked a chrysanthemum growing on the wall of a tomb.
She waited until Gerbert was nearly done siphoning wine and snuck into the room.
She emerged from the shadows and held out the flower. In his drunkenness, he mistook her for Meridiana and she easily seduced him.
The next morning, she was watching him when he opened his eyes.
Gerbert expected to see Meridiana but saw the provost’s daughter instead. He immediately realized what happened and was flooded with guilt.
She laughed and said, “Meridiana will never trust you now!”
Gerbert remembered feeling like this before.
It was tempting to hide behind a lie. He also he knew in his soul, such as it was, that Meridiana was his closest friend - and he loved her.
He feared this would break her heart.
That afternoon, Gerbert was down on his hands and knees in the dirt again.
He was still trying to figure out a way to harvest medicinal flowers, but he was too distracted to make progress.
Then he noticed Meridiana’s shadow and his belly got tight.
For a moment, he felt completely lost. He didn’t look up.
Then he noticed a borage growing within arm’s reach. He plucked it, stood up, and placed it in her hand.
“I have something I need to tell you.”
She looked at the flower. “Okay…”
“Love is a worthy cause, and all I have is myself to offer. You may not trust me after this and I could never blame you. Meridiana, you deserve to know the truth.”
He told her about the wine. He told her about the dress and the chrysanthemum. Finally, he told her about waking up.
Meridiana was stunned.
They had never slept together, and their conversations were never like this. Still, there was a dress missing from her closet…
He would accept any choice she made, no strings attached. She could not deny the essential goodness in Gerbert’s decision to tell her.
Above all, she valued his friendship.
Meridiana understood how Gerbert was deceived. In that moment, she forgave him.
The 10th century vow of monogamy in marriage was intended to protect couples and their children from demons.
“I need you to always be faithful. You must swear to keep your wits about you. Never let her into your life again.”
Gerbert gently squeezed the hand in which Meridiana held the flower with both of his.
That night, Meridiana slept in Gerbert’s quarters.
The provost’s daughter was furious when she found out.
She would need another way to destroy him. Her new lover, Otric, master of the Magdeburg Cathedral School in Saxony, immediately came to mind.
She traveled to Magdeburg and told him she knew Gerbert’s secret vulnerability.
Otric was clearly more intelligent, she said. It was unfair that Gerbert was more famous. If only Otto II knew, Otric would be wealthier and more powerful.
Next: Where do you look for courage? The origins and effects of gratitude.