Quote of the Month 12
The quote for March:
Is there any meaning in my life that wouldn’t be destroyed by the death that inevitably awaits me?
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession
Sounds kind of dark doesn’t it? But then again, does it? I like it for its acknowledgment of the reality that we all must face – that without death, there is no life. And also for the impact that such a thought should have on how we live. Tolstoy actually puts the question in two other ways before coming to the phrasing above:
His first iteration being,
“What will come from what I do and from what I will do tomorrow – what will come from my whole life?”
He then turns the question around before his final paraphrasing to ask:
“Why should I live, why should I wish for anything, why should I do anything?”
While these lines were written after Tolstoy’s turn to religion, as lightly explained here, I don’t find them to be something that would draw me to religion. (In fact, I find his second way of putting it kind of defines the depression that he dealt with as he couldn’t find an answer to his dilemma.) I guess I prefer the Christopher Hitchens approach to death.
It even sounds like Christopher is referring to Tolstoy’s second phrasing of the question when he says,
“To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?”
I guess, for me, the whole issue is best summed up by a quote commonly attributed to Hitchens, but from Ayaan Hirsi Ali in The Portable Atheist:
Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.
She goes on to say in her book, Infidel:
“Reality is not easy, but all this make-believe doesn’t make it easier.”
These realistic views help define why I find comfort in Tolstoy’s recognition of reality.
As a side note, I also think this post is timely in relation to what is happening in the Crimea and Tolstoy’s experience during the Crimean War. My thoughts go out to the Ukrainians fighting for freedom, peace, and liberty in this world that can be so full of such harsh reality.