- L. Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych
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Tolstoy's question - "But what is 'right'?" - lies at the very heart of each of our lives. It is foundational, bloodroot, the deep heart's core whether we ever recognize it or not. Each life, no matter it's skill or circumstance, is imprinted with this question, part of the double helix of code that builds us up one cell at a time. We cannot shake it off like dust from our boots, but it eventually shakes us off as simply so much dust and ash.
From the start we have it ass backwards and so move through our days viewing the world as something to exploit, as something that is here for our private purposes and when the wheels come off - because living so they must come off - we are stupefied and ask: why, why, why, why, why?
It ain't why. It just is.
It is Life asking us: Why do you imagine you are so irreplaceable? Why do you sit when you need to move? What are you doing with your incredibly brief time? Who died and made you God?
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The pettiness to which we sink in pursuit of our various fears isn't the worst of our habits. No, the worst of it is to act in such small, venal ways and refuse to recognize it for what it is: vanity.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
And yet, I would disagree in one vital part with the brilliant writer of Ecclesiastes: there is one thing new under the sun - you. The Writer only sees the transitory and vainglorious aspects of our days and he misses the one unalterable fact - each of us are new. We may repeat the same mistakes, may blunder our way along a very trodden trail imagining we are discoverers, and we will pass away while the sun still whirleth about, but while we live we hold the potential of being new, of seeing the world, this life as something new, as something greater than our imaginations will allow.
All is vanity when all is directed toward yourself. Stop looking in mirrors, your hair looks fine and so what if it didn't. You breathe and while you are still able you must unfuck yourself from the pettiness of your fears and trials and engage the life that whirlth around you.
You and I will die. If there is a marker for our bones it will simply be an anonymous other in the multitude of anonymous others. Do not let this make you sad or afraid. You are hereby relieved of the burden of being anything other than your Self. Do what you can so that the lives of those closest to you (your family, your community, your cohorts in time) are made kinder, braver and more forgiving than they would have otherwise.
Your acts will fade as will your memory until a few generations from now you are but a name on some register somewhere - all the details lost, but what of it? You are not here for the history you will be making, but the turn you have at living.
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
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