Thursday, July 16, 2015

Going round and round and round and ...

I noted tongue-in-cheek that maybe I should not call my parents because of updates from them about yet another death in the extended family.  Sure enough, there was another.  She was eighty years old.  Some of you regular readers might recall this note from six months ago, where the rambling thoughts were triggered by my visit with her.

"Those who come have to go sometime" my mother said.

The fact that we all have to die sometime is well known to every one of us.  Which was the point of departure for the series of posts that has apparently driven quite a few readers away from this blog! ;)  Isn't it amazing that you and I and the billions of humans continue on despite this definitive ending?  Tolstoy writes:
"But I have lived, I still live, and all mankind is living and has lived.  How can this be?  Why does mankind live when it is able not to live?
Maybe someday science might tell us that even cows are aware of their mortality.  For now, it is safe to assume that only we humans are conscious of our existence and our own death.  Fully knowing that it could all be futile, we continue to live what we think is a "full life."  How can that be?  In such a living, what meaning do we make of our lives?

Of course, asking such questions is not anything new; humans "went on living, giving life some kind of meaning":
Ever since some kind of human life began, people already had that meaning for life and they led that life, and it has come down to me.  Everything that is in me and around me, all of that is the fruit of their knowledge of life.  Those very tools of thought with which I discuss this life and judge it, all those have been made not by me but by them.  I myself was born, educated, grew up, thanks to them.  They mined iron; taught us to fell trees; tamed cattle, horses; taught us to live together, brought order into our life; they taught me to think, to speak. And I, their creation, fed by them; nursed, taught by them; thinking their thoughts and their words, have proved to them that these have no meaning!  "Something is wrong here." I told myself.  "Somewhere I have made a mistake."  But I could not find out where the mistake lay.
My grandmothers lived lives that made meaning to them.  And I question their meaning.  The meanings that people constructed in the past do not often make sense to us now, even though we, our lives, and our thinking, will not be possible without their meanings.

Tolstoy is playing with me by tossing out such ideas.  And he has enough material for me to blog one more post--readers be warned!  Tolstoy has set me up for what is coming with these:
I began to understand that the answers given to faith enshrine the most profound wisdom of mankind, and that I didn't have the right to deny them on the grounds of reason, and that, most importantly, these answers do answer the question of life.
What a strange coincidence that the translator was himself terminally ill when he worked through all these.  In her introduction, Mary Beard writes:
It is a poignant irony that Tolstoy's translator, Peter Carson, was much closer to death and dying when he was working on The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession than Tolstoy himself was at the time he was first writing them.
Beard adds later:
The final manuscript was delivered to the publisher by his wife on the day before he died in January 2013.
Such is life.

Most read this past month