Confession | Leo Tolstoy | 11

Category:

XI

When I remembered how these very beliefs had repelled me and seemed meaningless in the mouths of people who led lives in contradiction to them, and when I recalled how the same beliefs attracted me and seemed sensible as I saw people who lived by them,

I realized why I had once turned away from them and had found them meaningless, while now I was drawn to them and found them full of meaning.

I realized that I had lost my way and how I had lost my way: My straying had resulted not so much from wrong thinking as from bad living.

I realized that the truth had been hidden from me not so much because my thoughts were in error as because my life itself had been squandered in the satisfaction of lusts, spent under the exceptional conditions of Epicureanism.

I realized that in asking, "What is my life?" and then answering, "An evil," I was entirely correct:

The error lay in the fact that I had taken an answer that applied only to myself and applied it to life in general; I had asked myself what my life was and received the reply: evil and meaningless.

And so it was: my life, wasted in the indulgence of lusts, was meaningless and evil, and the assertion that life is meaningless and evil thus applied only to my life and not to life in general.

I understood the truth that I later found in the Gospel, the truth that people clung to darkness and shunned the light because their deeds were evil. For he who does evil hates the light and will not venture into the light, lest his deeds be revealed.

I realized that in order to understand the meaning of life, it is necessary first of all that life not be evil and meaningless, and then one must have the power of reason to understand it.

I realized why I had been wandering around such an obvious truth for so long and that in order to think and speak about the life of humankind; one must speak and think about the life of humankind and not about the life of a few parasites.

This truth has always been the truth, like 2 x 2 = 4, but I had not acknowledged it, for in acknowledging that 2 X 2 = 4, I would have had to admit that I was not a good man. And it was more important and more pressing for me to feel that I was a good man than to admit that 2 X 2 = 4. But I came to love good people and to hate myself, and I acknowledged the truth. Now it all became clear to me.

Consider an executioner who has spent his life in torture and chopping of heads or a hopeless drunk or a madman who has wasted away in a dark room, who has despised this room and yet imagines that he would perish if he should leave it –

what if these men should ask themselves: "What is life?"

Clearly, they would be able to come up with only one answer, that life is the greatest of evils; and the madman's answer would be quite correct but only for him. What if I were such a madman? What if all of us who are wealthy and learned are such madmen?

And I realized that we were in fact such madmen. I, at any rate, was such a madman.

To be sure, it is the nature a bird to fly, gather food, build a nest; and when I see a bird this I rejoice in its joy:

It is the nature of the goat, the hare, the wolf to feed, multiply, and nourish their young; and when they do this I am firmly convinced that they are happy and that their lives are reasonable.

What then should man do? He should earn his life in exactly the same way the animals do but with this one difference: that he will perish if he does it alone - he must live his life not for himself but for all.

And when he does this, I am firmly convinced that he is happy and his life is reasonable.

What, indeed, had I done in all my thirty years of conscious life? Not only had I failed to live my life for the sake of all, but I had not even lived it for myself.

I had lived as a parasite, and once I had asked myself why I lived, the answer I received was: for nothing.

If the meaning of human life lies in the way it is lived, then how could I, who had spent thirty years not living life but running it for myself and others, receive any reply other than this, that my life was meaningless and evil? It was indeed meaningless and evil.

The life of the world unfolds according to someone's will; the life of the world and our own lives are entrusted to someone's care. If we are to have any hope of understanding this will, then we must first of all fulfil it; we must do what is asked of us.

And if I will not do what is asked of me, then I will never understand what is asked of me, much less what is asked of all of us and of the whole world.

If a naked, hungry beggar should be taken from the crossroads and led into an enclosed area in a magnificent establishment to be given food and drink, and if he should then be made to move some kind of lever up and down,

it is obvious that before determining why he was brought there to move the lever and whether the structure of the establishment was reasonable, the beggar must first work the lever.

If he will work it, then he will see that it operates a pump, that the pump draws up water, and that the water flows into a garden. Then he will be taken from the enclosed area and set to another task, and then he will gather fruits and enter into the joy of his lord.

As he rises from lower to higher concerns, understanding more and more about the structure of the establishment and becoming part of it, he will never think to ask why he is there, and there is no way he will ever come to reproach his master.

Thus the simple, uneducated working people, whom we look upon as animals, do the will of their master without ever reproaching him.

But we, the wise, consume everything the master provides without doing what he asks of us; instead, we sit in a circle and speculate on why we should do something so stupid as moving this lever up and down.

And we have hit upon an answer:

We have figured it out that either the master is stupid or he does not exist, while we alone are wise; only we feel that we are good for nothing and that we must somehow get rid of ourselves.