Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From The Gulag

Partway through his imprisonment, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was identified as one of those "valuable" prisoners from whom the state could benefit, so he was transported to a more liberal facility where he could engage in intellectual work on the state's behalf.  His passage took him through a public train station where he was suddenly "submerged in freedom" and where he overhead civilians bemoaning their rather trivial concerns.  He says this:

Why has life been given to you?  In the deep, deaf stillness of midnight, the doors of the death cells are being swung open  - and great souled people are being dragged out to be shot.  On all the railroads of  the country this very minute, right now, people who have just been fed salt herring are licking their lips dry with bitter tongues.  They dream of the happiness of stretching out one's legs and of the relief one feels after going to the toilet.  In Orotukan, the earth thaws only in summer and only to the depth of three feet - and only then can they bury the bones of those who died during the winter.  And you have the right to arrange your own life under the blue sky and the hot sun, to get a drink of water, to stretch, to travel wherever you like without a convoy.  So what's this about unwiped feet?  And what's this about a mother-in-law?  What about the main thing in life, all its riddles?  If you want, I'll spell it out for you right now.  Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all of that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night.  Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.  It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don't claw at your insides.  If your back isn't broken and your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes see, and if both ears hear, then whom should you envy?  And why?  Our envy of others devours us most of all.  Rub your eyes and purify your heart - and prize above all else in the world those who love you and wish you well.  Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!

No comments: