Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life’s impossible


He went on living

All that spring he was not himself, and went through fearful moments of horror.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life’s impossible; and that I can’t know, and so I can’t live,’ Levin said to himself.

‘In infinite time, in infinite matter, in infinite space, is formed a bubble-organism, and that bubble lasts a while and bursts, and that bubble is Me.’

It was an agonising error, but it was the sole logical result of ages of human thought in that direction.

This was the ultimate belief on which all the systems elaborated by human thought in almost all their ramifications rested. It was the prevalent conviction, and of all other explanations Levin had unconsciously, not knowing when or how, chosen it, as any way the clearest, and made it his own.

But it was not merely a falsehood, it was the cruel jeer of some wicked power, some evil, hateful power, to whom one could not submit.

He must escape from this power. And the means of escape every man had in his own hands. He had but to cut short this dependence on evil. And there was one means— death.

And Levin, a happy father and husband, in perfect health, was several times so near suicide that he hid the cord that he might not be tempted to hang himself, and was afraid to go out with his gun for fear of shooting himself.

But Levin did not shoot himself, and did not hang himself; he went on living.

by Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910)
Anna Karenina (1877)
chapter 9
image – Tiago Ribeiro

Healing and Patience

“Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life’s impossible” could be an encouragement to be self aware or it could be a howl of helplessness. Within the context of Levin’s state of mind, it’s a howl born of misery.

We give ourselves the contexts from which we live. That’s not to say our physical realities are unimportant or that contextual shifts are clever tricks.

Context is everywhere. Even the ground beneath our feet is a starting place for whatever we do with our feet. Got traction? Want traction?

We start here: Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life’s impossible.

We wallow here: if only I knew more, everything would be possible!

We choose this: will knowing what I am and why I am here make everything possible?

We arrive at this: knowing what I am and why I am here helps me make choices.

Dirty Reality

By the end of Anna Karenina, Anna has dissolved into a hysterical, suicidal, drug-dependent mess. She self-destructs.

The messy stuff is really there.

Levin is different. He evolves, not all at once. He has no big Shakespeare-esque soliloquy, no Disney-esque conflict resolution or vindication, no dramatic metamorphosis: this is perspective, not transmutation of lead into gold. Levin becomes available to the possibility of light.

In the last paragraph of the novel, Levin sums up ends up finding a private sense of purpose and balance. That is enough. We know he is going to be OK.

I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.Last words of Anna Karenina

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