Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Gratitude for life

Every time I pick up a book by Os Guinness, I am treated to a banquet of great literature through his erudite eyes of the Christian worldview. Any book I read by him ends up with dozens of flags sticking out of the page sides. He offers a wealth of good material to incorporate into any literature lesson.

"For Dostoevsky,...a last-minute reprieve at his scheduled execution in St. Petersburg's Semenovsky Square in 1849 [prompted these words:]
'I cannot recall I was ever as happy as on that day,' he wrote later. 'I walked up and down my cell in the Alekseevsky Ravelin and sang the whole time, sang at the top of my voice, so happy was I at being given back my life.'

"On that day of his reprieve, Dostoevsky wrote to his brother Mikhail, 'When I look back at my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul --- then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift. Life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness! '

"Like a blinding flash, Dostoevsky's reprieve lit up the truth that life itself was the greatest of all blessings. Later he would have to search for a deeper reason for his hope, but from that moment on, the contradiction of his old pessimism was undeniable and the intuition of his new hope was irresistible. He could face even the prospect of prison in Siberia with joy. His gratitude to be alive hadn't made him a believer, but he was now a search with a signal of transcendence to follow.

"Years later the theme of gratitude for existence reemerges in Dostoevsky's last and greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Wrongly accused of his father's murder and facing the grim prospect of prison, Mitya Karamazov talks just before his trial with his brother Alyosha: 'It seems there's so much strength in me now that I can overcome everything, all sufferings, only in order to say and tell myself every moment: I am! In a thousand torments --- I am; writhing under torture --- but I am. Locked up in a tower, but I still exist. I see the sun, and if I don't see the sun, still I know it is. And the whole of life is there --- in knowing that the sun is.'"

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