Reflection on the Life and Death
“THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH”
By: Natalina (Sogang University)
You might have known and felt that when we are having fun, time passes so quickly and swiftly away. In contrast, when we do nothing, time hardly passes by, for instance a second seems longer than a minute, a minute longer than an hour; because we have nothing to do. However, if we are having fun or we are busy doing things, 12 hours seem just 12 minutes, when we enjoying doing our activities, when we are engaged in something we enjoy doing. When we talk with a wider point of view, we would say life is too short to live to the full, if we are enjoying our life. And, still have millions of things we want to do, but know we cannot, because life is just too short. However, for someone who is not at all enjoying life or whatever he or she is doing, one is too afraid to live life to the full, life is too long. For such people, life could have been more fun had it been shorter. More interestingly, it seems they do not know that life is until you live. When you do not live, then you live like a breathing corpse. It is then not living a life because for wise men living is something totally different to staying alive.
After reading a really great novel entitled “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” wrote by Leo Tolstoy, believe it or not, I got nightmare when I went to bed. I think I did because I read too much book about death and die, also watching documentary movie and others movies that told story about the life and death. This is so scared. It scared me so much, because I have a lot of experience of seeing people dying in my childhood life. However, besides this, I realized that I have I know less about the death and life, the fact that I was surprise, when I found something new little by little while I read the books and watching movies.
To consider the story of Ivan Ilyich life and death cycle, as describe in the novel “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, Ivan Ilyich, let me share the key point that I think is important to know before move to the next.
During his lifetime, Ivan Ilyich head learn the syllogism from Kiesewetter’s Logic: “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,” had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius – man in the abstract – was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coachman and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and with the all the joys, grief, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of? Had Caius kissed his mother’s hand like that, and did the silk of her dress rustle so for Caius? Had he rioted like that at school when the pastry was bad? Had Caius been in love like that? Could Caius preside at a session as he did? “Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die;but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilyich, with all my thoughts and emotions, it’s altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible”. (The Death of Ivan Ilyich, page 91, IBook)
DEATH. That’s the point of the story described so brilliantly by Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, better known as Leo Tolstoy, an aristocrat, the great Russian writer, a moral philosopher and a leading social thinkers of his time. In his novel, he told the story that Ivan Ilyich cannot accept the fact that as a man he could die. During his life he considered himself special and want to be treated special, such what applies to everyone are not apply to him. But the law of death is the most unjust laws that never saw who you are, what position, wealth, beauty, or all sorts of things that are important to every person alive. Ivan Ilyich cannot accept death as we all do, which is people are kind of selfish, never satisfied with the limitation they have, and try to deceive themselves by letting their ego get the best of them, thinking that they are immortal. But, as Caius can die all of us and also Ivan Ilyich can die as well.
It seems like, Ivan Ilyich and also the author of the novel, Leo Tolstoy, they both represent the picture of all of us. I want to say that, this novel is not easy to understand if you read it without having interest. I have read this book for two times, because at first I just wanted to finish it as soon as possible since I have other things to do, but then I found out in the end that I understand nothing. I then did reread it again, because I got desire to understand what does this novel talk about. Even though, I don’t understand that whole much, but I got really important thing that the author delivered about.
Ivan Ilyich seems as a reflection of us. Humans who fond of pleasure, but declined all about suffering. Humans are fond of pleasure but declined suffering. Man who would love life but hate the death. Due to this very simple reason, suffering destroys all the pleasures and the death ends the life. We even feel so selfish, till we do not want to think about death. Imagine if there is someone who wants to think about it, death is usually considered as something that is still far away from us, or it is just valid for Caius. Far from the bottom of our hearts, we think that death is a form of aberration that should never exist.
He wept on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God, and the absence of God. “Why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me here? Why, why dost Thou torment me so terribly?” He did not expect an answer and yet wept because there was no answer and could be none. The pain again grew more acute, but he did not stir and did not call. He said to himself: “Go on! Strike me! But what is it for? What have I done to Thee? What is it for?” Then he grew quiet and not only ceased weeping but even held his breath and became all attention. It was as though he were listening not to an audible voice but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts arising within him. “What is it you want?” was the first clear conception capable of expression in words that he heard. “What do you want? What do you want?” he repeated to himself. “What do I want? To live and not to suffer,” he answered. And again he listened with such concentrated attention that even his pain did not distract him. “To live? How?” asked his inner voice. (The Death of Ivan Ilyich, page 126-127, IBook)
Ivan Ilyich tried to blame God for all his suffering. But God did not argue. What God did is forced Ivan Ilyich to listen to his own conscience, his heart. Ivan Ilyich began to look back on his life he felt far better and fun. The more he thought, the more he realized that good life was just an illusion. The only moment he felt the most fun was when he was a little boy. However, he did not remember it so clearly because it had left him so many years ago.
He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. “Where is it? What death?” There was no fear because there was no death. In place of death there was light. “So that’s what it is!” he suddenly exclaimed aloud. “What joy”. …… “It is finished!” said someone near him. He heard these words and repeated them in his soul. “Death is finished”, he said to himself. “It is no more!” He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sight, stretched out, and died. (The Death of Ivan Ilyich, page 147-148, IBook)
This is how Ivan Ilyich died. Thus, we will die eventually. Is death so we fear it? Is this life? So, are we really afraid of death? What is the meaning of life for us then? Ivan Ilyich had found the answer, but he already died. We all will probably also find it later when we die. Tolstoy did not give us the answer to those questions. But, through his book, he has given us some idea of what we ask for it and find out the answers for ourselves.
Therefore, in short, as we are all aware of death, we know it will come to us all. For almost of us, death brings a chill down our spine ridden with fear. However, to others it is ridden with strength and satisfaction of accomplishment, because, fortunately or unfortunately we are all condemned to death. But, no one knows when exactly the inevitable will approach, but we all know it is inescapable. What make death seem more realistic to us, and those in denial of it is the lucid pictures of people suffering, in pain and those on their death bed before many of us can be rationale and accept the truth.
I was lucky enough to be given a chance of taking “Death and religion Class”, because through this class, I simply got formation of how we live life for the time we are here on earth. Every single of us should live life to its fullest, and to its fullest means that we shall consider accomplishing our duties as parents, children, family, friends, or youths. Our lives may seem like a circus which is contains with so much to juggle. Nevertheless, we have had to remember, not to forget that life has essentially been a gift. We all make mistakes and this should not be regrettable, rather educational. Living life allows us all to learn and learning is the greatest satisfaction.
Last but not least, I want to tell the truth that, I've been thinking about death a lot lately, and I am not sure why. But, I guess maybe because I watched a couple of movies and documentary which all about death, and read books about life and death, so my mind is been turning back towards the past, that I have experiences of seeing people dying in front of me, specially got killed in a very horrible way. I would not say that I've felt depressed, but my thoughts have lingered more on the process of dying than they usually do.
I felt so sad and I was almost crying after reading this book, because the more I read it, I imagine he as one of my family. I have had people I've known and loved in my life pass away before their time and it was painful. It was very difficult seeing them go. Peaceful certainly isn't the right word for their passing, but it was almost a relief to see them go in the end, their agony relieved. We had a chance to say goodbye, something a lot of people don’t have; for many people death comes suddenly and everything that they wanted to say or do is suddenly out of reach.