The Death of Ivan Ilych

Powerful story.

Tragedy of living conventional life. Message is so universal, perhaps truer than ever.

Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.

Ivan’s anguish, pain.. all resonate with me.

It is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up. And that is really what it was. I was going up in public opinion, but to the same extent life was ebbing away from me.

His mental sufferings were due to the fact that that night, as he looked at Gerasim’s sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: “What if my whole life has been wrong?”

It reminds me of Steve Jobs famous commencement speech, where he said, “almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false.

And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend.

Ivan’s life can be still considered “successful” in our conventional lifestyle. Social status, image, pride. All those are false. We all know that, don’t we? It is so easy to see that, but challenge is not in seeing but living that. Those false ideas are deeply ingrained in our way of thinking. One day we swear to our souls that we pursue authentic life, then next day we are back again to conventional life.

So much to unlearn…