Why write? Not to create original truths, but to remind ourselves of old truths. We need to be reminded: we are forgetful. Original stories to remind us of what we’ve always known. The history of humanity, and the duration of a life, is the coming round and round again to what we already knew in the beginning: that the mind is the body, the moment is eternal, and each day is a paradise.
In The Karamazov Brothers, there’s a story of a young man who is dying. Having been an atheist until now, he begins to go to church – he says he does it to please his mother, who fears for his soul. He’s too ill to go to church for long, and now he must confess and take the sacrament at home. And one day it becomes clear that a change has come over him: “his spirit seemed transformed.” He no longer fears death. He has a serene look in his eyes, he smiles at everyone. He weeps to see the innocence of the birds in the garden. He blesses the sunrise each morning, and declares that we live each day in paradise. Blissful and serene, the whole house feels the joy of his transformation. The doctor says he won’t live much longer: the disease is affecting his brain.
Dostoevsky reminds me of what I, like the doctor, have forgotten. What I learn and forget and learn and forget again and again: that life, like a well-written story, is simple. That you only live the day you are living. That the sun is a blessing, a gift, and so every day the world gives you something for nothing. These are eternal, simple truths. Truths that must come to mind when faced with the beauty of a simple story, or, I imagine, with the sublime finality of death itself.
(The story of the young man is at the beginning of Book Six of The Karamazov Brothers, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’ve been reading the translation by Constance Garnett, published by Wordsworth Classics.)