I have a long running weakness for Russian literature. Maybe not all of Russian literature, just three pillars; Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn. Yes, I was crazy enough in the day to devour fifteen hundred pages of War and Peace and Brothers Karamazov in a week or so. It took a little longer for the Gulag Archipelago, but please don’t hold that against me.
It was easy. Easy to fall in love with the characters, especially Sonia in Crime and Punishment, but we’ll save that for another day or just glance over it all together. It was easy to love with the simplicity and beauty of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. But not just the beauty but the darkness.
There is a scene in Brothers Karamazov that came to mind this morning that I haven’t been able to shake. Brothers K is a story about three brothers, and their drunken, whoring father. Ivan is the progressive brother. He is a nihilist and an atheist. A perfect candidate for the Bolshevik revolution. His brother Dimitri, like his father, loves to drink and tango with the ladies. He is a simple man. A man of the senses. Where Ivan is ruled by thought, Dimitri is a moved by his feelings. The third bother is Alyosha and he is the religious, spiritual one. If I told you snippets of the novel, and I’m very tempted to do so, we would be here a long, long while, and you might regret your decision to read this. So we’ll just get to the ticket.
In the novel Ivan discusses life and death, God and nothingness, with his brother Alyosha and the metaphor he uses is that of a train ticket.
When we were born, we were given a train ticket. A ticket to ride. We didn’t lay down the tracks. We didn’t forge the train We didn’t dig up the coal. We did none of that, nor did we even buy ourselves the ticket. That ticket was a gift. A gift from God. A gift from the universe, or a gift from your parents, no matter. We were given a ticket to ride and that is our fate.
Take it or leave it. Live life to the fullest or don’t. Sit at the station, or get on the train and enjoy the ride. That is our human condition and Ivan decided to give his ticket back. He didn’t want his ticket. He hated the idea that he wasn’t consulted about life. He hated the fact that he wasn’t asked permission to be born, and he would not be asked if he was ready to die. He wanted nothing to do with life, but that didn’t make him any happier or make any difference what’s so ever.
You and I have been given a ticket to ride. A free, all expenses paid trip, for how many stations and how many years? How knows.
You have a decision to make. You will either accept this gift, ignore it, or reject it. Ignoring and doing nothing about it, is really the same as rejecting it. It will keep you in the station. Sitting there with other pessimists and nihilists, bitching and moaning how terrible the station is, how the train never runs on time, and how the conductor is rude and inconsiderate.
Why not board that train? Why not say yes? Say yes to opportunities that present themselves every day? Why not ride that train through the valleys and mountains of life. Imagine the possibilities. Reflect on the life you’ve had and get excited about the life to come.
Don’t think too long about why or if you’re worthy. You’ve got a ticket to ride, so get on board, and take your seat with confidence.
Cover photo generously provided by photographer Jack Anstey.