Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Death of Ivan Ilych and personal reflections

I decided to write an assignment in blog-post form; here is the result.

I had the pleasure of first reading ”The Death of Ivan Ilych” immediately after reading the “What I Now Believe About a BYU Education That I Wish I had Believed When I First Came” selection. Perhaps because of their proximity in time, the two readings gained a proximity in my mind; as a result, I now view the impending conclusions of my undergraduate career and my current romantic relationship from an amalgamation of Ivan Ilych's perspective and my own.

Ivan Ilych's social weakness formed the core of his life. As Tolstoy describes, it was the foundation of “his professional duties, and the whole arrangement of his life and family, and all his social and official interests” (Tolstoy 40). Fortunately, I do not find myself in such a blasted state; however, Ilych's self-deception certainly has younger siblings in my university existence and in my romantic sphere. Without divulging too much information, I discover upon review that, in many cases, my romantic attitude has served to mask the questions of eternity in my dating and courtship. Although dating and kissing are fun and appear socially acceptable, and though I always remained in the bounds of spiritually and morally appropriate behavior, I feel that I have many times rejected the still, small voice in pursuit of flippant pleasure or general approval in my dating relationships.

Similarly, my attitude towards my university experience has often been to play the “game” (Richards 6) that Prof. Richards warned about. I have, on many occasions, danced through academic hoops at the expense of using my education to change who I have become. A course where I sacrificed learning to speed read for an “A” grade, and my current habit of skipping readings from the Doctrine and Covenants so that I can get better grades in my other classes, serve as two examples. The combination of Bro. Richards' text and ”The Death of Ivan Ilych” has helped me understand my BYU experience differently.

I intend to graduate in August of the upcoming year. Like Ilych, my time is running out; like Ilych, I have not achieved the moral and intellectual development or romantic success I intended. To some degree, I must confess with Ilych concerning my behavior, “Yes, it was not the right thing” (Tolstoy 42). I do, however, have the benefit of time: “though his [time at BYU] had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, 'What is the right thing?'” (Tolstoy 43). I have a few months left and a little less than two and a half semesters to discover and demonstrate the answer.

The quest for the answer, and the process of review itself, have been cathartic. Ilych's realized “what had been oppressing him and would not leave him was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides” (Tolstoy 43). Similarly, my introspection is causing the painful stress - to date, marry, and graduate with a high GPA, at almost any cost - to be loosed from my mind and soul. I still need to do all of those things to accomplish what the Lord would have me do, but I know also that “He whose understanding [matters] [will] understand” (Tolstoy 43). Again, this does not justify laziness; I am accountable before God for “how well [I have] used my time, talents, and energy to prepare [myself] to serve the Lord” (Richards 10) and “no mortal standard, no matter how rigorous, is high enough” (Richards 11). Even so, I find “in place of [fear], a light” (Tolstoy 43) in the knowledge that whatever my GPA or marital status becomes, my imperfect efforts to consecrate my life can be acceptable.

Autumn is here, and I love it.

One of the last two pictures taken of me before I got braces.

This little guy was really slow from the cold, so I was able to try and take a lot of pictures of him. This is the best result, though it's probably 1/32 of an inch away from what would have been an ideal focal length; I was almost literally a hair too close.

I was surprised at this one - not that it's a stunning piece of photography, but of how messy a rose is before it has blossomed. Zoom in on the picture, and you'll see what I mean: little random jagged bits, fiber-like threads dangling, poky looking things everywhere, and two little bugs crawling around. This gives me hope: if a rose is this messy when it has not yet matured, some of the messiness of my life is at least understandable.

In contrast, here is a rose that has come most of the way. Much smoother, much more polished, much prettier - but it had to start as a blossom.