Three Seeds from the Diaries of Leo Tolstoy

“To be good and lead a good life means to give to others more than one takes from them.”

Beautiful sunny day here. Re-connected with a friend over coffee this morning. Shared stories from the past couple years of our life journeys. Feeling laid back, reflective.

My recent months of reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn brought me back in touch with Tolstoy, the pre-eminent literary light of the previous century. An aim of Solzhenitsyn’s was to become the Tolstoy of Russian literature for the 20th century.

Because I’ve never read War and Peace and get stymied each time I threaten to begin it, I decided to watch one of the movies based on the classic, which I am in the middle of, despite it being a poor substitute. And even though the movie is but a shadow of the book, I see glimmers of Solzhenitsyn’s massive story The Red Wheel, which begins with August 1914.

What follows here are three excerpts from the diaries of Leo Tolstoy.


How good it is to remember one’s insignificance: that of a man among billions of men, of an animal amid billions of animals; and one’s abode, the earth, a little grain of sand in comparison with Sirius and others, and one’s life span in comparison with billions on billions of ages. There is only one significance, you are a worker. The assignment is inscribed in your reason and heart and expressed clearly and comprehensibly by the best among the beings similar to you. The reward for doing the assignment is immediately within you. But what the significance of the assignment is or of its completion, that you are not given to know, nor do you need to know it. It is good enough as it is. What else could you desire?


Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.


My question … was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?” Differently expressed, the question is: “Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”

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