To Be Too Conscious

 “I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness — a real thorough-going illness.” –The Underground Man, Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

There is truth in the words of the Underground Man; over-consciousness can drive us to despair, to depression, to step heavily through each day to the beat of Ecclesiastes’ moans of meaninglessness and futility.

There is truth in the words of the Underground Man, but they stop short of acknowledging that this “sickness” has the power to shake us from a zombie-like going through the motions, to push us to fix our eyes on God and eternity.

There are days that I am tempted to give in to the negative side of this “sickness,” when thoughts of life’s futility beckon me to despair. These are the days when I am content with blindness, choosing to scorn hope, not having faith that my immortal inclination in the face of death, death, death is the most human of states because it points to the truest truth.

I bite my lip as I examine the broad order of things, people scurrying to and fro like ants, building houses and advancing careers and endlessly consuming, unconscious that one misplaced step, one turn of the steering wheel could propel them into eternity. I see them distracting themselves from over-consciousness,

knowing that it will pierce them,

knowing it will kill them,

not realizing that the death of the meaningless will birth a life of meaning.

I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness- a real thorough-going illness.

I am told that I think too much, that life must be lived, that the order of things is the order of things. I am over-conscious, morbid, in constant awareness of my own mortality, of the mortality of others, of the insignificance of striving and ambition and trying to make one’s mark.

I long for meaning in a place where people seem set on ignoring meaning, where people seem content in pretending, in trying to force meaning into promotions and white picket fences.

I almost give into despair, then real meaning calls: his name is Christ, and I reach out in feeble faith.  Real meaning calls, and for now, no one on earth can squeeze my hand in understanding.  But the time that we hoard and coerce and try to stop is insignificant; I will blink and be seventy and blink again; the dream will have lived its life and I will wake up, rub my eyes, and finally see.

If over-consciousness is a sickness, then I wish this disease upon everyone, confident that its ache might direct them to the deeper cancer that needs to be purged to save their lives. Death and history chug along, and the unconscious walk off cliffs into hell with smiles on their faces. I know intimately that over-consciousness can lead to depression when it turns inward, when it narrows itself into the claustrophobia of self-consciousness.

But I know that an over-consciousness that looks outward to the infinite Creator is a vivid gift, filled with joy. Its sharpness tells me that mortality is a distortion of the original plan. Its depth tells me that we are not a mistake, but crafted in the image of God, each of us one of his poems. And its constant pulse tells me that there is purpose, and that purpose is to pursue a life that joyfully sings “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Ready or Not, Here I Come Dostoevsky!

When I tell Russians that I love Fyodor Dostoevsky and that my favorite novel is The Brothers Karamazov, they usually ask me, “Have you read it in Russian?” Until now, my answer has always been, “Нет, я не готова читать Достоевского.” (I’m not ready to read Dostoevsky). I can’t count the number of times that I have said those three words, “I’m not ready” when referring to reading Russian literature, Dostoevsky in particular. I usually smile and say that I can read some Chekhov (who is known at being the easiest for a second language learner to understand), but I always have balked at the thought of reading my favorite author in the original, always putting it in the “someday” category.

But I recently decided that I am never going to be “ready” to read Dostoevsky. No matter how long I wait, I’m still going to open The Brothers Karamazov and find quite a few new words and tricky philosophical ramblings. So I’ve decided that the only way to become “ready” to read Dostoevsky is to do it.

Now, I knew that to jump right in after not having any formal instruction since last summer might be a bit overwhelming, so I decided to warm up by reading a few детективы, or Russian detective novels that I picked up in Kazan a few years ago.

Photo Credit: e5.ru

The above book was called “Piercing for an Angel.” It had absolutely nothing to do with piercings or angels (other than the love interest was described as “an angel in the flesh,” go figure…), but it was a good read.

Photo Credit: lib.aldebaran.ru

The above book I finished this morning and I liked it even more than the first one. The premise is that a female secretary at a previously male-only private detective agency begins to help them solve murders using her “женская интуиция” (woman’s intuition) as her primary tool. A little cheesy, and not PC by from an American point of view, but a great language-learning tool!

Some of the favorite words I learned from this book were

Сюсюкать (Syu-syu-kat’)- to lisp (how’s that for onomatopoeia!)

Подсознание (Podsoznaniye)- subconscious (n.)

and Предательство (predatel’stva)- treachery

The detective novels were a perfect way to build confidence in reading something of substantial length in Russian. There were plenty of words I didn’t understand, but I found that I could usually figure out what was going on.

So tonight, although I am not “ready,” I am going to begin reading The Brothers Karamazov in the original. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Photo Credit: livelib.ru