‘Work, Death, And Sickness’ by Leo Tolstoy

Work, Death, And Sickness by Leo Tolstoy, 1903

The magic trick:

Looking at human existence in a new way

All year we’re going to be traveling the world; a new country every week. We start in Russia.

I like stories like this; stories that step out of normal human conscience to attempt to look at existence from the highest of levels. This is a story that invents a fable to explain the actions of God. This is a story that takes something we all understand – work and sickness, for example – and gives the reader a brand new appreciation for the subject. And that’s quite a trick on Tolstoy’s part.

The selection:

God, say they, at first made men so that they had no need to work: they needed neither houses, nor clothes, nor food, and they all lived till they were a hundred, and did not know what illness was.

When, after some time, God looked to see how people were living, he saw that instead of being happy in their life, they had quarrelled with one another, and, each caring for himself, had brought matters to such a pass that far from enjoying life, they cursed it.

Then God said to himself: ‘This comes of their living separately, each for himself.’ And to change this state of things, God so arranged matters that it became impossible for people to live without working. To avoid suffering from cold and hunger, they were now obliged to build dwellings, and to dig the ground, and to grow and gather fruits and grain.

‘Work will bring them together,’ thought God.

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