What had induced his moral agony was that during the night, he suddenly asked himself: "What if my entire life, my entire conscious life, simply was not the real thing?"
It occured to him that what had seemed utterly inconceivable before- that he had not lived the kind of life he should have- might in fact be true. It occured to him that those scarcely perceptible impulses of his to protest what people of high rank considered good, vague impulses which he had always suppressed, might have been precisely what mattered, and all the rest not been the real thing. His official duties, his manner of life, his family, the values adhered to by people in society and in his profession-- all these might not have been the real thing. He tried to come up with a defense of these things and suddenly became aware of the insubstantiality of them all. And there was nothing left to defend.
"But if that is the case", he asked himself, "and I am taking leave of life with the awareness that I squandered all I was given and have no possibility of rectifying matters--- what then?" He lay on his back and began to review his whole life in an entirely different light.
There it is in a nutshell, the big fear that drives me. For I do not want to end up like the title character in Tolstoy's story.
What matters? Surely not the ridiculous societal games of money chasing, status, "stability", reputation, career. These are mirages. They will crumble and NO ONE WILL REMEMBER THEM. No one.
When you lay on your deathbed and think back on your life... what do you want to remember? A respectable career? A big bank account?
Will you be completely unprepared, much as Ivan Ilyich? Will you have avoided the big questions of life and death in favor of accepted trivialities?
These are the questions I ask myself. These are the questions that push me to keep questioning, keep exploring, keep wondering. I know there are no black & white answers,.... but the process of questioning and wondering is perhaps our greatest vocation. Our true calling.
How I despise the trivial Capitalist culture that brushes this aside... in favor of what? Gadgets? Cash? The latest episode of "Sex and the City"? A big SUV and a new McMansion?
"What does it all mean? Why has it happened? It's inconceivable, inconceivable that life is so senseless and disgusting. And if it really was so disgusting and senseless, why should I have to die, and die in agony? Something must be wrong. Perhaps I did not live as I should have," it suddenly occurred to him. "But how could that be when I did everything one is supposed to?"