“I’ve Outgrown Dostoevsky!”
Big life changes, like loss of health, a job or a relationship, often make us reflect on the years leading toward those events: “Why did it occur? Did I see it coming? Was it my fault or was it meant to happen?”
My divorce after a ten-year marriage threw me into the spiral of my own soul-searching…
It’s been two and a half years now and the dots are beginning to connect. Just like Dr. Wayne Dyer describes in his book I Can See Clearly Now, I’ve gradually started seeing the whole picture of my life, with every puzzle piece finding its place in the whole tapestry.
I am beginning to see that there’s never been any random people, acts or experiences. Throughout my life, I walked up to numerous “crossroads” and consciously or unconsciously made a choice, thus determining the direction of my life for the next several years.
It is kind of like picking a ride at an entertainment park: none of the rides are good or bad, but once you select one, climb into a seat and fasten your seat belt, you are there for the duration of the ride…
I have recently realized that one of such turning points took place in class while I was studying at my Russian university. I was not aware at the time that I was setting into motion the mechanism that would forever change the trajectory of my life…
I was a junior and we were practicing speaking English while discussing Russian literature. The professor asked all of us to name our favorite authors and books and explain why we liked them.
Most students before me named Fydor Dostoevsky. I heard the titles of his books listed: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov… Then it was my turn and I heard myself say, “I used to like Dostoevsky, too, but I feel like I’ve outgrown him now…”
Jaws dropped and dead silence followed. When my classmates came out of their shock and turned towards the professor, they saw that she too was speechless. After a few gasps and several, “Well…,” she finally uttered with the most sarcastic, despising, ruthless and scorching smile that she was capable of producing: “Has everyone heard what Diana’s just said? SHE HAS OUTGROWN DOSTOEVSKY!!!”
For a couple of long seconds, she silently stared at the class, appearing insulted, hurt and disgusted at the same time, looking like I had just punched her in the stomach. Then she finally set her eyes on me, pale with anger, lips trembling, and her whole face twisted with sincere and passionate loathing: “If YOU have outgrown DOSTOEVSKY…” She did not finish, overcome with another wave of rage, and just moved on to the next student…
During that class, I never received a chance to explain what I meant, but I was glad that I didn’t, because it was news to me as well. I had never thought about it before, and it was a brand-new feeling, a new insight, a realization, and I did not yet have any words to explain it.
I do now…
Like many of his contemporaries, Fydor Dostoevsky had an extremely difficult life. He was born in 1821, the second of seven children. He had to study at a military institute, which he strongly disliked. His mother died when he was 15 and his father when he was 17. At the age of 28, Dostoevsky was sentenced to death by a firing squad for his involvement with a politically oriented literary club. He was kept in prison and then taken to the site of execution, where the sentence was suddenly changed to ten years of hard labour in Siberia. For four years he lived in insanitary and inhumane conditions, with both of his feet and hands shackled, before being released prematurely due to ill health (epilepsy and other health challenges).
Fydor Dostoevsky lived through the death of his first wife, his firstborn baby and one of his sons with his second wife. Throughout his life he struggled with poverty and gambling, as well as depression. These are just some of the hardships he had to endure, and it is probably safe to assume that few of us would stay positive, cheerful and optimistic in his place. His writing is based on his experiences and reflects his mindset…
I was first introduced to Dostoevsky in high school. We were studying Crime and Punishment in class, and I also read The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and some of his short stories as I was completely fascinated with his work.
Dostoevsky is not just a writer. He is considered by many as one of the greatest Russian and even world literature psychologists and philosophers. I was totally mesmerized by his ability to capture the human mind’s doings.
Like a passionate and committed doctor dissecting and studying every cell of a dead body in the lab, Dostoevsky dissects the human mind with the same almost unhealthy obsession and fanaticism. Not one single thought in the minds of his characters (obviously based on the activities of his own mind) escapes him.
Most Russian writers have been masters of human thoughts, feelings and emotions, but Dostoevsky was a pro! Methodical, detailed, scrupulous, specific and thorough!
For instance, Crime and Punishment is a more than 500-page record of the main character Raskolnikov’s thoughts about society, life and himself, all the way to the point where the thought of killing his pawnbroker arrives. Then, for hundreds of pages, the reader is shown how that thought grows, develops, gains strength and leads to the murder of that pawnbroker and her sister. The rest of the book is the meticulous transcript of all the thoughts and feelings that followed after that, until Raskolnikov’s imprisonment and meeting Sofia – the girl who symbolizes hope, forgiveness, atonement and redemption.
When I began reading Dostoevsky’s books, I was captivated by his ability to zoom in on and accurately write down all the inner monologues and dialogues of our inner voices. I had never come across anyone being able to act as such a loyal and devoted scribe of the mind.
Over time, however, Dostoevsky and his creations began representing struggle, depression, mental noise and suffering to me. I was learning about human pain, unrequited love, fate and doom from other Russian writers as well, but Dostoevsky became the quintessential embodiment of all of it to me. That was all in high school.
When I started university and moved to a different city, I made new friends and read new books. This is when I was introduced to the idea that life was NOT supposed to be a non-ending series of painful experiences, that suffering was NOT required of us, and other, happy ways of living were possible.
A Course in Miracles speaks about “the Holy Instant” – a moment when we allow or invite the Holly Spirit to enter our lives. I am convinced that my standing up during that class and declaring that I had outgrown what Dostoevsky represented to me – suffering, depression, hopelessness and the anguish of the mind – changed the direction of my life. When I announced that I had outgrown the belief that we had to suffer, I invited new opportunities into my life and allowed the “un“ to be dropped from the traditional Russian “unhappy ending…”
We are often unable to tell what kind of impact our everyday choices and the words we say to others will have on our or their lives. I am now approaching 40 years old. Many things have happened in my life since I graduated from that Russian university, including my completely unforeseen and unexpected move to the United States of America; however, I believe that many of those life changes can be tracked back to that moment when, aged 20, I stated to my professor, classmates, and the Universe that I was willing to try living my life in a freer and happier way.