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“The axe is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire”(Matthew 3:10).
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago)
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) had every reason to question the structure of existence when he was imprisoned in a Soviet labour camp. He had served as a soldier on the ill-prepared Russian front lines in the face of Nazi invasion. He has been arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison by his own people. Then he was struck by cancer. He could have become resentful and bitter. He lived in brutal conditions. Vast stretches of his precious time were stolen from him and squandered. He witnessed the pointless and degrading suffering and death of his friends and acquaintances. Solzhenitsyn had cause to curse God. May be, Job of the Bible himself barely had it as hard. “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? (Job 3:11)
But the great writer, the profound, spirited defender of truth, did not allow his mind to turn towards vengeance and destruction. He opened his eyes, instead. During his many trials, Solzhenitsyn encountered people who comported themselves nobly, under horrific circumstances. He spent his life in contemplation. Then he asked himself the most difficult of questions: Had he personally contributed to the catastrophe of his life? If so, how?
He remembered his unquestioning support of the Communist Party in his early years. He reconsidered his whole life. He had plenty of time in the camps. How had he missed the mark, in the past? How many times had he acted against his own conscience, engaging in actions that he knew to be wrong? How many timed had he betrayed himself, and lied? Was there any away the sins of his past could be rectified, atoned for, in the muddy hell of a Soviet gulag?
Pondering over the details of his life Solzhenitsyn asked himself a second question, and a third. Can I stop making such mistakes, now? Can I repair the damage done by past failures, now?
He learned to watch and to listen. He found people he admired; who were honest, despite everything. He took himself apart, piece by piece, let what was unnecessary and harmful die and resurrected himself.
Then he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, a history of the Soviet prison camp system. It is considered a forceful book, written with the overwhelming moral force of unvarnished truth. It is said Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology of society. One man’s decision to change his life, instead of cursing fate, shook the whole system of communist tyranny to its core. He took an axe to the trunk of the tree whose bitter fruits had nourished him so poorly- and whose planting he had witnessed and supported.
I got the above story from the book 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos written by Jordan B. Peterson. Let me end it with a quote from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”