Life is a jerk. Indisputably, an absolute jerk. I suppose you could compare Life to a boxer. He punches you in the face and knocks you down. Then he reaches out his hand to help you up, so he can knock you down again. He gives you bruises and scars, and he very occasionally addles you. He hurts you; he plunges your heart and leaves you in tears. Life deliberately puts you in strenuous situations, cornering you, until the idea of escape is ousted from your thoughts. Ivan Denisovich (Shukhov), in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovichwritten by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, has been cornered. Life has sentenced Shukhov to twenty-five years for treason and put him in a Soviet-governed Gulag. He, the bastard that life can be, surrounded Shukhov with barbed wire, numbing cold, and guards who served malicious tasks to the prisoners. Why? Because Life is a jerk. And yet, Life is also a teacher. He teaches you how to avoid attacks, block hits and strike back. He teaches you that it’s all in your head, and that with the right mindset you can achieve anything. He teaches you that with a grateful mindset, you’re always a winner.
We all have our dark days where we just want to collapse on the ground and bawl till our eyes can produce no more tears, because Life just doesn’t seem to be in our favor. We fill our minds with demoralizing assumptions about ourselves and about Life to an extent where it’s nearly impossible to escape that deep, dark hole of pessimism. We neglect our surroundings, because we are so absorbed in our thoughts that we completely forget what’s truly important. I’ve fallen in that hole, when Life took away the lives of those I held dear. I couldn’t stand the pain and therefore isolated myself from my surroundings and from the people who loved me; I shut down. However, the change in my life - moving from my home country to a foreign one - bettered me in the sense that I opened up to people and challenged myself which partly restored my confidence. Despite my amelioration, I still haven’t completely escaped my own prison. To many of us, Shukhov’s prison, the Gulag, would be a place where we would fall into that hole of pessimism. The Gulag was an extremely harsh environment filled with toadies, corrupted staff, ingenuous guards and tyrannical commanders. It was a place where something as simple as walking back to your bunk alone was forbidden. The climate was freezing cold and, ostensibly, work was what kept you warm and alive; “That was your only salvation” (Solzhenitsyn 6). Contemplating about having to spend twenty-five years of your life in isolation is unimaginable, because we live such luxurious lives; we can afford education, we have at least 3 filling meals a day, we have the liberty to do almost anything we want, and we are surrounded by our loved ones. Shukhov, however, was deprived of all those privileges. Yet, as we read his story and commiserate with the protagonist, we are still able to relate to him. We don’t necessarily share the same physical environment, but we do share the feeling of imprisonment. And the thing that’s problematic in any circumstance is actually not our environment; it’s how we perceive it. Life wasn’t kind to Shukhov at all and put him in an existential corner, but despite that, he still found a way to be thankful for what he had, instead of finding fault with Life over what he didn’t have. Some people grumble over not getting a full bowl of soup. Shukhov, on the other hand, was eternally grateful for even getting soup. I truly believe that happiness starts and remains with the mind; and it is gratitude that generates contentment that will lead to peace. If we change how we think, we change how we are. Your mind controls your actions, but it is you that controls your mind. As Solzhenitsyn beautifully wrote: “We’ve nothing but we always find a way to make something extra” (Solzhenitsyn 166). Shukhov even described his day as “a day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day” (Solzhenitsyn 167). Therefore, we can use Shukhov’s imperturbable optimism as an inspiration for ourselves, and be incredibly grateful for what Life did give us. He might be a jerk and he might’ve given us pain we thought unnecessary, but it’s a pain vital for our existence and our happiness. Life has given us the opportunity to learn from his hits, and we should use our learnings to hit back and win the happiness we so deserve. What Steve Maraboli once said: “A grateful mindset can set you free from the prison of disempowerment and the shackles of misery” (Steve Maraboli). Therefore, for as long as we’re still alive, “walk as if you were kissing the Earth with your feet” (Thích Nhất Hạnh), and show Life what you got.
Work Cited Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. New York, N.Y.: New American Library, 2009. Print.
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