Day 208 of A Year of War and Peace

Don’t be Oswald. The man — this term being applied under its most liberal understanding — is a murderous fiend, a parasite without honor, truly one of Shakespeare’s greatest contributions to the literature of shitheads. Perhaps his greatest offense, however, is hinted at in his parting words as Edgar’s sword bleeds the life from him. “O, untimely death!” Oswald howls.

Untimely death. How odd it is that death, our common heritage, announces itself with the evidence of a hurricane and yet so often captures us unprepared like the sudden drumming of an earthquake. Why? There is death in war and death in peace. It should never be untimely.

Death is with us today after the icon procession and before the battle of Borodino. Pierre, surveying the gathered Russian troops, senses in their visages expressions of “the universal questions of life and death.” Boris, himself a bit Oswaldian in his blind ambition and obedience to advancement of position, jests of death when he tells Kutuzov that the militia has prepared for their death tomorrow by putting on nice, clean white shirts. As they say, there is truth in every joke. Preparation for death is one of life’s duties. Dolokhov, so nice to see him again, recognizes this and approaches Pierre, I believe, to beg forgiveness for the wrongs he has done him. He understands that death awaits him, very possibly during tomorrow’s battle, and he therefore seeks amends with Pierre in preparation for appointment with it.

In sum: don’t be like Oswald. Be like Dolokhov. Get ready to die.


But the science of life requires a whole lifetime, and the science of dying, which you may find more surprising, requires a whole lifetime.

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

This is the two hundred and eighth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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