Time Before Death

Early on in The Idiot, Prince Myshkin tells the story of a man about to be executed who has an epiphany. When faced with the imminence of death, the convicted man felt time slow down to a point where “five minutes seemed … an infinite term” (64). The man became frustrated at this thought, thinking that if “life were returned to [him, he] would turn every minute into an entire age” and never waste a moment of his life (64). Despite this epiphanic moment, he still found that he “wasted many, many moments” after his life was spared.

While this is an extreme example of an epiphanic moment before an absolute sentence, I find that a similar realization often occurs in our everyday lives. Albeit on a much smaller scale and a more trivial matter, often I find myself feeling the same sense of mystical clarity the night before an assignment is due.

With an imminent deadline and an incomplete essay just hours before it is due, “the whole awful torture lies in the fact that there is certainly no escape” from it; there is no chance for an extension or aid of any sort (24). In such scenarios, I also find myself similarly dividing the remaining time: two more hours for writing, then thirty more minutes to review, a quick break for perhaps a cup of tea — then the final read before submitting.  These minutes seem “a vast wealth” of time, and I promise that with the next assignment “I would count every minute, and wouldn’t waste a thing for nothing” (65). However, much like the convict described in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, I find with each passing week that I have not learned at all, and with many other assignments, “wasted many, many moments” (65).

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