It happened with me as it happens with everyone who contracts a fatal internal disease. At first there were the insignificant symptoms of the ailment, which the patient ignores; then these symptoms recur more and more frequently, until they merge into one continuous duration of suffering. The suffering increases, and before he can turn around the patient discovers what he already knew: the thing he had taken for a mere disposition is in fact the most important thing on earth to him, is in fact death.
This is exactly what happened to me. I realized that this was not an incidental ailment but something very serious, and that if the same questions should continue to recur, I would have to answer them. And I tried to answer them. The questions seemed to be such foolish, simple, childish questions. But as soon as I laid my hands on them and tried to resolve them, I was immediately convinced, first of all, that they were not childish and foolish questions but the most vital and profound questions in life, and, secondly, that no matter how much I pondered them there was no way I could resolve them.
Before I could be occupied with my Samara estate, with the education of my son, or with the writing of books, I had to know why I was doing these things. As long as I do not know the reason why, I cannot do anything. In the middle of my concern with the household, which a the time kept me quite busy, a question would come into my head: “Very well, you have 16,000 acres in the Samara province, as well as 300 horses; what then?” And I was completely taken aback and did not know what else to think.
As soon as I started to think about the education of my children, I would ask myself, “Why?” Or I would reflect on how the people might attain prosperity, and I would suddenly ask myself, “What concern is it of mine?” or in the middle of thinking about the fame that my works were bringing me I would say to myself, “Very well, you will be more famous than Gogol, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Moliere, more famous than all the writers in the world – so what?
And I could find absolutely no reply.
Leo Tolstoy, Confession (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983) pp. 26, 27.