Freedom to Write

What if you had to write in secret?

What if you couldn’t tell any of your friends about your writing projects for fear that they would let it slip and you would be arrested?

What if you had to write in prison—committing your words to memory because you lacked access to paper and pen? (How many of us could even write longhand without the benefit of our computers?)

I admit I’m not qualified to write about Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  I had heard of The Gulag Archipelago and that’s about it. When pressed during a game of Trivia Pursuit, I had been able to correctly guess that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I might have been able to guess that he had served time in a Soviet prison. I didn’t know that his Nobel was awarded in 1970 but he couldn’t accept it until he was exiled from Russia in 1974. . .

Aleksandr-Solzhenitsyn desk-1

I chanced upon a quotation of his last year while I was experiencing some problems at work. Office politics isn’t my strong suit. I don’t know how to mediate the pettiness.

Never mind the gendered language. (Is it a translation thing?) In his A Lenten Letter to Pimen Patriarch Of All Russia, he wrote:

“He who is deprived of all material strength will finally always be triumphant through sacrifice.”

I copied the quotation down and hung it near my desk.

I probably don’t know what this means.  I know it doesn’t mean giving up and licking the boots of your adversaries. It doesn’t mean, as my pastor had commented when I faced divorce:  “You’ve been bending over so far backwards that you’re lying on the ground . . .”  It doesn’t mean capitulating.

I posted this quotation at my work desk as a reminder to reach for inner, unseen strength. I vowed that I would not argue with my contentious colleagues. I tried to remember not to react/overreact as colleagues ignored emails, failed to share information, and shut me out of key discussions. I resolved not to despair as I faced my stressful, accusatory environment.

For me, the sacrifice of learning to hold my tongue and deliberately pursue conciliatory approaches . . . well, I can’t say that I’ve become triumphant.  But my perspective, if not my environment, has changed.  At some point in the last few months I realized: some of my pettiest coworkers are the most insecure.

In his Nobel Prize lecture, Solzhenitsyn said this about art:

“The task of the artist is to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world, the beauty and the outrage of what man has done to it, and poignantly to let people know.”

If you’re like me and have never read Solzhenitsyn before, I recommend his four paragraph prose poem “The Puppy.”

Today is the 95th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  As we go about our lives, may we always remember to give thanks for our freedom to write and read.

For Additional Reading

Biography from the Nobel Prize Internet Archive.

Harvard Commencement Speech, June 1978.

Nobel Prize Lecture, 1970

Works Cited

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. A Lenten Letter to Pimen Patriarch of All Russia. Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing, 1972. Print.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Nobel Lecture. N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972. Print.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Stories and Prose Poems. N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970 & 1971. Print.

Photo Credits
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