I teach literature classes at a local university, and one of my favorite things to teach is short fiction. There’s a class in which we discuss "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," a short story by Katherine Ann Porter, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy. The two stories illustrate perfectly the contrast between life and death.
On the surface, the stories are similar because in both, the main characters are dying of an incurable disease. However, in "The Jilting," Granny Weatherall also dies a spiritual death. She’s a woman who has “weathered all” and lived a good life on earth, but in the end, her religion deserts her. Her death is described as a slow descent into night. In fear and bitterness of heart, she finally chooses to blow out the light, which represents her hope of salvation, and succumb to total darkness.
Ivan Ilyich has a pathetic physical life compared to Granny. He has no good relationships, and has lived mostly to make money as a lawyer in upperclass Russia. However, on his deathbed, he finally learns to live. His regrets are swallowed up in love. His fears are overcome by peace. He moves out of a dark tunnel toward the light, and he finds Jesus.
Every time I read these stories with my students I am struck by the choices the main characters make. At each of their critical moments, they are given the same choices I have every day: I can choose bitterness or acceptance. I can choose fear or I can choose peace. I can choose light or darkness. And my choices mean the difference between life and death.
Faith Step: When you encounter the choice between life and death today—as you inevitably will—ask yourself: what can I do to choose Jesus, to choose life, today?