Right now in heaven, Tolstoy is playing with his dumbbells, even those little rounded weights he kept in his study at Yasnaya Polyana have come up with him into the cloud-city of the afterlife. In the spring of 2016, I toured his old house and the estate on which he lived, walked out through the green trees and the precision mosquitoes to his burial mound, a grass covered box-shaped hill on the ground where the great man went in. But why was he great, when so much of his life was spent—that little account of time we all bank on—in little rooms sitting in a chair made for children, propped up on a pillow, his waning eyesight pulling his face in ever closer to the page? After he died, he left the estate and some big books to say he’d lived, but did he live, working over his little pages all day through the sharp Russian winters, his beard dropped down to his belt? I imagine him in the later hours of the day stepping out onto the exposed porch to pump his little dumbbells, raise his hands on his scrawny arms so weighted in cranking out the little curls. His biceps were the better for it, no doubt, maybe his stamina too, and then a long walk through the aching wood with his cane, the top of which...
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