How Much Land Does a Man Need?

How Much Land Does a Man Need?

“Our only trouble,” thought Pahóm, “is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself.”

“Our only trouble,” thought Pahóm, “is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself.”


I was woken by a loud cry. The door opened and Rahi came clattering in. I want to go to Papa, he cried out. Annika followed. Sorry, Geliebter, she said. Since he woke up he’s been saying he wants to go to Papa. And now I just opened the kitchen door a little (Rahi can’t open it himself) and Rahi shot out and came here.

Do you want to do the train puzzle, Papa?

Yes, I said, still groggy. I’d worked late last night and hadn’t had much sleep. Give me a few minutes and then we’ll do it together, okay?

You can set your alarm, said Rahi.

I set my alarm. Annika came in and did the puzzle with him while I lay next to them. Then they went upstairs and I tried to go back to sleep.

Most mornings, the first thing Rahi asks me is: Are you done with work, Papa?

Most mornings, I say no.

Just after Christmas, Rahi and I spent 8 days alone. Just the two of us. On day 3 or 4, sitting on his little chair at the table, eating cashew nuts, he said quietly and seriously, Ich freu mich dass du nicht arbeiten muss, Papa.

I’m happy you don’t have to work, Papa.

Me too, I said, and he went back to his nuts.


Ages ago, to help me with choosing my next philosophical research project, I came up with a distinction between problems and puzzles.

I defined a problem as something that had existential importance for me - solving it (or not), understanding it, realising it could not be understood … all of this would have some clear and significant effect in my life.

A puzzle was simply the contrast case - a question that I had no answer to, perhaps, but that I also didn’t need an answer to. Solving the puzzle would make no difference to my life.

I realise I am writing right now about a problem, and a very serious one: What is life for?

I’m almost embarrassed to pose the question as directly and openly as that. But that is how the question presents itself to me right now - and not in thought, not as an idle intellectual game, but in life, in my life, in the absurdly few hours that I have left on this earth.

These minutes, these hours … this tiny sliver of time that remains: What is it for?


Annika and I were talking the other night about careers. A question came into my mind.

“What if love was our career,” I asked? “Our love, our love for Rahi, Rahi’s love for us. The new baby, the love in our family. What if that was what we worked on?

"What if that was the centre of our lives, our biggest priority? What if it was the most important thing in all the decisions we took?”


What about money, though? Love is great, but Rahi eats blueberries, and Annika insists they be organic. We can’t pay for that with love.

I am existentially worried about money. I don’t mean by this that we struggle to find enough money to survive. Rather, I mean to describe the feeling and the weight of the worry.

Earning money feels like a matter of life and death to me. I am terrified by the prospect of poverty and my family being on the street; more to the point, the prospect is alive. It feels in my fear like an actual possibility.

Of course, everything is possible. But a sober judge would estimate the probability of poverty striking the Böddeling-Sanklecha empire as vanishingly small and tending to zero (this is what the Gods call hubris, so forgive me, Zeus!).

If we had enough money, I told Annika, I would happily stop working and just devote myself to us, to our love.


“Pahóm’s heart kindled with desire. He thought:

‘Why should I suffer in this narrow hole, if one can live so well elsewhere? I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the money I will start afresh over there and get everything new. In this crowded place one is always having trouble.’”


It’s interesting, how without realising or wanting to, I see “work” as something that I have to do and love as something that will fit into the gaps that work leaves open.

The question that I spoke to Anni - more accurately, the question that was spoken through me - keeps coming back.

What if we lived a life around love?

It’s not some Jesus ideal I’m after. I currently have no aspirations to loving everyone. It’s much more modest than that. I’ve got love at home. What a gift! Why don’t I take up the gift and honour it?


Some weeks ago, after Rahi had gone to bed, instead of working Annika and I sat around the kitchen table and talked. We talked like we used to in the months in which we fell in love. We were open and present, we shared freely of ourselves and we received generously of the other.

In the midst of a sentence I broke off, and just looked at my wife.

I’m sorry, I said. I’d stopped listening. You have really beautiful eyes.

And the thing is - she does! Soft, alive, flashing with love and something else, something indefinable but so clearly recognisable, something that lights up our tiny kitchen with a quiet and still beauty.

Her face scrunched up a little, as it does when she feels shy.

I kept looking. I was unable to stop.

For a moment, I saw Annika again.

For a moment, all the accumulated weight of my life, of our lives together, our duties and our disagreements … all of this went quiet and I was allowed to see my wife again.

She is very beautiful.


Would it not be something, to organise my life around the aim of being able to see my wife? The aim of being present to my son?

Would it not be something to organise my life around love? To make love the thing I have to do, and let “work” fit into the gaps around it?


“‘Ah, that’s a fine fellow!’ exclaimed the Chief ‘He has gained much land!’

"Pahóm’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flogging from his mouth. Pahóm was dead!

"The Bashkírs clicked their tongues to show their pity.

"His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahóm to he in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”