‘Life is so light. It’s like an outline we can’t ever fill in, correct, or make any better. It’s frightening.’ (film quote)
I have started reading Milan Kundera’s novel ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘ again, and the question of lightness and heaviness of life has not stopped puzzling me since. First of all, if you haven’t read the book, what are you waiting for? It is one of the strangest love stories ever written, and, although philosophical, it is very easy to read, it’s not depressive or dark like Nietzsche for example. And if you have read it, then you know what am I talking/writing about here.
In short, novel is set mainly in Prague in the late 1960s an 1970s, and the main characters are Tomáš; a Czech surgeon, intellectual and a womaniser who considers love and sex to be distinct entities. Tereza; a young wife of Tomáš, a gentle soul who loves reading and photographing, and comes from a small town where nobody ‘reads or discusses anything‘. And Sabina; a passionate and free-spirited artist, and one of Tomáš’ favourite mistresses. She declares war on kitsch and conventionality. While Tomáš and Sabina live a life of lightness and freedom, for Tereza that lightness is unbearable, she feels week, too dependent on Tomáš for love and everything else. Sabina and Tomáš live their lives in freedom, without worries, without a care in the world, they don’t give meaning to ordinary things; they enjoy the pleasures of life, excluding all sentimentality, but Sabina is surrounded by emptiness.
“Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden, but the unbearable lightness of being.”
At the same time, Tereza finds the insignificance of her life, and life in general, unbearable, but the heaviness of life is crushing her down. She came like a burden into Tomáš’ life. It is her own incapability of confronting the heaviness of life that is making her miserable.
“We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.(…)
There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite a word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.”
Each of us is given only one life. One life. Compared to eternity, we are given less than a hundred years to live our first and only life, unprepared, without a ‘sketch’ or a previous outline, without rules or instructions, therefor life’s so light. But if we were forced to relive our lives again and again for eternity, like in Nietzsche’s concept of ‘eternal recurrence’, we’d be condemned to eternal agony! Imagine that you have to relive every second of your life, whether it’s a joyous or a sad one. Endless repetition is a horrifying weight, an unimaginable burden. Isn’t it a blessing then, that we are living only one life?
“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
The contrast of weight and lightness is the most mystical out of all. For me, life is a burden, I’m always worried and the world frightens me, but I long for the power to embrace the lightness of life, to live a life of lightness. I know lightness wouldn’t be unbearable to me in a way it is to Tereza. On the contrary, I admire people like Sabina; she always tries not to be attached to a place, a thing or, a person. It seems like nothing means anything to her, I wish I could feel the same way. The fact that I’m writing this post, and putting effort, not only into this blog, but in other things as well, only proves the weight of life. If I lived the life of lightness, I wouldn’t bother doing anything, I’d be caught in the moment, time would pass slowly, and I’d be fully immersed into the emptiness of life. Still, the very phrase ‘Life is so light.‘ brings tears to my eyes, and the way Tomáš says it in the film, so calmly, and with resignation.
I ask myself why, why I am bothering with life, why can’t I just fade away?! Life is too hard for me. And everything means to me, further pulling me down into the heaviness of life. If only I could rise above it, into the lightness of living, I might be happy. If our lives are insignificant, and they are, why bother, why do anything, why have pointless hobbies and collect things? Why wake up in the morning? Why bother to cooperate in this theatre of life, in a role we are forced to play? It’s funny to me, but at the same time my curiosity compels me to think about it further, how all of us are just dolls, programmed to do certain pointless moves and words for a certain time until we die. It makes me happy to think that this life is not real, but revising for exams reassures me every time.
Light life may be unbearable, but the heavy one crushes us. If nothing matters, life is unbearable. If everything matters, life is also unbearable. A balance would be something in between, most things don’t matter but some do, in which case life is bearable and occasionally meaningful.
Are you living a life of lightness, or a life or heaviness? You don’t have to tell me, but please, take the time to just think about it.