I’m not talking physical lightness or heaviness, rather psychological lightness and heaviness. What is this, you may ask? Allow me to explain.
In a humanities class of mine we were required to read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera. I’ll admit, I judged the book by it’s cover and assumed I wouldn’t like it–it was a long read and our professor said it’s not your “average novel”. So I thought, great, another required book to analyze. I cannot express to you how wrong I was.
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” follows the story of womanizing brain surgeon Tomas, his childlike lover Tereza, and Tomas’s mistress and close friend Sabina during the Russian invasion of Prague in the 1960s. Suppressed by the communist oppression, Tomas finds personal freedom through physical sexuality, Tereza struggles to trust Tomas and yearns for his carefree ways and Sabina, an artist, seems to be a truly lost soul, constantly fighting against what is considered normal. I won’t give away too much detail, but the events that occur throughout the novel delve into the psychological distress the characters experience due to communist rule.
One of the main themes of the novel is the comparison of lightness and heaviness of being. Lightness can be described as a carefree, circular approach to life and an ability to seamlessly float with an “absolute absence of burden”. Heaviness can be understood as emotional baggage; a philosophical weight that is put on ones soul after past events cause one to sink to the depths of the human psyche. This concept alone had me hooked and left me constantly thinking about what is light and what is heavy in my own life?
As humans we are constantly burdened with the fact that this is our only life, our one shot at happiness, success, love–whatever it is you want. We view this reality as a bad thing; truly a burden hanging over our heads. But, we don’t take into account the benefits of such heaviness. Without heaviness we would float through life without a care or worry. We wouldn’t remember important meetings or test dates. We wouldn’t stress about being estranged from that certain someone for days on end. We wouldn’t feel the emotions that uniquely set us apart from other mammals. We wouldn’t be human.
I would love to be light. But I am heavy. Maybe my emotions don’t sink down into my inner psyche and leave me walking with theoretical shackles on my ankles, but the heaviness of life keeps me grounded and reminds me I am human.
There are few books that I have read that have stuck with me on an emotional and intellectual level and left me constantly analyzing its details–which is strange since I enjoy literature immensely. “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury have earned spots on my list of “Favorite Books of All Time”, but perhaps it’s time to add another.