We Pass Through It Together
Again with the Japanese novelist.
Sometime around Thanksgiving Day, I finished Haruki Murakami's enchanting, unforgettable novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Come this new year, its effect still lingers.
By now you've probably heard (or at least learned through experience) that truth is indeed mostly stranger than fiction. But more often than not fiction arrives at its truths by way of unparalleled authenticity and depth. As if, by some miracle of art, the heights of fiction are precisely what it takes to reach the depths of our souls.
For instance, in one paragraph that captures lightning in a bottle, Murakami describes a kind of arrival by his central character:
And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry for grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.
I have wondered for some time if complete acceptance of ourselves and others—in the manner of Tsukuru, "to accept it all": the good, the bad, the ugly; past, present, future—might be the highest form of human and social understanding.
Make no mistake: I don't believe this acceptance is akin to hopeless resignation or false contentment. Each of us is always on the hook. There is no let-off from individual responsibility.
But do we really have any idea what our embrace of acceptance will ask of us in 2016?
In the author's mind, harmony—and here I think he means the affinities of particular communities; for example, Tsukuru's group of high-school friends from which he was estranged—is rooted in beautiful familiarity. But this kind of harmony can only grow us so much.
We all desperately need the familiar, of course, and the harmony that comes from it. Yet, in time, Tsukuru discovers something beyond.
There is a linkage of human hearts. There is a linkage between hearts, however good or evil.
As Tsukuru comes to know, there is a humanity that runs deeper than the affinities of particular communities. Beyond tribalism in its various manifestations.
The unfortunate truth is, and with much social consequence, human identity can have its particularity without actually remembering its solidarity.
This might be as blindingly short-sighted as it is shamefully self-centered.
Meanwhile, the author says, another harmony is waiting to be experienced through our wounds.
The human story is pockmarked with loss. We all sit, for worse and for worse, anxious and squirming, in some unique part of this story's ruins. And it would appear that our familiar identities of race, religion, culture or country—in all their power—are powerless to do anything to overcome this loss.
At this point, Melancholy and Sadness are sure to grab you and shake you up a bit. Do not be alarmed: everything is normal.
Then again, there is the other side of our story.
If we allow ourselves, we can be grabbed and shaken by a strange but magnificent force with a potentially binding strength: our shared humanity.
What Tsukuru discovers when his pilgrimage arrives at its clarifying moment is this: There is a truer harmony by which to discover and sustain our identity. It comes, at least in part, through a story of recognized commonality where my pain and your loss feature prominently.
In 2016, I really do want to believe it.
I think we must believe—against the grain of numerous, acknowledged, significant, but also distancing and polarizing differences between people—that we all pass through pain and loss together.
But here comes the part that is so much harder than belief—
How do we practice in our interpersonal relationships, in our neighborhoods and cities, in our countries of birth or citizenship, in our worldview and global participation, what this togetherness might actually mean?
Especially when many others don't believe it.
Especially when certain others willfully choose not to.