Sunday, October 2, 2011

Muss Es Sein? (Yes.)

“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.” 

-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

from "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

A few days ago, I had my hair done again. No longer ginger, I am quite firmly back in the land of brunette. The shade is billed ostensibly as "Coffee Bean", but in reality is more "Bella Without Her Edward": a deep, dark, lustrous shade that is perfect for the upcoming days when Persephone is bidding us all goodbye.
As usual, my makeover came with a side of philosophy, thanks to the spot-on observations of my stylist. This go-round, we were talking about change, and how easy it is for some folks, and how difficult for others. He said, "Sometimes you see people standing on the edge of that cliff, looking down at those churning waters below. Some of them stay there forever, just wondering what will happen, feeling the breeze on their face but not quite wanting to take the leap. Some jump, and get crushed against the rocks, and others may disappear a bit under water, but next thing you know, they are waving up at you saying, 'Come in!! The water's great!' You never know how it's going to turn out, do you?"

Of course I thought of Kundera. I have read The Unbearable Lightness of Being countless times, and every time it speaks to me in a different way. Unmarried and struggling with my own intense thoughts and emotions, I identified so strongly with Tereza. As I grew older, I understood the cad Tomas much more, realizing his depth. Yes, I know how reviled the book is in some circles: ostentatious literary pornography! Kundera hates women, and objectifies them! Too philosophical! Yet. Perhaps it is because I discovered the book at a critical point in my intellectual development. Or something. So many of the ideas were so new to me, then, the way of thought so original and moving. Just the sort of book a girl wearing Doc Martens and a sundress (topped off with a very New Wave haircut) could tuck under her arm while meandering across campus. (I meandered a lot as an undergraduate.)

The idea of "not knowing what to want" is so universal. How many of us have stood on that cliff, not knowing whether or not to jump, and wondering (as Kundera's Tomas wondered, via Beethoven) "Must it be?" when assessing our fate. And yes, in some ways it must be. What seems like choice, isn't. It is only the bitterness of contemplating two (or more) unpalatable options, a scenario played out again and again on the stage of human history. Frost advocates taking the less obvious path, which seems, at first blush, to be the brave thing to do. But is being brave really all it's cut out to be? Anyway, easy enough for him to shun cowardice from the comfort of his own carriage, horses well-fed and healthy. What if he had to make it through the woods on a snowy evening on foot? I think he would want to go On The Path Very Heavily Traveled So That Perhaps Someone Could Kindly Prevent Me From Becoming  Frost-Bitten.

Maybe the failing is believing there is one correct path. Is it possible that the right answer could be several things at once? How do we know which way to go?


  1. Wow. This post took my breath away. I soaked up every word (and can totally picture you in the sundress and Doc Martens. I picture the dress yellow, for some reason.)

    Try and guess which song at the end I chose to listen to as I typed up this comment.

  2. Hello Maggie:
    What an elegantly written post this is on what, perhaps, is essential to the 'human condition', deciding upon which path to take in life.

    It has always seemed to us that the most life changing things in life have just arrived, some creeping up stealthily and others bursting onto the scene with a big bang. However, for us it is good we think to DECIDE since no decision is the worst of all evils in our view.

    The Beethoven was lovely!

  3. Thank you so much for this thought-provoking post, Maggie. "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" was once a best-selling novel in Japan and I read it about 10 years ago. I still remember how I was surprised to find that the novel began with Nietzsche. Don't you think Kundera's way of writing is very unique? I was really impressed with his choice of words and phrases. I also wonder what choice is...and what free will is.... Thanks for the playlist!!

  4. What an incredible post, Maggie. You show wisdom that is WELL beyond your years.

    Beautifully said, beautiful soul.

  5. yes indeed, several paths at once seem to be something i would choose. It's strange that I quoted from that same poem by Robert Frost on my Scribbles blog only last week. Perhaps we both are trying to find our path, less travelled or otherwise?

  6. Suze: Thank you! Well, I am going to guess Misguided Angel...:)

    Jane and Lance: No decision is definitely its own kind of hell.

    Sapphire: Thank you for the kind words. I love his work; I think Kundera is truly an original. Yes, I was surprised by opening with know that you are going to go on some sort of adventure!

    Bryce: I teared up a bit at your comment, thank you. Although I think I am A LOT older than you think I must be!!

    Loree: Several paths at once has been my preferred way, but sometimes those paths are so divergent it is difficult to stay focused...and yes to trying to find our paths, whatever they may be. Cheers to that!


    This is always a dilemma, trying to figure out which path to take. I am currently figuring that out at the moment, but I think that each one of us has an internal METER to gauge what is right for us. But FAITH is an important factor in the equation. Without practicing it, we will never know our potential....but then there is a time to go with what is exactly in front of you and be FAITHFUL to what you HAVE TO DO NOW. So that is my story at the moment!


  8. So, I have discovered, there are myriad paths and every path has branches, detours and dead ends. The beauty is, we can go back and try again. In most instances. All those choices make up our lives and each one becomes unique. I think so. I enjoyed your post. Very thought-provoking. And, I think what many of us explore in our stories.

  9. I have spent countless hours with head in hands, berating myself over the choices I have made in the effort to find a "correct" path. And now I look back and wonder if what seemed so logical at the time was really just illusion. Is this really what I am supposed to be? That question bites me every day, with every moment of success and failure. I don't think there is a correct path anymore, because that would assume that I have a clue where I'm going. For now I just have to find pleasure in the ride.

  10. The path that makes the greatest impact in the lives of others is the best. And there are many ways to do that, many paths. Enjoy the ride and don't stress about wrong paths.

  11. Oh dear, the eternal questions, what to do? what to do?

    Here's a thought: whichever path we/you/one choose/es, it's bound to be the wrong one in the end. At least that's what I usually tell myself, always hankering after the path not taken. And wondering what if . . . . . . .

    But that's me. I hope you are less of a ditherer and choose what's best for you, always.

  12. Now you've made me want to read that book.

    PS. For the record, I don't think I would jump (in a literal sense!)

  13. Oh, how did I miss this great post--and yes, yes, it is definitely true(for me, at least) that the right path is several things at once. (I begin to think, too, reading your stylist's observations, that part of the training for that work is a degree in philosophy.) Ah, and there again is another wonderfully eclectic music list at the close of your post.

  14. Some say no decision is a decision or choice. Whatever. I don't even know that I believe there is such a thing. Your thinking is refreshing here and completed with some great songs. I always feel I climb to the top of the precipice, jump and look around, and then climb back up again hoping for something better. Actually, I would settle for something different.

    I saw the film "Unbearable Lightness of Being" and didn't care for it, but now I will read the book. Don't know why I haven't before because I know a book is nothing like the film. Thank you for these thoughts.

  15. Anita: I love the idea of being faithful to what I have to do now. That sounds manageable!

    Bro: Thank you!

    Jules: You know, there is a lot to be said for enjoying the ride. I really don't think I do that enough; I am always worrying about potential outcomes.

    Alex: The greatest POSITIVE impact, right? :)

    Friko: Oh no, I am quite the ditherer, sometimes. Other times I am quite firm. Wow. Just that response seemed noncommittal!

    Lore: I am not sure how you would feel about the book, but go ahead and give it a try! You seem very brave!!

    Susan! Thank you so much for your kind comments! And as for my stylist, he certainly is a special kind of guy.

    Rubye: Thanks for your visit! No decision is not a decision, I agree. If you didn't like the movie, you may not like the book. They are similar, but I think the book (as is often the case) is better because I feel the film doesn't address the deeper philosophical elements. Let me know what you think!

  16. This is am amazing, thought-provoking post.

    Now I want to read Kundera's book so badly.