Today I am sitting out on my balcony on the most beautiful day in history, reading a book called The Visible World, by Mark Slouka.
Sometimes when I am zipping along in a book, a certain passage, or maybe even a sentence, will cause me to stop and muse upon what I've just read. Hopefully, all good books will cause all good readers to do this.
It just happened.
Let me set the scene.
In The Visible World, the narrator, a young man -- tries to find out more about his mother's experiences in Prague during the Second World War. He knows that she had an affair with a man while courting another man who would one day become his father. As an adult, after his mother's death, he tries to find out more about this situation that so profoundly would influence her for the rest of her life.
He revisits Prague to search for clues -- but is stymied at every turn. Just as he is on the trail of new information, it seems to evaporate. In the end, [the latter half of the book] he composes what amounts to a largely fictional account of the love affair.
At one point in the story, these two freedom-fighters [Ivana and Tomas] are hiding out from the Wehrmacht in the forest -- surviving on wild raspberries, wild mushrooms, and wild lovemaking -- and Ivana returns to a little village alone to send a telegraph to her parents, and thus [killing two birds with one…. telegram] also inform the other man [the future father of the narrator] that she is OK.
The passage that made me really stop and think, was this:
Walking down that long, straight road, silent except for the wind in the high trees and the tired insects in the hedgerows whenever it died, she noticed with a kind of wonder how strange to herself she had grown. She was the same person, holding the same conversations inside her head -- wondering how much farther it was to the turnoff, or whether she should stay on the road or cut through the pastures -- except that now it was as though she were talking to him as well, as though a third person had entered the room that only she and herself had shared. She wanted to talk to him, think aloud with him. His entrance had displaced something essential, she knew, then realized with a kind of voluptuous sorrow that she had been waiting for this displacement all of her life, that things would never again be quite the same and that she didn't care and wouldn't miss them.
For one thing, I think this is just marvelous writing.
But secondly, I think that it beautifully encapsulates so many aspects of what should be essential to any true love.
Firstly, I believe that when you are in love, you do indeed become "strange" to yourself. Whatever walls are in place [and we all have them, though the heights and thicknesses may vary] you know those barriers have now been breached. But this time, not by the enemy. You are willing to forego the usual doubts in place of the overall composure you feel in what is so often a fearful predicament.
Secondly, I do believe that you now begin to hold conversations with the other person even when you are not with them. Notice how the author puts it. As she walked, "it was as though a third person had entered the room that only she and herself had shared."
She wanted to talk to him, think aloud with him.
And also, he represented a "third" person -- not merely a second person.
That is significant.
Because you can only have a proper conversation with anyone else, or for that matter listen to them speak to you, when you have had the prerequisite conversations with yourself. To know another, you must first know yourself.
Vis a vis, to love another, you must first love yourself.
Is there anything more wonderful than to "think aloud" with someone you love? When we think to ourselves, we [essentially] hear what we are thinking. But no one else does. How wonderful to let everything within fall through the sieve of what so often stays on the inside… shifting around, and clattering -- trying to get through.
Thirdly, the use of the term "displacement".
Displacement is different from overflow. For displacement to occur, something else has to leave. There is not room enough for everything, or in this case, everyone. The thoughts of the truly beloved not only add to the storehouse, they push out what can no longer be there, simultaneously.
"She had been waiting for this displacement all of her life", the author tells us.
I think we all do. I think we all have.
Let me focus on that adjective a bit, and the use of it here. It denotes something shapely, seductive, full-figured, alluring, sensuous -- in a word, desired. But who desires sorrow?
A lover does.
She realized with a kind of "voluptuous" sorrow that this is what she had longed for.
Lastly, you don't care.
Things aren't going to be the same anymore and you don't care.
I think in this one paragraph, these five points I've illuminated [and there surely exist more that you see, and I don't] Mark Slouka has nailed, in literature, what true love consists of.
I think of the title of the book, The Visible World, and marvel at how he shows us that what matters most about living in it, isn''t.
I might have come close once, in a poem.