“You only need one ray of light to chase all the shadows away.”
A Man Called Ove
Life can be really tough, we all know. Loss, especially, of any kind, could impact us in ways that can change us forever.
We all have had our share of moments when we felt world-weary. We might have become calloused in one way or another in an attempt to protect ourselves and our heart, that we unknowingly hold ourselves back from the good and beautiful things that life has to offer.
The Germans have a word for this : weltschmerz — the state of apathy or melancholy that a person could have about the imperfections of the world.
About a week ago I read Fredrik Backman’s acclaimed novel, “A Man Called Ove”.
It’s a story of a grumpy old man named Ove who has gone through plenty of losses in his life. He acts cold towards the world because he sees it in grey, as all its color was drained when he lost his wife, his home, and his family. But with the help of good-hearted people who call on him as their friend, he learns to embrace the good in life. He learns to live again.
As Backman wrote about Ove and his wife,
“He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.
‘You need only one ray of light to chase all the shadows away,’ she said to him once, when he asked her why she had to be so upbeat the whole time.
‘You don’t fool me, darling,’ she said with a playful little smile and crept into his big arms. ‘You’re dancing on the inside, Ove, when no one’s watching. And I’ll always love you for that. Whether you like it or not.’ “
There were many times when I had to put the book down, as I needed a moment to myself and cried. It felt as though Backman was tearing my wall down, like he was addressing my deep-rooted feelings about the world, and that he was offering his hand, inviting me to start living again.
It reminded of a quote by Syeikh Hamza Yusuf, that “God is with the broken-hearted. When your heart breaks, it’s a good thing — the breaking of the heart is what opens it up to the light of Allah. The dunya (world) is designed to break your heart, to crush it.”
So what might happen if we don’t fight this world-weariness?
As Jackson Browne warns us in his song “Doctor My Eyes”, we might become so hardened towards life, that we end up not being able to feel anything anymore, whether good or bad.
“Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the price
For having learned how not to cry?”
Lastly, what can we do to fight world-weariness?
Doing small acts of kindness always helps, especially the ones done in secret. Make a habit of donating — give away your extra money, your old books and clothes. Pray for other people, even ones that you might have ill feelings for — pray for them all that you would want for yourself, pray only the best for them. Kindness never fails to make our world feel so much larger, and hey, seeing other people happy makes us happy.
Whenever I feel that the world is weighing down on me, I keep coming back to a scene in a “Red Dead Redemption II”, about a conversation between a dying outlaw, Arthur and a bubbly, unassuming nun.
Arthur tells the nun about how he has felt that the world has hardened him. He had a little son who died, he threw away a relationship in loyalty to his now unraveling gang, and he lost his parents when he was little.
“Life is full of pain. But there is also love and beauty,” the nun tells him. “Be grateful that for the first time, you see your life clearly.”
“But I still don’t believe in nothing,” says Arthur.
“Often, neither do I.” the nun replies. “But then, I meet someone like you, and everything makes sense.”
In a rare moment of vulnerability, Arthur confides to her, “I’m afraid.”
“There is nothing to be afraid of, Mr. Morgan,” she assures him. “Take a gamble that love exists, and do a loving act.”