Hello, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance, where your mind refuses logic and your imagination takes fly.
Truthfully, I wanted to discuss Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” – Oh, there will be so many things to discuss, so many things to say about Albert Camus and Sisyphus that there’s almost nothing to discuss at all. But I took a turn, a change of phrase, a step down the memory lane, perhaps, and I pulled out Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Of Love and Other Demons” instead.
So, why “Of Love and Other Demons”? I’ve come across other works, whose brilliance and happiness shine brighter than this thin paperback book that I am holding dearly in my hands right now. I’ve finished “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” then moving on to “A Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” and stopping at “Love in the Time of Cholera.” I love them all, and one of these days, once I’m more mature, I will pull out “One Hundred Years of Solitude” to talk about it, as well as my hopeless love for the man who suggested the book to me.
But today, let’s just make do with “Of Love and Other Demons.” The book that made me cried myself to sleep. The book that lulls me in the darkness of those winter sleepless nights. The book that plants in my soul a seed of belief. Of hope. Of love’s weakness and its strength in the most desperate of time.
So let’s talk about “Of Love and Other Demons.”
In the forewords, the author, Mr. Marquez, talks about his inspiration for the novel. About a little girl who died from being bitten by a dog. After being buried, her hair keeps growing until it reaches her tip of her toes. Looking at her golden hair in the crystal casket, Mr. Marquez thinks back about a girl he used to know. He imagines the girl in the crystal casket is the same girl in his memory of his little hometown, where everyone knows everyone.
Thus, the story begins.
I don’t know if the girl in Mr. Marquez’s memory suffers the same misery and hopeless fate as the heroine in “Of Love and Other Demons.” Born as an unloved child, who got rejected by both her Mother and Father; the only love she received was the warm circle of the housekeepers when they gathered around the fiery stoves and sang her to sleep; the only language she ever spoke was the rhyme of the housekeepers’ native songs and lullabies; and the only hope given to her was the love from a man, whose hollow cries and bloody hands still echoed across the centuries.
“This was when she asked him whether it was true that love conquered all, as the songs said. ‘It is true’, he replied, ‘but you would do well not to believe it.”
Of Love and Other Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
How we wish that love can conquer all. How we hope that in the most pivotal moment of the battle, either against life or alongside it, love will show itself and lull us to a peaceful rest in its bosom. How we think, naively, that simply by believing in love, it will save us from ourselves.
After all, what else can be scarier, bleaker, and more of a monster than ourselves, who, at any moment, always find an opportunity to shred us down to little pieces?
And though it is true – blessed are the souls that believe in it, that love can conquer all, as in all the songs, the rhymes, the fairy tales, and the poems we read since we were still a child – we have stopped believing in it.
We have grown up. We have outgrown the little child inside us. We abandoned him or her by the roadside, and the child was standing there as we walked away – perhaps the child is still standing there by now – with a hope that we will come back one day, pick him or her up. And despite his hopeful look, his sparkling eyes, his wildly beating heart as he listens to every single footstep of other adults walking by, leaving their own inner child behind, he never know that no matter how long and arduous he waits, we can’t turn back.
The child is still waiting. He does not know about our cruelty. He does not know the fights we face. He does not know that by the time we come back to him, somehow, some days, we will never be the one he expects us to be. And yes, love can conquer all – let’s believe in it one last time – but can it lead us back to the abandoned child by the roadside?
The foreshadowing of the quote, brilliantly placed to show not only the bitter regrets of the father and the last bit of grudging love the heroine holds for her father, lets us know the weaker side of love. The side that love rarely shows anyone, not even to the believer. The side that no poems, no stories, no songs can speak of. The unfathomable abyss that we stare at, reach our hands out, and jump down.
It tells us about the priest, whose love and struggle with the inner demons that fight against his one true God can’t save the little girl.
It tells us about the pains and the sufferings the little girl bears before the altar, still hope against hope that this time, love can save her and her lover.
It tells us about the cries of the sea and sky as the priest, with his bare hands and bloody fingers, try to tear down the cement wall, forever on and on, just to see his lover’s face for the final time. And it tells us that:
“What is essential, therefore, is not that you no longer believe, but that God continues to believe in you.”
Of Love and Other Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Recently I’ve been questioning about the leap of faith. What is it, really? What does God want from us when He wants us to take the leap of faith? And what if we refuse to take the leap of faith? What if, in that desperate moment, when all we are hanging on is just this thin, threadbare strand of hair, we choose to let Him go?
In all of those desperate moments, when faith is a luxury – a privilege, even – will God continue to believe in us, in our ability to stare at the abyss, and instead of jumping down, we choose to leap over it?
Like a poem Mr. Cohen once brilliantly wrote. You should try to believe in God sometimes, and see for yourself if God wants you to believe in Him.
I often wonder, If God continues to believe in the priest and the heroine in “Of Love and Other Demons,” why does He make them suffer a fate that is far worse than the cry we left behind after the finale of Romeo and Juliette? While Romeo can die in Juliette’s arms, the priest is still standing there, on the other side of the wall. With his bare hands, he continues to scratch hopelessly at the cement surface, thinking that his lover is still alive. And he only needs to cross through this cemented wall – he only need to tear this wall down – he can save the girl he love.
Does God believe in him then?
Till this day, I don’t have a certain answer. After all, it is a fictitious story of two fictional characters. I find that Mr. Marquez’s tales always challenge my belief in love and its power, for his novels shows the weaker and darker side of love more often than not. Like in the novella, “A Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” where the heroine keeps writing letters to her lover, who had rejected her and sent her back home on the wedding day because she was no longer a virgin, only to meet him decades later, as he confesses in tears that he loved her and he love her still.
I guess God did believe in her then. Even though as she stands at the altar, no longer a virgin in everyone’s eyes, her love is still the purest thing in God’s eyes. And with tender love, God brings her fated traveller back to her, holding her in his arm, crying over the letters he kept through the years, saying he cannot forget her.
Or perhaps, not only God, but love also believes in her, in him, in both of them. And thus, despite the darker side of it, love still remains as the most beautiful thing in the bleak and horrendous death of the novella.
Then should we believe in them? In God and in love?
I can’t answer that question for you. All I can say is, it depends. But there is one thing I know: we have to believe in something – either it is a higher being, an invisible force of feeling, or simply just the sound of life, of the clattering dishes in the cupboard, the mingling voices in the café, the tears, the laughters – we have to find something to believe in.
Because only then, we can continue to live. Because only then, we can confidently stare at the abyss, let it stare back at us, and still choose to leap over it – to take the leap of faith, in the end.
I remember the story of the Japanese author, Kenji Miyazawa, the short novella “Night on the Galactic Railroad.” I wonder how all the stories for children look different to us when we grow up. How from “The Little Prince” to “Night on the Galactic Railroad,” children can teach us so much about living and loving. How we cry over Campanella, Giovanni, and The Little Prince, because we had abandoned that child inside us on the roadside far too soon.
But back to “Night on the Galactic Railroad.”
To reach the truest happiness, one must make their way through many sorrows.
Night on Galactic Railroad, Miyazawa Kenji.
Looking at the trains passing by, I can’t stop thinking about Campanella and Giovanni. About their loneliness. About their one true God. And though Campanella takes his leap of faith, to end up as a small child in his mother’s gentle embrace again, to finish his journey on the Galactic Railroad, he had reached his truest happiness through many sorrows.
And though Giovanni returns from the journey with an immense loneliness, at least, he lives on. I bet Giovanni will continue to move through many other sorrows besides losing his companion. And I bet Giovanni, as he grows up and moves on, he will never find solace for the void in his heart – the void that Campanella left behind as he got off the train at the sunflower field.
The child has grown. And by growing up, the child has to sacrifice so, so many things. Perhaps that’s the reason why both The Little Prince and Campanella choose to remain a child forever.
There’s no shame in it, just as well as there’s no shame in choosing to live on, to abandone the child inside us, to grow up, and to suffer many sorrows. No one can ever judge between Campanella and Giovanni, who will prevail as the more courageous one, or the righteous one.
I guess what I am trying to say is, There is no shame in choosing, in deciding the path we walk on. As long as you are making a decision, you are already the stronger one. No matter what decision you make, you are always the stronger one.
So go out there, walk straight on. Accept that what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you. And that’s okay. There is still an immense ocean to cross, a vast road filled with thorns. This won’t be the last time you suffer, but that’s just a side of it. You can choose to look at that side, or like Leonard Cohen and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you can also choose to look at the other side. Listen to the hummingbird, listen to the sound of life clattering about you, listen to the sound of dishes rattling in the cupboard, smell the scent of freshly washed clothes.
You see, that’s the new anti-depression. Believe in it, because all this time, that anti-depression has always believe in you.
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This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.