I am 21 years old and the desire to run has never felt so right, never so much needed in the moment. It has never felt so required. Selfish as it sounds I feel like my person, which has been formed from the countless corrects and mistakes I have dealt with my entire life has finally reached an impasse. Actions have matured into attitudes. Likes have turned into preferences. Strangers have turned into friends or kept frozen as acquaintances. I desire to thrust this person into the unknown and see how strong of a body it has become.
For the last few weeks I have been closely monitoring my reactions and my motivations and I have realized one thing — that I have rooted myself too firmly among people, almost feel like they have entrenched too deeply into myself that I cannot bear but feel their combined weight across the horizon. My actions have shifted from being truly mine to being enlarged as to become in conjunction with others. I guess that is part of becoming an adult — the understanding that the years have turned you into an web of relationships that to move a finger in the wrong way would break it all together. But wasn’t it ironic when I realized that what I thought had been the strongest string of my combined existence actually turned out to be the flimsiest? It was only the matter of extending my finger as if to reach some new unknown that I had forgotten that these strings existed and now I have threatened my sanity as I try to pick them up and try to stitch them together.
See, this is what I want to avoid. I fear that I may not truly reach adulthood because these obligations — these contracts that we unwittingly sign with others — have neither provided me security nor stability. Instead they have turned into tethers that are too immaterial for me to take a knife and cut off. I want to go back when my actions were too infinitesimal to bear burden.
And this is why I want to run. Despite the fact that I have maintained a monotony that has provided me reprieve, I want to have nothingness. I want to hear the deafening silence against the harangue of my thoughts instead of incessant, insipid chatter. I want to be able to move without causing ripples I do not intend. But to get there I must claim the journey of Sabina* as my own. I must betray. I must betray every attitude, every preference, every person. To reach the cool feeling of possibility, I must betray everything that prevents me from being. Honestly, I am terrified. But the chance to be beyond what I am now — to be what I am not — exhilarates me.
*Sabina from “The Unbearable Lightness” by Milan Kundera
In the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being “ by Milan Kundera, there is a dichotomy between its main characters. Lightness and weight, two opposite concepts, which the narrator discusses in the first chapter is reflected on the very characters that move the story. According to Parmenides, while weight tethers us to the ground, maiming us with the heaviest of burdens, it brings substance and truth to our lives. Lightness, on the other hand, allows us to take flight and transcend our earthly bodies, letting us soar to the highest of skies. But as we continue our ascension into lightness, we lose our significance gradually until we are but ashes in the wind. In place of substance, lightness gives us freedom. In place of freedom, weight gives us meaning. Throughout the book, Tomas and Sabina are given the nature of lightness while Tereza and Franz are given the nature of weight. Despite their obvious affinity to their nature, there are moments where they choose their opposite.
Tomas is a surgeon who early on in the story declares his philandering. His view on relationships is deeply rooted in his failed marriage. After several failed trials to reconnect with them, he decides to cut them both from his life. As a result, his own parents disowned him. Conveniently, he rid himself of all sentimentality in his life. To satisfy his desire for women and at the same time pander to his fear of them, he creates his “rule of threes”. A happy relationship is one without sentimentality, one where both is given the full breadth of their own freedom. In the story, his nature is governed by lightness.
Despite this, he allows himself to be pinned by Tereza’s immense weight. He allows her to share sleep with him. For the first time he feels love for a woman, love that surpassed his desire for lightness. But one cannot abandon one’s nature. His time spent with Tereza terribly weighed him down. He was compromised to pander to both his feelings for Tereza and his personal womanizing. It exhausted him so much that when Tereza left for Prague, he immediately felt the burden that incapacitated him lift. But his feeling of lightness was short-lived. The weight that Tereza brought had marked him and he desired it. So he follows her to Prague, forsaking the lightness that captivated him. Es muss sein, Tomas said. It must be that he share his sleep with Tereza because only with her had he felt the serenity of love. His state of lightness was unbearable after he experienced the crushing weight of Tereza’s love.
Tereza is a waitress who comes from a claustrophobic home. Her desire of a soul stems from the unforgiving nature of her mother. She hated her body as much as her mother hated her. As a result from her childhood, she became dependent on other people, on Tomas especially. Her presence is a great weight on Tomas life. She realized this so she tried to live a life of lightness.
She flirted with men in the bar where she worked. But she stripped it off its lightness by analyzing, calculating and overthinking. She also tries to have an affair, much like what Tomas had been doing. Unlike Tomas, which reveled in his compulsion for women, Tereza abhorred sharing her body, her soul with another man than Tomas. The entire ordeal was horrific. She didn’t feel the lightness that Tomas felt. Instead all she felt was the heavy burden of her being, the weight of her body to her soul. Lightness only brought more weight into her life.
Sabina is a painter who desires infinite lightness. All her life she was under the shadow of the system of the world. Everything was so rigid, so structured, so heavy. Sabina desired nothing of it. She wanted total freedom, which in her case merited betrayal. With every compulsion of weight – the times she felt the pangs of her conscience – she longed for betrayal. It was for Sabina the highest of acts because betrayal meant crossing to the unknown; there was nothing as magnificent. But along the story, Sabina is confronted by the unbearable lightness of being.
Although betrayal is the ideal, it cannot be the final act. After her confrontation with the Czech émigré, she fell into an intoxicated stupor of victory. But it ebbed into a dark feeling of anguish. In her life of lightness, she desired an end to everything, an end to her betrayals. Her next action betrayed her very nature of weightlessness. She smothered Franz with an overwhelming desire of need, of weight and substance.
She loved Franz but because of her nature of lightness, feared the weight of a public love. After Franz finally tells Marie-Claude that she and he were having an illicit affair, she fled. She escaped the burden only to receive the unbearable lightness of being. She did not know why she left and it shocked her that this was where all her betrayals will end. She will become nothing but the air: weightless, insignificant, empty.
Further in the story, Sabina finds herself with an old married couple. With them she finds the unrealized weight that she has been missing in her life. They were the parents she deserved and the children that she had never had herself. For a little while she allowed herself the reprieve. Despite her pursuit of lightness, a part of her desired weight also. She wanted meaning and unrecognizable to her, she was carrying it all along. Because the married couple was kitsch, she stayed with them. She pandered to the kitsch she had inside: the kitsch of a home, all peace, quiet, and harmony, ruled by a loving mother and a wise father. Life is kitsch, no matter if you were lightness or weight.
Franz is characterized by weight. He is an intelligent man with a bright future in books and libraries. But within that future, he felt suffocated. He wanted nothing of the secluded life that his intelligence entailed him. For Franz, a life inside books was not a life at all. He desired something more real, more finite. He yearned for the touch of people, for the sound of nature. So he satisfied his need to feel alive by joining every demonstration in Paris. Without his own verification of life through action, nothing has meaning. But just like the other three characters in the novel, there were times when Franz was attracted to his opposite, to lightness.
In the chapter “Words Misunderstood”, as Franz and Sabina discuss music, Franz comes at a realization. In life, no words were precise, and so they have no meaning. To get meaning from life was not possible and it discomfited him. His pursuit of meaning had left him sick. Without weight, he desired lightness. He desired music, “the anti-word”. He desired it with Sabina.
Living in truth, for Franz, meant that there should not be a division in life. His secret is everyone’s secret and therefore there is no secret but the truth. Ever since he’s had an affair with Sabina, he has kept it hidden from his wife Marie-Claude. He was afraid of hurting either woman’s feelings so he allowed himself to be burdened. To keep the sanctity of love, he kept them as far apart as possible. But as the story progressed, he desired the lightness of the truth. The only reason why he kept Marie-Claude was because he respected the woman within in, the woman who threatened to take her own life for his love. When Marie-Claude lost weight in his life, when she disrespected Sabina, there was no other reason for Franz to keep the secret. When he told her the truth, he reveled in the lightness, all thanks to Sabina.
In the entirety of the book, not one of the characters stayed true to their nature all throughout. It can only mean that as persons, we are neither lightness nor weight. We may try to pursue either but there comes a time where we will be too light to see the ground, or too heavy to see the skies. Although they are opposites, they are not opposing forces. Instead, lightness and weight desire each other. Tomas desired Tereza’s weight as Franz desired Sabina’s lightness.