BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE #8: NORWEGIAN WOOD & THE LITTLE PRINCE
26th September 2013
By Rebecca Lay
The first thought that came to mind when I thought “books that changed my life” was, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I know, I know, I so wanted it to be ‘Catcher in The Rye’ but alas it wasn’t to be. As a nine-year-old the HP series plunged me wholeheartedly into the magical world of reading. So throw your stones if you must but remember I have a wand (which I carved from a really pointy stick …). But this won’t be about Harry Potter, as you’d guess, you clever thing.
Like we’re all very much aware, a book that changed your life doesn’t have to be an entire book, it could be a line, a passage that resonated with you so completely in that particular moment in time. And right now these are mine. Had the circumstances that occurred during these readings not happened, their words, quite simply, would not have had the same impact that they’ve had— though they are both really good reads in and of themselves.
The book that changed my life are actually passages from two books: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery, which I happened to be reading a few months ago during the days we were preparing for my granddad’s funeral and the days that followed.
A passage from Norwegian Wood:
“It was too strange to think that she was dead and no longer part of this world. I couldn’t absorb the truth of it. I couldn’t believe it. I had heard the nails being driven into the lid of the coffin, but I still couldn’t adjust to the fact that she had returned to nothingness [ …] I felt sure that Naoko was still beside me, that I could just reach out and touch her. But no, she wasn’t there; her flesh no longer existed in this world.”
I remember just reading these lines over and over.
How can a person simply cease to exist? How? What? Why can one person be one second and not be the next? Where did all the life go? It just disappears. Evaporates. How unjust is this? How horrible? Unfathomable? How unbelievably heartbreaking?
It has only fully dawned on me that I am living in a world where I no longer have a living and breathing granddad. And now, whenever we go to our grandparents’ house he won’t be there to exclaim, “Oh, you’ve come already!” or ask, “Why did you come so late?” or “Have you eaten yet?” We won’t see him sitting in his hoodie brought up around his face during the cold nights watching the news. We won’t hear him telling us that his orange tree is overflowing with ripened fruit so go pick some if you want— who will tend to his garden, now? And it’s sad. I can feel it well up inside, rising from the pit of my stomach until it spills out into tears.
Then late one night, possibly after the final dressing of my granddad, lying awake and sleepless in bed, I read this from ‘The Little Prince’;
“I’ll look as if I’m dead, and that won’t be true.’
I said nothing. ‘You understand. It’s too far. I can’t take this body with me. It’s too heavy.’
I said nothing. ‘But it’ll be like an old abandoned shell. There’s nothing sad about an old shell…’
I said nothing.”
In the duration of a week I’d read these two passages, which speak of death; the physical body and its separation from who that person really was. They’re no longer there. It’s just a body. A shell. No matter how much I wanted this to be of some comfort, it just couldn’t relieve the overwhelming feeling of loss. When I imagine my granddad it’s his physical image I see. And the last instances I saw his physical being he was lying, as if asleep, on the floor of his lounge room with a blanket brought up to his chest, motionless, not even the reassuring rise and fall of his chest, and then in his casket, the last glimpses before it closed. I hope this all isn’t too morbid or disrespectful but I’ve found writing about it kind of helps. I think it was seriously this struggle with reconciling that it was his physical self we were seeing disappear and not his whole self that I found most difficult. Then in the latter days I began to think how much I’d miss—was missing— hearing him speak. His voice. I can still hear it, so that’s something. I hope I don’t lose it.
I went back to Norwegian Wood a few days later after finishing it, and re-read the page containing the passage quoted above. At the time I must have been so caught up in the physical loss that I missed this:
“’Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.’”
“By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sadness we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness, can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see that sadness through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sadness that comes to us without warning.”
Of all the books that I could have possibly been reading at this time I read those. If I’d read these books a month or so earlier the impact of these words wouldn’t have resonated as much as they have. And, I think these words were sentiments I needed to hear, though it took me some time to come to terms with the truth of it. No, at the time they didn’t seem to ring true. The words weren’t enough to soften the blow but they stayed with me.
With time I begin to see the truth of it. And, it’s a comfort.
So, yes, thanks books.