Thoughts on Character and Damage

This is yet another one of my favorite novels. Here is the link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10746542-the-sense-of-an-ending.

The Sense of an Ending. Even the title captivates. As usual, this is not a book review, but a brief commentary on how the book affects me. Yes, it’s always about the reader. Reader-response theory all the way, baby.

The writer ponders life – a major theme, but he also considers the similarities between life and literature. Of course, literature mimics life, and also distorts it. But I am concerned with our lives. Are they actually better than/worse than fiction? Here’s the quote:

“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents–were they the stuff of Literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen. Like what? The things Literature was about: Love, sex, morality, friendship, happiness, suffering, betrayal, adultery, good and evil, heroes and villains, guilt and innocence, ambition, power, justice, revolution, war, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the individual against society, success and failure, murder, suicide, death, God.”

When I talk to people (and I love talking to people, about the deep, real, raw instances of life), their stories usually share a similar theme: a lack of contentedness. A struggle for happiness. A desire to be happy, fulfilled, but just not being able to reach that state. I have spoken to people my age, people younger, and those who are older. People who are healthy, people who are single, married, divorced, widowed – all sorts of people. And yet when I ask “are you happy?” I am usually met with silence, tears, or shock. The shock comes from my question, I think. We hardly ask. Are you happy? Are you okay? And when people do ask if you’re “okay”, they rarely ever wait for a response. As characters, as people, they have grown accustomed to a life filled with conflict and damage.

Which brings me to the second quotation, also one that has affected me greatly:

“I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not,except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it,and how this affects our dealings with others.Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it;some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of.”

We are all damaged. Some of us beyond repair. Some of us still try to find a sense of lightness. Some try to heal. Others take up therapy, others become healers, while others just disconnect entirely from the world of emotions, to “avoid further damage.” Does it mean they are ruthless, like Barnes states? I disagree. But I do wonder whether damage really lasts a lifetime. Do damaged people bring on further damage to those around them? A friend says we always need to be in a “healthy” environment, away from anyone that is emotionally damaging to our well-being. I haven’t made up my mind. As always, I am listening, observing, and analyzing. My one conclusion so far is that we are all one Psycho Nation. 

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