Lessons from Tsukuru’s Years of Pilgrimage
A few days after my 26th birthday, one of my closest girlfriends gifted me a novella, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. It was one of the most beautiful novellas that I had ever read.
In a period of my life where I am dealing with changes in my friendships, this book spoke volumes to me. By beautifully narrating the turbulence that the protagonist goes through after being abruptly cut off from his friend circle, Haruki Muraki introduces his reader to some of life’s greatest lessons.
“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”
Tsukuru (the protagonist) is a constant reminder that no matter how hard you try in your life, you can never completely run away from your past. You can put miles and miles of physical distance between the place your think your memories are tied to and you but it will always come back to haunt you. Of course, it is not impossible to cleverly pretend like it does not hurt anymore or it does not matter anymore but the human mind and body is bad at truly forgetting anything. Years after the deeply traumatizing events that occurred in his life, Tsukuru carries the burden of his past subconsciously, preventing him from truly moving on with his life. The lesson for all of us is to resolve as much of our conflicts as soon as we can. The harder you run, the faster it comes back.
“Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.”
As a linguistics major, I was well aware that to a large extent, different languages encompassed different worldviews and aspects of human emotions. I understood the idea of cultural untranslatability where certain languages and cultures had concepts, which were near impossible to be fully and accurately translated into another language. Languages had always seemed so vast to me. Surely, all the languages put together in the world, would be able to encompass the trials and tribulations of humanity. To think that there were notions that cannot be explained in any language in the world was rather baffling for me. How could it be?
I remember putting the novel down at this point feeling perturbed by the author’s suggestion. Then it occurred to me that perhaps, Murakami was trying to put across the idea that there are novel and strange concepts and notions that human beings have not been able to fully understand or embrace, leading to a situation where words can never truly encompass the intensity and feeling in emotions. If we treat emotions like compounds (where two emotions mix to create a new emotion) then perhaps the range of emotions can be infinite. I realized that I have experienced it too especially when I am sad or conflicted, there is never quite enough words to bring out the type or degree of sadness that I was feeling.
“It’s no different from building stations. If something is important enough, a little mistake isn’t going to ruin it all, or make it vanish. It might not be perfect, but the first step is actually building the station. Right? Otherwise trains won’t stop there. And you can’t meet the person who means so much to you. If you find some defect, you can adjust it later, as needed. First things first. Build the station. A special station just for her. The kind of station where trains want to stop, even if they have no reason to do so. Imagine that kind of station, and give it actual color and shape.
This was the quote that my close girlfriend shared with me even before she gifted me the book. I started reading the novel with this quote in mind and everything in the book seemed to affirm this quote for me. Many of us spend a lot of time trying to be perfect, we strive to reach an socially revered body weight, find the perfect shade of make up, look the right amount of macho and try to always say the right things.
We spend a huge part of lives trying to model our stations after somebody else’s (who we think is perfect) and find ourselves hoping that someone or anyone would drop by. But there is an irony there, in our efforts to stand out for being perfect, we just become copies of something ‘perfect’. We become the same in a bid to become different.
We need to spend more time building our own stations, decorating it with things that truly reflect us, things that we truly believe in. Over time, the trains will come and sometimes they will stop, albeit for a while but they will. At those moments, your station will feel complete and you will feel like your life has a purpose too. But, do not despair when the trains leave, that is inevitable. If you get lucky, the train might do a return trip but if it does not, just remember that your station cannot be the destination for all trains. For most part, your station is a stopover. In the meantime, keep working on the station, add to it, remove the things that get tired of and sooner or later, there will come a train that will decide to dock there permanently and your station might, might just be forever complete.