What if…

We have asked ourselves, what if we hadn’t done something the way we did or what if we had just tried harder…  Especially, if we are in a situation that has turned out to be not exactly what we thought it should be. 
This is the main question answered in two different ways in the novel “The Post Birthday World” from Lionel Shriver. 
 
The main character is Irina McGovern, who is a children’s book illustrator and lives in London with her long time partner Lawrence. It all starts with a kiss on the birthday of Ramsey, a mutual friend.  What if she hadn’t kissed him? Or what if she had kissed him? 
When I started reading the novel I didn’t really know about this two different versions of one story triggered by a same event.  After the first chapter, there are two chapters two, three and so on. The story evolves differently as if there were parallel worlds. In one of the versions, Irina questions her relationship and takes action to change her life. She makes her own decisions and shows more strength of character. In this same version, Lawrence is weaker and Ramsey is the successful snooker player (a british sport similar to billiard) with money and fame.   On the one hand Irina feels comfortable with Lawrence because he offers her moral support, gives her advice on her job and is more like a good old friend to her. On the other, Ramsey attracts her sexually and has a very different personality, but his only interest is snooker.  In the second version, Irina is afraid of taking the step that may change her safe life. Although she keeps in touch with Ramsey in a different role as in the first version, she decides to continue with her quiet life. In this turn of the story, Lawrence is the one who surprises her negatively.  She cannot believe that he was capable of doing what he did. The relationship to her own family, mother and sister, is also viewed differently in both versions. At the end however, both versions come to a common end.
 
I have to confess that, although I usually read a little bit about the authors before starting reading a book, in this case I didn’t. I got it electronically and that’s maybe the reason why I didn’t look at the author’s picture or read the small biography in the book cover.  Therefore, while reading the first chapters, I was amazed at the insights of a woman’s mind and body that this “Lionel” was describing. I thought to myself, that this “male” author had to have a very good woman counselor 😉   I have to recognize that it was my fault. I corroborated my suspicion and corrected my mistake by reading the biography of Lionel Shriver, who in real life is Mary Ann Shriver! I also remembered that this was the same author of the famous novel “We have to talk about Kevin”, which by the way, I haven’t read. The latter was filmed in 2011 with Tilda Swinton as the mother and Ezra Miller as Kevin.  
Going back to the Post Birthday World, I don’t want, of course, to imply that only a woman can really write how a woman feels, or the other way around, that only a man can write what a man really feels or thinks. It is only that in this special case I was a little bit surprised with the intense descriptions. 
Returning to the main point in the novel, which is what would have happened, if. 
In real life, what would had happened, if I had done something differently? In my case,  would I be still living in Munich? Would I have stayed in Brazil? Would I still be married? Would I have a child, my daughter? Questions and more questions on transcendental topics… I imagine that all of us have thought one time or another that way, but as we’re not in a novel, we cannot create a second version of our lives. So let’s continue accepting positively the decisions we’ve made up to now. There is no way of really knowing which is the “perfect” decision, and I think that there are no perfect decisions, or are there?  Time will show us the way our decisions turned out, good or bad. 
 
Getting to the end, I‘ll finish here, if not it will be very philosophical… Till next week, that’s my decision!
 
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Meaning and Life

Last week I went to a very interesting talk with the topic “Giving Meaning to Life” in the “Literaturhaus” http://www.literaturhaus-muenchen.de .

 

It was the presentation of the book with the same name (“Dem Leben einen Sinn geben” ) written by the philosopher Wilhelm Schmid.  Mr Schmid presented his thesis in a well toned monologue that wasn’t either boring not slow. In the last minutes of the presentation a professor of sociology asked some questions to give the chat a dialogue form.  
This all sounds quite dry and it was quite a shock to me when in the first sentences of his talk, Mr. Schmid tells the audience that the meaning of life is to live in a relationship.  My first thought was: “ OMG! Lets see if I can find any appropriate singles in the audience!”
Having taken a quick glance at my neighbors, I decided to keep the search for later. Most of them were elderly ladies with white hair and glasses.

Living in a relationship gives some meaning to life, yes, indeed. However, you cannot achieve a satisfactory relationship with another person, if you don’t have a good one to yourself. Knowing oneself and listening to our inner voice. I personally find this idea to be very true. To love another one in the best way, I have to love myself in a good way too. 
Going from the love to oneself to the love to a partner, he mentioned that some of us think we have found our meaning in life loving our other half. Mmmm, that is ok, if we have one… Does it mean that our life has no meaning, if we are alone? And the worst thing, that we lose our meaning in life, if the relationship goes wrong?  At this part I almost started to bite my nails, which I’ve never done before…

However, listening to a friend of mine sitting next to me, who took a deep breath because she’s also single, I continued listening to the talk. To my relief Mr. Schmid defined the term relationship.  Relationship means to relate, to love someone or something. That means, you have of course many relationships in your daily life: to all the people you love, like family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, teachers, etc. and that you also have relationships that can be very gratifying and intense to animals and things. You may love music, a special book, a kind of food, meditating, exercising, and, of course your pet or pets.  By this time my friend and I were sitting more relaxed and comfortable in our uncomfortable chairs.
Then he continued with the very new idea that you also have a “love” relationship with your enemy. At that point the whole audience kept their breath and looked skeptical around. “Love my enemy?”   The first thought: I have no enemies, and would I have some I wouldn’t love them… Would I?   The idea behind this is that you also have a relationship with your “enemies” and that the best we could do is to try to forge a “social” bond or relationship with our foes. He mentioned that he didn’t think the religious idea of everybody being friends and trying to be friends with everybody was ideal. Enemies could also give your life a meaning. By then an old comic book came to my mind: Donald Duck fighting his neighbor, and I thought, well, to a certain extent this idea is also true. You dedicate your energy, which is the result of a relationship, to keep going. However, I liked the idea of positive relationships better.

He then change the subject to partnership. An important key in a relationship to a partner is the way you manage four very important components: money, socks, power and sex.   At first, I listened to these elements shaking my head because I thought my mind had wandered so far away that I had misunderstood the second word, socks?   Looking at my other friend, who was sitting a chair apart, and realizing that she had also reacted to that special point, remembering our past relationships I couldn’t but laugh aloud.  I thought, very true, at some point in every love relationship these topics have to be discussed and defined, if not they are going to cause a lot of trouble. I immediately remembered our old washing machine, and got suspicious of the new one… Looking at my friend and knowing what happened to her socks I also looked at her with a wry smile.

We had almost reached the end of the talk and Mr. Schmid mentioned that for many people religion can also offer meaning to life independent of the beliefs. However, he didn’t say much about this topic, but explaining that he devoted a whole chapter of his book to it.
By the end of the talk the sociologist asked some questions about definitions, society and modern life. To get a good inside to everything, the best would be to read the book “Dem Leben einen Sinn geben”,  only in German by now.

 

I loved (= good relationship) the evening with my friends and having said it a lot of times before, we really love each other and enjoy sharing a good part of our lives with each other. 

I ‘m looking forward to our next talk and hope that you’re looking forward to reading my next post, too! 🙂