Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Cure For Death

“I’d be struggling with a lot of other long-forgotten things…But all that is just a part of life; and the price you pay for having to deal with those minor problems is far less than the price you pay for not recognizing they’re yours.” – Mari in “Veronika Decides To Die”

When people decide to end their lives, I come to think of two possible reasons: one, they think that their lives have suddenly become meaningless and they get tired of it; two, they think they’ve finally fulfilled their purpose in life and have reached the end of the road (in which case, going on living will only prove pointless). But either way you see it, there seems to be no evident systematic approach as to how you’d know when the right time to die has come. I mean, how would you know if your life has suddenly taken a turn for the worst and there’s no other way out but to end it? How would you know if you’ve finally arrive at that certain point in your life when you can say that all your dreams have been realized and the person you are now is the person you’ve always wanted to be? The thing is, there is only way to find the answers to these questions: you have to live through the rest of your life—living while never having to worry where this life is taking you—and thus, discover up to what extent this life can be relished.

Paulo Coelho’s “Veronika Decides to Die” opens our eyes to the awful truth that sometimes, the only way to appreciate life is through experiencing how it’s like without it. Based on real events on Coelho’s own life, the novel tells the story of 24-year-old Veronika who seems to have everything: loving and supportive parents, youth, beauty, men who adored her, and a fulfilling job. But one day, she decides to die. Overdosing in sleeping pills, she prepares her own deathbed with much passion and enthusiasm for a dying person. But she wakes up and finds herself in a mental hospital (Villete) where she is told that she only has days to live. In Villete, she meets people of varying degrees of insanity, develops a lasting friendship with two women who had touched her life, falls in love with a schizophrenic, and learns to appreciate life each day as she struggles against death.

The characterization was brilliant; Coelho painted exquisite portraits of people who are themselves victims of the nonsensical monotony and conventionality of life, manifesting their revulsion for such through different gestures of madness. There’s Zedka who suffered from depression because of a long-lost beloved she never had the strength to fight for; Mari, a brilliant lawyer who experienced severe panic attacks before she could make the career change she had wanted; Eduard, a diplomat’s son who withdrew to his own make-believe reality to search for a “paradise” that nobody believed existed; Veronika who turned her somewhat “perfect” existence upside-down when she got tired of the seemingly endless cycle of life, never having the chance to go out of her comfort zone; and Dr. Igor who devoted a lifetime in search for the elusive cure to Vitriol, a sensation characterized by bitterness and hatred, which he believed to have caused one’s sudden apathy for life.

Also, the unexpected romance that blossomed between Veronika and Eduard moved me in ways no other love story could ever have done (given that I'm not much of a sucker for love stories). I mean, what could be crazier than two crazy-in-love people who have so much love to give to even be cautious of the risk of “overdoing” it? In a time when people keep to what’s rational and reasonable when it comes to love—conscious that they might go overboard for fear of losing a significant part of themselves—would you even go as far as to ask yourself, “Did you ever love at all?”

The same applies with how people go about their lives today. There are too many rules to follow, too many ditches and stumbling blocks to dodge, too many tasks to accomplish, too many consequences to face that it would feel tremendously pleasant to just leave them all behind and go on living without taking notice of these things. But think of this as—like in the movie “Click”—being in “auto-pilot”. You wake up in the morning, eat, drink, take a shower, dress up, go to work, make some calls, get home and sleep without actually “living” every moment of it. So you wouldn’t really know what “living” means because you haven’t actually experienced it, not even once. And as a consequence, you’d have this terrible nagging feeling that something is amiss. Then you’ll die without having to know what it’s like to live.

But maybe you don’t really need to actually die to appreciate life; perhaps all you’ll really need is to grab a copy of this book and read it to your heart’s content.

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