It’s 6 o’clock. Time to go!
Once upon a time, I had a blog where I read classics and talked about them. I might pick those books back up again. It was during this time that I read Life of Pi. I remember having a visceral reaction to it, when I was done. It was akin to waking up the morning with a headache after having alcohol the night before.
I’m pretty sure that’s called a hangover, Mak.
Yes, finishing the book brought on a case of emotional hangover. So many questions swirled around in my head. So many images stayed with me. Some of which I wanted to keep forever, some of of it I couldn’t wait to get rid of. I connected with it at a deep level, which means every few months, my mind would slowly travel back to the book.
So, what you’re saying is that you have complex feelings about the book.
Yes, my feelings about Life of Pi are complex. That’s why I don’t fully understand why I feel drawn to write about it today. But things turn out that way sometimes. So, let’s talk about Life of Pi.
In case you’ve never read the book, here’s a little synopsis. Or rather, a couple of synopses(?)
Life of Pi is the story of a writer in search of a story; a story that brings him to Pondicherry, in India. While there, he meets a man who promises to tell him a fantastical story worthy to be written about. This story was so incredible that he was shocked that it wasn’t well-known. This led him to going back through archives, piecing the story together and finally meeting the man himself. Because it was a true story.
Life of Pi is also the story of a boy. It’s about a boy who gave himself a nickname and taught his entire class to call him so, because they couldn’t pronounce his full name correctly. He’s kind, sensitive, deep and spiritually-oriented (INFPs, are you listening?) Having grown up around animals, he considered them to have a soul, a personhood, a notion his dad tried to break by forcing him and his brother to watch a hungry tiger’s reaction to having an another animal in his cage. His dad wanted to break any desire he might one day have to approach ferocious animals to befriend them (Yikes!). He’s so drawn to God that he devotes himself to 3 different religions, finding God in the similarities and igniting a dispute in a community where the religious leaders only found differences.
Here’s the part where I ruin the plot for you a little. If you’ve been planning to read the book for a while now…Spoiler Alert!
The central part of the story is about what happens to this boy when his family decides to pack all its possessions (their animals) and emigrate to Canada, via a ship. Before they could get far in their journey, tragedy strikes. He watches, horrifyingly, everything he has ever known, disappear in a matter of minutes. The ship sinks, he watches his father’s work (the animals) drown and his entire family gone.
He ends up alive, on a small lifeboat. (Yay!) But wait…guess who’s also in the lifeboat? A zebra, an orangutan a hyena and…oh, yeah…a tiger. At first, he feels a connection to them and has faith that they will be rescued very soon. What ensues is a sort of Rock, Paper, Scissors of the animal kingdom and he’s left in the small boat for 227 days with a tiger. A very hungry tiger.
His survival is miraculous. In fact, it’s so miraculous that when officials came to ask him about afterwards, they do not believe him.
Why I keep coming back to Life of Pi, I suspect, is because it’s the story of an idealist that gets hit in the face (repeatedly, in the most graphic way possible) with Reality and survives.
Many of us, idealists, know this feeling. The times when what you have in your mind and what you see don’t quite match up. It feels like being hit in the face and boy, is it an unpleasant experience. It could turn into depression, obsessive behavior to reclaim a sense of control, a “dark night of the soul”…and in the worst case, suicide.
Life of Pi is about survival. The man the writer meets as an adult is one who ends up making a country that is so unfamiliar to him at the beginning, home. He’s a man who despite having survived a traumatic experience that tramples on his faith and one in which animals were involved in the most gruesome way, ends up studying both Zoology and Theology in college, refusing to see differences between Science and Faith. He’s a relatively well-adjusted man with a family that he loves dearly. The writer’s taken aback. Shouldn’t he be in a mental hospital somewhere? Shouldn’t his eyes cloud over when he talks about his past?
Adaptability. Pi, the Idealist who Faces Reality and Survives. There are a couple of quotes in the book that I liked so much, I saved them.
In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away. There was much I had to do.
I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It’s not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others — and I am one of those—never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the every end. It’s not a question of courage. It’s something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity”
Life-hungry Stupidity. This is for anyone who may be facing tough times. Times so tough that your mind sometimes drift to the thought of ending it all. You rationalize it by focusing on how much pain you’re causing people around you. If you can end it all, you think, it will be best for everyone. Everyone will then have one less thing to worry about…right? Wrong.
What you don’t know is that you and I have something other than Idealism. Idealism is so good in helping other people see what they don’t see. It awakens in us and others a sense of wonder, a sense of rejuvenation and can help people see beyond their present circumstances. Yet, it fails in helping us face Reality square in the eye. Some people may have called you “head-in-the cloud”, “unrealistic”, “frou-frou”, “naive” and all other kinds of things.
But the thing is you also have another strength. This one is perhaps even stronger than Idealism. Adaptability. A better word: Resilience.
Resilience. Clinging to Life with everything we’ve got.
Life may seem like a storm right now and you may want to cash in all the chips. Hold on. You value your life. You do. It’s instinct. You see danger, you’ll run. You’ll swerve to avoid that deer in the middle of the road. You’ll pump the brakes so you don’t hit the car in front of you. That’s you valuing your life.
Exercise your resilience. Even if it’s not out of courage or optimism. Even if it’s out of Life-hungry Stupidity. Cling. Climb. Claw your way forward. Crawl on your hands and knees, if you can no longer stand. Fight for the opportunities. Fight for your voice. Fight for your life.
Because the idealist will survive. Because the idealist has survived. Because the idealist can survive.