This weekend I read most of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. The thing that remains with me, more than the ideas of verbal sorcery, the war between beauty and the body the text presents, or the politics of ownership in relationships, is a crow with broken bones.
While on a walk, the protagonista, Tereza, comes across the beak of a crow sticking out of the ground. Her St. Bernard, Karenin drps his daily breakfast roll in excitement. She ties him to a tree, and kneels down by its side, only to find that the group of children hiding behind the same tree have buried this bird alive in the ground. She digs up the dirt violenty, scratches away the remaining crumbs from the bird, and pulls the crow entirely out of its grave. It could neither walk, nor fly, but is still worth something to Tereza. She wraps in a scarf and takes it home, where she tends to it like a spouse taking care of a terminally ill partner. She watches it writhe, trying hopelessly to use its lame wings and legs, and finally pass away.
This scene in the book, to me, fits into a larger theme of compassion and empathy. In the book, the protagonist, Tomas, posits two competing ideas of compassion. In one case, it is a condescending feeling, akin to pity. We cannot look on as another suffers, we must care. Thus, a care that comes from compassion is a care that cannot be linked to love, as one is superior, looking on, over the other. The second type of compassion, in which the root word comes from the word feeling rather than suffering, involves "co-feeling." This means being able to live with the misfortunes and fortunes, the saddnesses AND the joys of another. Tomas calls it a curse, but admits that "in the heirarchy of sentiments, it reigns supreme."
The idea of co-feeling in personal relationships, but also with the depth that would lead someone like Tereza to accompany a lonely crow in its final moments on this earth appeals to me greatly at this point in my life. I often feel cursed by how deeply I feel the emotions of others, by how tempted I am to ignore my own in order to tend to them. I realize now that as long as I build relationships that are mututally "co-feeling," there is no reason to be scared. This is why I look for so many signs of empathy, of compassion.
No one will be left to suffer, left for dead in a dirt grave if both members are like Tereza, waiting to yank the other out of the ground and place her/him softly in a rag bed on the bathroom floor. Reciprocity.
Miike Snow- In Search Of
"Here's to living long enough to be
forgiven for the bones I broke...
I had to make a livin'
But we won't back down from anything
in search of a remedy."