We probably discover the most about ourselves when we are absolutely, achingly and quite desperately, alone. It’s not the worst thing. We visit the darkest bits of our being as well as the brightest. There’s beauty and terror in equal measure.
“This evening as I read in bed I hear the roar of cars that speed down the road below my apartment. And the fact of their passing makes me aware of my own stillness. I can only fall asleep when I hear them. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, always at the same time, it’s the absolute silence that interrupts my sleep. That’s the hour when there’s not a single car on the road, when no one needs to get anywhere. My sleep grows lighter and lighter and then it abandons me entirely. I wait until someone, anyone, drives by. The thoughts that come to roost in my head in those moments are always the gloomiest, also the most precise. That silence, combined with the black sky, takes hold of me until the first light returns and dispels those thoughts, until I hear the presence of lives passing along the road below me.”
In her short story, Casting Shadows, Jhumpa Lahiri writes so shockingly truthfully about our loneliness that it simply isn’t shocking anymore. We are who we are and we’re so much better learning to embrace it.
A lot of her sentences are short, curt, real and straightforward; a little like she isn’t writing about herself but someone else or has in fact become someone else. Which is what makes this piece superlative. She writes as someone in the skin of this character, in the first person and yet so utterly detached, completely exposing it to all perils – of which she fears none.
How often can we tell our truths to ourselves and not fear them? How often do we let the world know of our condition without fear of judgment? Not very.
The confidence possibly comes from knowing yourself entirely and well: from identifying your depths, your desires, your disgraces, your contradictions and your limitations too. Lahiri’s character knows herself – what she is and what she isn’t, what she can and cannot have, what she needs and what she will get. She neither isolates herself nor does she fight against the tide. She flows with it, providing herself just the right amount of space and company she believes she can have.
“In Spring I suffer. The season doesn’t invigorate me, I find it depleting…Every blow in my life took place in spring. Each lasting sting.”
How ironic is that?! A season that most associate with happiness and plenty isn’t quite her time of the year at all.
She unhesitatingly accepts the harshness of passing time.
“In August my neighbourhood thins out: it wastes away like an old woman who was once a stunning beauty before shutting down completely”
Her moods swing between extremes as all ours do. And she learns fast that the warmth and the ability to stabilize all lie within her.
“I..hang up and go out, ravenous, to eat dinner on my own. There’s no bite to the air, it was colder inside than out.”
She practically force draws a line despite desiring something so strongly. And that “line” hits hard.
“In any case, I don’t need anything else. The tenderness he sets aside for me is enough.”
This is her teaching herself to no longer desire what she is convinced she does not deserve.
Her reality – so grim, so alone, so tainted and yet not unusual, eventually cracks her up.
“I look up and see myself in the mirror, weary, stiff hands coated with glue whose ghostly traces resemble the dust I’ve been working hard to get rid of all day, and after a long time, or may be for the first time, I burst out laughing.”
Jhumpa Lahiri is brutally honest. Not only does that cast a shadow. It leaves a lasting impression.
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