Shrinking worlds

I have had a difficult few months. Winter seems to encourage introspection and the persistent rain has created a heaviness that is hard to break through.

I was talking to a friend recently and she pointed out that, over the past year, my world has become smaller. She was spot on. It takes energy to make your world bigger; it is scarily easy for it to shrink back again and for you to shrink back with it.

I have been thinking, consequently, about how to make my world bigger. About the places that I could go to literally and emotionally expand the horizons; about doing new things that mean my world is fuller; about meeting new people and how that can change everything.

It always seems to come back to people.

I am reading Anna Karenina at the moment. It is surprisingly addictive. I guess reading, itself, is another way to expand your world; but, in this case, it’s the intimate perspective on people that has got me gripped. I have always been fascinated by the fact that literature highlights the similarities between people over time. That you can immediately relate to the emotions of characters, even if the historical or geographical context is unfamiliar.

Anna Karenina is set in the entirely different world of Russian nobility and land-owners, and yet the emotional stories of the characters are so intricately explored and so un-nervingly familiar that it feels like a mirror is being held up and, every now and again, it is possible to see yourself in it. The nuances of the relationships, the negotiations that people have with themselves and with others, the rapidly changing emotions of the characters – all have resonated in a powerful and unexpected way, reminding me that we are all – and have always been – just trying to make sense of ourselves and of the world that we find ourselves in, and of our relationships with the people that we meet within it.

Perhaps, it is these emotional journeys, either undertaken on your own or with other people, that can also make your world bigger. But only if you are not afraid of going through them.

I have believed, for a long time, that people are why we are here. That it is the relationships that we have with people – whether those bring comfort or love or fun or interest or any number of different things – that make life so beautifully and, at times, so heart-wrenchingly precious. I had forgotten that, I think, because it is easy to get hung up on the things that are difficult or wrong with those relationships, and because it is hard to remember that the best relationships require a degree of empathy. This, I think, made my world shrink: you can’t only embrace half of what makes life.

And what I have been thinking about whilst reading Anna Karenina is that life is – and has been for generations and generations – made up of those relationships with other people. That they are immensely powerful. That they can be the most wonderful thing or the most tragic thing –

And while it is possible to get stuck in relationships that make your world shrink, it is always possible to find ones that make your world grow.

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