I recently finished reading Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. I’m still thinking about it. On the surface of things, the story is about a Charles Marlow, an ivory trader, and his travels up a dark river in the Congo. He becomes obsessed with a legendary man in the jungle, Kurtz, and is inexplicably drawn to him. But something has happened to Kurtz in the jungle. The jungle has changed him. Worked on his psyche. And the same begins to happen to Marlow. He faces, not just the strangeness and danger of the jungle, but it’s really a journey into his own soul. That’s the story. And a powerful one it is. I should have read it a long time ago, but better late than never.
Yet the meaning, the meaning of the story is lingering with me like early morning fog — slowly rising, heavy, shifting into the invisible energy of the sun. I think of the number of ways we can find ourselves living into our version of a heart of darkness. It can be anything. Grief that will not go away. A health challenge that forever shifts how we live and move through the world. A relationship crisis. In the heart of darkness our world is undifferentiated. There’s confusion and chaos. A lack of meaning, too, is part of the experience. What once mattered, doesn’t matter as much. And as for the future, at one time it felt bright and clear, but now it seems murky and unachievable. Little things tip us over. What used to be a minor hurt becomes a major wound. We become sensitive and calloused at the same time. Often in the heart of darkness we turn our back on the very thing we need most — community and love and forgiveness.
Conrad offers no easy answers. I don’t want to offer any either. At the same time, after reading this engaging story I find myself Taking a Breath and contemplating what means the most to me, namely, to live each day knowing that it is a gift, to trust in the love and kindness of my friends, to know each day I am trying to make the world a better place, that there is always beauty to be discovered, and that, in the end, all that I have done and all that I did not get done is good enough, and that I am forever being welcomed home by some thing or some one greater than myself.