Borgen, stress sandwiches, and the unbearable lightness of being
The context is Denmark’s first female Prime Minister dealing with various issues with considerable elan, but the last two episodes featured one set of characters struggling with childcare(father offered a great job he feels he can’t take- who will pick up the kids from school, do their laundry, feed them and talk to them?) and another with parent care(an estranged mother who just couldn’t handle the emotional and administrative fall out of her husband dying- what am I signing? What happens now?). Both sets of care relationships pose formidable challenges, and not without reason are the middle years of life, between late twenties and late forties, generally the years when self-reported happiness levels dip.
However, what I haven’t seen much of in stories, television or film is people wrestling with both the challenges of bringing up a new generation while also helping with ageing relatives. Perhaps it is just too much to spin a creative narrative, but it occurs to me that lots of people in this generation have considerable family pressure from above and below, while also trying to advance their careers, hold down mortgages, stay health and sane etc, etc.
In fact, it all sounds pretty miserable. Why do we do it?
The quick answer is that it just sort of happens.
If it is any consolation, this generation can take counsel from Milan Kundera, who would suggest that it is not so much that these years are less happy, but that they are heavier: An (abbreviated) quotation from his classic: The Unbearable Lightness of Being places this point in context:
“…But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid? The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground….The heaviest of burdens is … simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden caused man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?
Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness? Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative. Was he correct or not? That is the question. The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all….
We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lies nor perfect it in our lives to come.”
Perhaps the stress in the sandwich is necessary to give it weight, definition, and taste. Light (meaningless) sandwich fillings are all very well, but they leave you wanting more. I’m off to get a heavy sandwich.