He killed himself. Sensei committed suicide. The question is “why?” With the first few chapters, I thought of no other reason but the fundamental loneliness of man (as I’ve come to label it) but when I reached the main part of the book, I learned it was because of dark events in his past that piled up into an unbearable suffering–one that revealed a more profound truth not just about him, but about all of us, humans.
We often hear the saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” but the opposite is also true: The road to the best kind of “heaven” this fallen world can offer is paved with evil and selfish motives. The happy and successful life, as this world defines it, often has hidden behind it the underlying ugliness that is humanity. I will try to spell out this truth for you using the events in the book, the title of which I shall try not mention for the sake of its future readers. But I shall call him Sensei, all throughout this post, just as the author did.
In the flashback chapters, we find Sensei in the middle of his story living with a widow, Okusan and a daughter, Ojosan.
Before meeting them, he was disillusioned with the world through the deceit of his own relatives as an orphaned boy. It gave him the impression that all men have dark motives especially when money is involved.
After meeting Ojosan, his perspective changed. Love changed him. But he can’t trust both mother and daughter yet, he was convinced people always have bad motives when they show you good. But in time, his love for Ojosan grew stronger and his views of men changed.
He had a friend who lost everything, disowned by his own family. Out of the kindness of his heart and his sense of responsibility for what happened (because he encouraged him to do something his family didn’t want him to do), the latter being the more likely reason of the two; he asked him to live with him and paid for his rent and food, convincing the two ladies to let the friend stay if he pays for him. They accepted not because of the money but because they learned to love Sensei as their own.
One day Sensei’s friend, K, did what he could not do himself–admit that he has fallen in love with Ojosan. Even when he had more than one chance to admit to K that he felt the same way for Ojosan, Sensei cannot admit that he had also been in love with her ever since. He was a coward and so he did nothing to tell K, evading the gentlemen’s fight for love. But he could not entertain the thought of losing Ojosan to K either…so he did the following:
1. He tried to talk K out of the idea of pursuing his love for Ojosan, never mentioning that he did this because he wanted the woman for himself.
2. He lied about being sick to get Ojosan and K out of the house to talk to Okusan behind their backs, more especially behind K’s back.
3. He asked Okusan for Ojosan’s hand, fully aware that even before K came to live with them, Okusan wanted to marry her daughter to himself because she trusted Sensei from the start.
4. Rejoicing for his success over K, he cannot help but be pleased with his achievement. He finally got the love of his life. And though he believed that he is inferior to K in all aspects, he finally won this one thing over him—and the one thing that matters most.
5. All these time, he did not bother to tell K what he did. Worse, his conscience was no where in action the whole time. All he was, was pleased and triumphant.
6. Since the wedding arrangement was all set, Okusan and Ojosan’s treatment of the two changed, the difference became more pronounced—with special treatment for Sensei, of course. All along, Sensei didn’t bother to tell K, leaving him clueless. He enjoyed his victory over K all the more.
Okusan told K eventually without Sensei’s knowledge. And as could be expected, he was devastated. Being the only person left in the world he could trust and depend on, Sensei ought to have been more responsible for K. Instead he destroyed him–for love. Upon knowing about it, K didn’t mention anything to Sensei. He was, as his usual self, calm. And on that same night, he killed himself. With a brief suicide note thanking Sensei for everything he’s done for him and asking for a last favour to arrange for his burial, he asked him to extend Okusan his apology for all the troubles. He never mentioned Ojosan even once in the letter, carrying his love untold to his grave.
This dropped the bomb on Sensei. He felt guilty, and now he’ll never get the chance to apologise to K for all the evil things he’s done him. No one knows about it, only himself and K. And now that he killed himself, no one will ever know about all these. Okusan and Ojosan will never know of K’s love for Ojosan.
After about seven months, Sensei married Ojosan. He got a bigger, more comfortable house and lived with them there. All went well, and the bad motives, the darkness that looms in the background of the marriage never surfaced in their lives.
Then the guilt that never really went away soon ate him up as it grew bigger than he can handle. He decided to kill himself in the end. He left the author a long suicide letter revealing the full story of his life and its secrets. The last sentence on it was a dying wish to never reveal all these to any other soul so long as his wife is still alive. He would not take a chance of her ever knowing about all these.
There are two contending views on this. On the one hand, he loves his wife so much and as he once mentioned (when he did not allow her to see K on the suicide scene), someone so beautiful and so pure cannot see something so ugly without losing some of her beauty. He was determined to preserve her innocence—in such case, the motive was selfless. On the other hand, he wants to protect his self image. He was determined to preserve the way his wife sees and looks up to him with all the goodness he thought he is—in this case, the motive was something selfish. It was left for the reader to decide.
I choose to believe the former. He loved his wife so much that he never wanted to destroy her image of life and of the one person that mattered to her, Sensei. He mentioned in his letter that if he had revealed the story to his wife and mother-in-law, he is sure they would have forgiven him. It would have eased him of the burden of guilt he was carrying for a long time. It would have been the easier way out. Indeed, the truth would have set him free. But then again it would have also been more selfish. Unloading himself and transferring part (if not the same amount) of the burden to his wife who would have felt terrible about herself had she known the truth about the two friends. Instead, he chose to suffer and carry his secret to the grave. In his letter, he wrote that he would rather have his wife think he has gone mad thus committed suicide than let her know of the truth. In this regard, it made more sense that he loved her more than himself. In fact, he wanted to die a long time ago to ease him of the suffering. Imagine how every time he sees his wife’s face, he was reminded of his own ugly, disgusting self. Yet, he dared not leave her. He felt a very deep hatred for himself and an insurmountable loneliness that he thought death can be his only hope for relief. Yet he withheld it so long from himself. The reason he said, was because when Okusan died, his wife told him: “In all the world, I now have only you to turn to.”
K’s last sentence in his suicide letter was “Why did I wait so long to die?” In Sensei’s life, the answer was, because he loved his wife so much. Only when he met the author, to which he wrote the long letter about his life did he finally allow himself to die. Because, I think, it was only then that he found someone he can trust, someone whom his wife can turn to when he is gone.
The marriage and life of Sensei, though seemingly well and good from the outside, was hiding behind it something dark—the ugly motives and fallen nature common to us, sinful humans. It shows how easily we give up on our morals, how we can let our conscience be swallowed up by the people’s recognition and the world’s approval—if only for the idea that society accepts us as “living a good life”. In that sense, Sensei was bad. For the rest of his life, he suffered and repented of it. He went alone to K’s grave monthly to cry and apologise for what he did.
Going further into looking at his character though, I would say because of all his reasons for staying alive; absorbing all the suffering upon himself, protecting the innocent till the end; Sensei’s character was redeemed. In love, he did right.
And then in the end he finally chose to kill himself, which to me in every way is selfish and wrong. It appears as if he was doing the world a favour of ridding it of the evil person that he is. But that’s a lie. He might have deceived himself if indeed he believed that. The ulterior motive of the suicide is selfish—it was to end his suffering. And then he passed on the burden of keeping the secret away from his wife to someone else, the author. In the end, the selfishness and evil prevailed. Masked in love, his weakness won.
Indeed this book is a story that talks about the heart of things (in its most literal translation). And to me it talks about the things of this world–the truth about us, our story, humanity and our hopeless and sinful state. We will never be capable of redeeming ourselves because it has become ingrained in us–our being selfish, cunning and evil since the fall in Eden. And people who realise and truly, truly grasp the weight of this ugly truth without taking in that opium of society—social humanism, the notion that we are all capable of being good without help from outside or from a higher being—fall into a very deep sense of loneliness, the only cure for which, in an ordinary person’s view is suicide.
This is why humanity needs a saviour, it always has. The story of Sensei only shows that the evil of mankind can only be cured by selflessness, innocence and purity—by true love. THAT is Christianity to the core. No other religion offers humanity a Saviour to redeem us of a situation so hopeless and full of shame, to rescue us out of our own selves that have become too heavy for us to bear. All other religion would have failed to appease what Sensei felt. They would preach to rid himself of his bodily desires and accomplish a list of things in order to be forgiven, all of which he would still not have deemed a fitting retribution for what he’s done. Nothing else but death will be.
Had only someone told him that he never needed to carry the burden himself because someone bigger than him already did it for him, he would have been able to spare his own life and live a new one. He was not the one that needed to forgive, it was not his authority that mattered. It was God that should have been appeased, that his soul was longing to make peace with. And to do that, God already did for him what needed to be done—to die to pay for his sins. THAT is the one good news only Christianity claims.
The book is a tale that gets to the heart of the loneliness, fear, and guilt that accompanies love, individuality, and betrayal.** It shows us that we; left to ourselves, no matter how grand and glittering we make of our lives in this world; are selfish, hopeless and bad and we could never make it in this world on our own without getting lonely beyond what our hearts could bear and eventually killing ourselves. The core of the human heart, even if we cover it up with beautiful photos in social media and our vain obsession over living the ideal life, will always have a hint of this ugly thing that goes with being human. We need a redeemer because the ugly truth is, the heart of things…is nothing short of darkness.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. […] the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 3:23 and 6:23, Holy Bible NIV
This post is in response to this week’s Blacklight Candelabra writing challenge, Mephistopheles and the Road to Heaven.
“I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.”
—Mephistopheles (In Faust I by Joann Wolfgang von Goethe)
(Spoiler alert: Click link only if you want to know what book is the subject of this post.) **quoted from bookrags.com
Featured Photo is one by the Swedish photographer and visual artist Tommy Ingberg as part of his photographic series, ‘Reality rearranged’ (2010-2013). It was taken from the article by Andreea Saioc published online in the website theglobalpanorama.com.