This piece includes spoilers from “The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi.”
When my sister first showed me its fuchsia cover plastered with golden spirals and recommended I read “The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi,” I rolled my eyes and scoffed. The title alone made me cringe. I don’t mind reading cliché novels; in fact, predictable love stories are my favorite genre. But reading about the concept of love and its principles isn’t something I thought I cared for. It’s too subjective, with no guarantee I can apply any of it to my life. I’d get weary after the first chapter, which probably asks the reader to close their eyes and breathe five times deeply.
Until out of sheer boredom I actually picked up the book and read it.
The novel, set in the modern-day, begins by going into the details of Ella’s life. She’s a middle-aged wife who isn’t working but wants to, trapped in a somewhat loveless marriage with a disloyal, conditionally-loving husband. She has everything she needs to survive but is incredibly unsatisfied with how mundane and empty her life seems. She reluctantly picks up a book called “Sweet Blasphemy,” which revolves around the 13th-century poet Rumi, and begins to read.
“Sweet Blasphemy” follows Rumi, whose main trait is his capacity for thinking and feeling, while living in a world where everyone else seems hardened by the realities and struggles of life. As she reads “Sweet Blasphemy,” Ella begins to write to the author of the novel, Aziz. As they begin to exchange emails more frequently, their relationship blossoms, with Ella eventually telling her husband she wants to leave him to meet Aziz and live with him in Holland. This step shows the parallel between Ella and Rumi, both who end up discarding the boring — yet secure — aspects of their life to live with more passion, wonder, pain and happiness. Ella soon finds out Aziz has terminal cancer and has around a year to live. For the first time in her life, she follows her heart and explores the world with Aziz, who dies shortly from cancer. After his death, Ella decides to embrace Aziz’s philosophy: living a life ruled by passion above anything else.
Ella’s life before she met Aziz is my biggest nightmare, which is probably why I took such a deep interest in this book. Living in the same empty routine, completely devoid of happiness, sounds like a common reality for many who seem to be stuck in a perpetual cycle consisting solely of work and sleep. Ella’s journey of rediscovering how meaningful life can be came not just from Aziz, but from the book she read, where the characters are deep reflectors who dwell on what life is, how it came to be, and how it should be lived.
The most important takeaway I gleaned from Ella’s story is that you will never be content with your life if you’re intimidated by the thought of change. Taking time out of your day to deeply reflect on what you want your life to look like is the starting point to that life becoming a reality. Acting on those thoughts is the more difficult step. How many of us would leave a comfortable life to go live with our Aziz, knowing their presence would soon be gone, but we would have the best year of our lives? It takes a certain strength to act on decisions in which you know that, at the end of the road, you are going to feel pain unparalleled to what you have felt before.
In reality, many of us, myself included, wouldn’t take that step if we were given the chance. I definitely don’t feel like I have that kind of mindset yet. But it’s something I’m working on through smaller steps, by doing and trying things I never have before. For instance, I always have actively avoided consuming any form of media if I know it has a tragic ending. This results in me religiously reading the last line in every book before I start, ruining the entire process of wondering and discovering what’s going to happen next.
I acknowledge that means missing out on a lot of aspects of life because tragic, emotional endings are so much more than misery. Neglecting any action based on that means you ignore the feelings that come along before, the ones that are usually the reason why you value what happens in the end. Such emotions, which often include the appreciation of something — attachment, love, curiosity — are shoved in a cage and locked away when we run from what happens after. But it is not fair to invalidate all of those experiences because we don’t want to feel the pain that it might cause. Accepting that and acting upon it is difficult. But if you get to live a more comprehensive, thoughtful, inspirational and mature way of life, then chances are it’s worth it.
We ultimately have the choice to live in a way where we understand the complexities of life, or in a way where we ignore the things that might be the most valuable to us out of fear of what could happen. It’s not easy, but I’ve started by breaking the little habits I unintentionally built up. Maybe next week, I’ll finally come around to watching “Titanic,” or reading the ending of “The Fault in Our Stars.” We don’t need to wait for an Aziz to walk into our life to start trying to get the most out of it. The biggest rule of love is that we need to find it by bringing our passions into reality, even if the process evokes fear. Once we get rid of the discomfort that comes with doing things we’re afraid of, we can learn how to think with not only our minds but our hearts as well.
MiC Columnist Syeda Rizvi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.