Truth. Noun. The quality or state of being true. Essayist Hasanthika Sirisena relates her journey toward discovering both eternal and personal truth in her new collection.
How do you define truth? Essayist Hasanthika Sirisena’s explored what truth means and the difference between personal truth and eternal through her new collection of essays, Dark Tourist. The essays were inspired by a post-war tour Sirisena took of Sri Lanka—the country of her birth—that had been embroiled in a violent on-again, off-again civil war from 1983 to 2009. Sirisena toured the country in an attempt to find peace with and an understanding of what had happened.
Instead, she felt ashamed of her curiosity and began to write the essays of Dark Tourist to reconcile her motivations for going on the tour. Sirisena’s website explains that the essays use “facets of her own sometimes fractured self to find wider resonances with human universals of love, sex, family, and art”—discovering personal truth within eternal truth.
On December 3rd, 2021, Sirisena read from Dark Tourist to the crowd of students and faculty attending the College of Humanities English Reading Series. While culture in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often favors a black-and-white approach to truth, Sirisena described the coexistence of both black-and-white and gray truth. Sirisena’s essays delve into her life and her questions from her perspective, but they often encompass the stories of others. As Sirisena wrote her essays, she learned that often her perspective of an event greatly differs from someone else’s, creating two different versions of truth.
As an example, Sirisena described how she is the oldest child in her family and that role has always given her anxiety. When she was young, she constantly worried about her parents dying and how she would handle taking care of all her younger siblings. Now that she is an adult, she still has worries about the frailty of her mother.
However, after a conversation with her younger sister, Sirisena discovered that none of her siblings have these worries. Her younger sisters remember their mom building a treehouse for them in the backyard and spending long days playing with them. They view their mother as a strong woman, whereas Sirisena remembers her being ill and weak. This discovery led Sirisena to realize that her mother was never any sicker than anyone else and that Sirisena’s view of her mother had been exaggerated by anxiety. She then understood how much her childhood anxieties have shaped her perspective and beliefs; her truth is just one of many.
This helps her explain the difference between eternal black-and-white truth and personal gray truth. Eternal truths such as “We are all children of God,” “We have a Heavenly Mother,” and “Christ is our Savior” are those deep permanent truths that exist beyond the belief or experiences of people. But where someone should live, what they should do for a living, and who they should spend time with, are all things that make up the gray truths of life, things that personal revelation and a relationship with our Heavenly Father can help discover.
Although Sirisena doesn’t believe she knows ultimate truth, she knows her essays can help guide her and others toward it. She feels her essays take on greater meaning and purpose as they contribute to the conversation and help guide others toward the truth they seek. Check out Dark Tourist to dive deeper with Sirisena, and come to the next English Reading Series on Friday, January 21st, 2022.