When I was in my more cynical early-twenties (yep, I seem to be getting less cynical rather than more cynical with age), I used to say: Life is the process of progressive disillusionment. I’d look back at the enchantment of childhood when you (or at least I) thought everything was imbued with magic, and everything, absolutely everything was possible- and wonderful, and then I’d look at the number of illusions that had been popped like soap bubbles over the years…
I knew I was still more wonder-filled than many people my age. I worked as a waitress for years even though at the time, in this country, it was considered odd. But for me, it was about floating around the tables, making friends and tips. I loved considering each table a new challenge, a chance to make someone spend a nice evening, or lunch break. It was like a puzzle, attempting to recommend the perfect dish for each person. My dad refused to come to see me at work, thinking that my work would make people think we ‘needed the money’. My friends from back in high school would condescendingly say: “Oh how cute! What are you doing here? That apron is SO cute!” Until today, it’s still one of the best jobs I ever had.
I tried to put whimsy in everything. When I moved to Europe, I organized picnics at the beach in winter, and tea parties with roommates and five types of cheesecake. I’d get so excited when I’d relate the story of whichever book I happened to be reading, that people would have to move the wine glasses on the table to save them from getting tipped over by my hand gestures. For parties I made punch decorated with edible flowers and frozen berries. I started book clubs, French clubs (an excuse to get together with other francophones, drink French wine, eat French cheese, and speak French), and food clubs (people of different nationalities meeting once a month taking turns to cook national dishes for each other).
I’d convince people to watch cartoons, and tell them to believe in the good in people. But still, since my teens, life had begun to slowly but surely stop making sense. I had my share of hard times. The world often seemed like such a sad place, and struggling through it too hard. Always too many decisions to take, too many kilometres between you and the people you loved, either here or there. Finally the absurdity got too deep and thick. I couldn’t make sense of things anymore. What was the point, and why did anything matter since everything had an expiry date. I tiptoed and then crashed into scepticism and sarcasm.
I told everyone romantic love was at best a cultural invention and mainly the result of hormones. That everything we did, work, leisure activities, even (gasp!) reading, was a distraction to pass the time until we died.
I saw a documentary about Alvaro Mutis, a Columbian writer who said that the most important part of life was from age 6 or 8 to approximately 11 because it was the only period in which we truly experience anything, before our senses and minds are deadened. With full innocence, we are open and happy and good. He used the phrase ‘volverse adultos’ to describe becoming an adult. There are many words for ‘becoming’ in Spanish, and ‘volverse’ is the one usually used to describe negative changes; you ‘te vuelves’ crazy, for example. He went on to say that when we grow up, we ‘nos volvemos’ stupid, and the fight for life begins, and makes us malicious and bad.
That description felt spot on. Cynicism felt seductive and almost fun, but just like social smoking rarely stays at that, it morphed into anxiety and depression. I’ll leave that for another post, but the weird thing is that falling into the pit of self-loathing and universe-hating made me forever more compassionate and understanding than I ever could have been without the experience. So in a way, it brought back some illusions, and made me fall in love with humanity again. So yes, life will make you grow up. It might make you sadder, but if you’re lucky, you’ll keep the ability to smile the type of smile you feel in your tummy. And Vicky, keep making those soap bubbles ;-)