Monday, May 28

Falling

Someone told me that swallows are as good as dead once they end up on the ground, because their wings are too long to be flapped sufficiently to take off again. Swallows always have to let themselves fall down from a high point before they can fly independently. It's like experiencing the very first flight over and over again. I don't know if it's a true story, but somehow it struck me as meaningful.

Likewise, the human way of walking through life is to literally let oneself fall from one foot whilst swinging the other foot forward to catch the fall. A controlled falling motion, repeated over and over again.

I´m in Spain doing geological fieldwork right now, and it´s tiring in a physical, mental and emotional way. I feel like falling every day, from one mood to the next. There´s the mood in which I feel like flying, in which nobody matters but me. Then there´s the bittersweet sadness, loneliness that is bareable in some beautiful way. Right now I feel friendly and caring towards everyone, even though some do not return that kindness - it is like my silent protest. But I fear the mood that comes when I get tired, because it makes me see everything different, and the sadness really hurts at those moments. I know that I´ll catch my fall again, though. Over and over again.

Someone told me it makes you stronger. Someone told me we are all on our own, and that we should therefore care about little else than ourselves. But I can´t, and I do not want to be that person all the time, even though the fall is tough. At least I have my high points to fall from.

See no evil

Most people like to see themselves as individuals with a good sense of morality. They have a list of do's and don'ts and they try to live by it. Some things are just wrong. Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal. Not just because the Bible says so, but because it hurts others unjustfully. I think a big part of our moral standards is based on empathy, on our ability to put ourselves in someone elses shoes. It's called the ethic of reciprocity, and it tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. If you can imagine how the other person would feel, you are automatically inclined to do the right thing. It seems easy when you put it like that.

In a perfect world, like the one that is portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters, good people make all the right choices. Bad people behave selfishly - and of course their actions turn against them in the end. But sadly, life is not a movie, and the line is never clear. Sometimes I cannot see what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes I do not want to see. The sole purpose of moral and conscience is to regulate one of our strongest urges; to act selfishly. It can and has been argued that even when we behave altruistically, we do it for the sake of feeling better about ourselves, to avoid guilt feelings, or simply because we have been told throughout our lives that it is the right thing to do. I am not saying morality is nonsense, on the contrary, it is essential. Life would be a mess without it. But far from being sacral, inviolable laws, morals are rough guesses and basically inventions of the human mind.

Some things are just wrong. But what if the person that you treat unjustfully will never know that you did, and will not have to face any consequences of your actions? What if you find you cannot empathize with a stranger? And what if you realize that because of this, you will not hesitate to behave selfishly and have no sense of guilt about it whatsoever? Does that make you a bad person? Or does it make you human?

Ultimate integrity is making personal sacrifices to do the right thing, even though it makes no difference at all. Such morality sounds very beautiful indeed, but I am not an angel. I am a human who generally cares a great deal about other people, but I have my faults. Ashamed as I am to admit it, when it comes to this particular situation I have been confronted with, I cannot resist. I will see no evil.

Monday, May 21

After the calm, after the storm

When you love what you do, it's not all that bad to work your fingers to the bone for a short period of time. You really feel you're getting somewhere, enthusiasm drives you. You don't even have time or energy to think, which is absolutely wonderful at first. Work, eat, sleep. Work, eat, sleep. All quite easy. Who needs those silent ponderings at the end of the day, working out how we feel about certain issues? Well, I do for one.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there really was a secret to success, that golden and glittering concept? I often call to mind what the French philosopher Albert Schweitzer had to say about the subject. A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up, he believed. If we would just be able to go on without losing our motivation, confidence, passion and optimism, we would be able to go on forever. Little people seem to live in such a state continuously, though, and I suspect even the seemingly tireless people amongst us spend a substantial amount of time faking it. Everyone needs some time off on a regular basis, a chance for the mind to process life. Or else the mess just gets bigger and bigger until the last drop... And we break down. I do.

Going on a two-week field trip is rather backbreaking in every aspect; physically, mentally, socially. Drilling holes in the ground is hard work, certainly in stormy weather. In the woods, in the fields, all day long. Other people are around all the time, which means non-stop communication - there are no breaks from that, we were even talking in our sleep. Dreaming out loud, subconsciously processing the events of the day. But it wasn't enough to keep me 'fresh and fruity', as I call my good moods.

The last evening, only eight o'clock. On a swing, a beer in my hand, feeling more alone by the minute. It throws me right off my feet. Rock bottom, down the dumps, a sinking ship. What I perceived to be a laid-back evening in fairly good company turns into a stretch of endless and empty minutes. The mental games I play become contests which I'm about to lose. What they have suddenly brings my attention to what I lack. Sitting on my bed, my face wet with tears. I want to do something, go somewhere, run away. I want someone to notice because I feel so forgotten. Where's a shoulder to cry on when you need one?

It took half an hour, or perhaps just ten minutes. In his kindest voice (although I must say that all his voices are kind, regardless of the words he speaks) he asked me what was wrong and he sat beside me to hear my stammering answer in between the sobbing. Throughout the week he'd recognized many of my semi-breakdown periods (you know, the quiet hours somewhere around five in the afternoon) and he'd said the same on every occasion. "You look so angry." And then, "It's okay, everything is going to be alright." With that roguish smile on his face and that twinkle in his eyes - have you ever met anyone with an actual twinkle in their eyes? He does it all the time.

He smiled and twinkled. "Why don't you tell yourself what I always tell you?"

I never knew I look angry when I'm tired.

Thursday, May 3

Fieldwork in Brabant

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

As from next monday I will be away on fieldwork in Brabant, a southern province of the Netherlands. At about the 2oth of this month I'll be back and posting again. Make it a great two weeks, I'll try to do the same!