Be careful what you wish for. Freedom is something you have to be able to cope with. Sometimes, this Portuguese life feels like a retirement: “So, what are we gonna do today?” And in the meantime life in Belgium is raging on.
When I stayed in Belgium last December, I felt like a retiree who didn’t understand a lot of that modern life that was buzzing all the time. Everything is so well planned, scheduled & managed. Everybody in that country loves Doodle! Has that always been so? Every two other nights I stayed in another family’s house — friends with their kids whom I adore. I woke up with the kids, and someone quickly made coffee, prepared sandwiches, showered, and they all got dressed simultaneously right before leaving at dawn. Every time I remained behind in a living room and felt a bit ashamed. Stagnating while everything around you is speeding up can be quite existential: “What am I missing here?”, “What am I doing to move forward?”, “Escaping this race was my choice right?”, “And what am I doing at eight o’clock in the morning in a room that isn’t mine?” Making fresh coffee and reading the Belgian newspaper. See? Retired.
Cornerstone of Society
It’s crazy how resilient kids are dealing with a strict routine. They are amazing. But for the parents, it’s not that obvious. At the end of the day, there’s not much time left for sex (blame it on the women?), emotions (blame it on the men?) or tranquillity ( blame it on society). Five couples I know well split up in the last half year. Ten beautiful people who didn’t know anymore how to move on. Not one of them deserved it and I didn’t expect of them they would break up. ‘Family as the cornerstone of our society’, since when did this change, I thought while morning traffic was coming to an end. Let’s be honest, this society isn’t child- nor parent-friendly. Because at the weekend the race against time continues: waking up early again, Disneyland, supermarket, cleaning while training core & butt, ignoring people on baby showers & retirement parties, paperwork, and so on. And in the meantime, when you have one of life’s great questions, you’re in a troubled mind. That’s what I noticed. And also, it’s easier for most people to ignore those questions and just move on.
By noon, when everybody was getting a quick lunch, I realized this: I only know people of the first kind, the ones who want to have answers resolved and do something meaningful with that knowledge. Friends who are working with institutionalized children, drug addicts, unemployed people, immigrants, blind people, patients with brain trauma’s, clients with psychological problems, mixed neighbourhoods… And also yoga instructors, writers and environmental activists. I’ve never realised that before! Among them, they’re not many complainers or play the role of victim. Not even when they are splitting up, or when money is finished by the end of the month (cultural & social sector!). Not many nationalists or people having an excuse for everything. They are dealing with life in the fast lane and can make conscious choices to keep their kids out of the rat race & materialistic industry, to develop themselves and to help others. That’s what I name building character. Of course, I felt ashamed in that living room! To make those same conscious choices, I moved abroad. I left my friends in the trenches of a capitalistic system where you need a lot of sense of responsibility to continue to study, to read books, to cook healthy and to be good lovers.
But you know what? All these friends are fucking tired. They continuously have to find new ways to charge their batteries because it’s quite the trouble, or even taboo, to choose for personal development. Government isn’t creating information about this, and at schools, children learn to study for good grades instead of personality. What society does do is this: quickly responding to this tiredness by creating apps, services & expensive online courses. “Treat yourself with our products!”, “not time left to cook? Buy our shit!”, “Subscribe to our sports channel, book an arrangement and buy this, go shopping and be happy!” And I saw a lot of people paying for it.
The gap between my friends / ‘northern countries’ became suddenly very clear to me. Because I wasn’t tired and I wasn’t well organised, and I didn’t need all the arranged me- time. Plus, what became normal for me – eating healthy, a lot of nature, building mental strength, time for doing nothing- was considered as something for ‘ rich hipsters’, which is bullshit. As I said, most of my friends work in the social or cultural sector, they earn peanuts, and they still find their ways to build a character. And also this: a big privileged group of people like to take the role of being a victim while a lot of poor people actively build a better neighbourhood or try to do better than their parents. A sense of responsibility has nothing to do with having the money or not, and more with education from parents/ experiences.
But how about me feeling ashamed towards my friends in the trenches? While I was wandering around and the sun was shifting, I changed the focus. It wasn’t about what I can do in 24 hours but about how much freedom I wanted per day. Davy and I can do whatever we want because we stepped out of that rat race (not because we are rich!). Status, being cool and having a huge social life doesn’t belong to it. You have to let go, yes. And (!), that extra freedom needs to be worthwhile. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. You need to build a character that can refuse all those temptations. The self before ego. Working harder for your basic needs, deepen them. Warmth, love, shelter (one is enough!), good food, a healthy body & mental strength, thát is how I want to set my way!
By the time my friends and the kids arrived home again, I understood that returning to Belgium wasn’t an option anymore, that Portugal wasn’t an escape but a way of living, a mindset. So bring it on that freedom: I’ll cope with it! And suddenly my visit to Belgium became a (mental) farewell tour.
I didn’t say goodbye to my friends, because of them, I will make my life in Portugal meaningful. If I don’t waste my time here with bullshit stuff, I don’t have to feel ashamed. And in that way- with all their discipline- they are my examples, and at the same time, I want to be an example for them by showing another way. By sharing our ‘freedom & space’ and creating a safe place where they can be who they like/want to be… With happy food, fresh air, warmth, good conversations and time to contemplate. Simple and strong basic needs we need to learn to embrace and deepen again.