January was full of lots of beautiful things: a lot of art, of good food, of friendship, but it was not without its low moments. I remember speaking with a friend a few hours after the new year had begun and they confided in me that it felt like there wasn’t much to celebrate given that some rough things had been happening around them at around the same time. To this person, I love you, I love you and I really hope that January has brought you some kindness and some beauty. <3
So maybe it’s because of this, or maybe it’s the book that I’m reading at the moment (Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love), that a running theme in my life is the search for balance, especially in this quest to discover beauty. It keeps popping up, like my seasons of life are the seasons of a television series and of course everything just happens to fit into the theme of the episode: how to stand up for one’s self without being unkind to others? the reverse: how to be kind without being a pushover? How to have expectations but not end up frustrated? How to forgive one’s self for past mistakes but still strive to be better? And related to this last one, are we always doomed to hypocrisy in the journey of self improvement? because if you are always trying to do better and be better and you’re professing it, then it means that at any point you are always falling short of what you profess.
But this is especially the one that I’m trying to detangle: how does one embrace the beauty that this world has to offer, while still remaining connected to humanity? How to enjoy life, good fashion, good food, good music, good art, to dance and be merry– while staying aware of (and acting to improve) the pain of the world that we live in? (Or maybe here’s the thing that needs fixing: this feeling that this world needs to be fixed.) In the book, Elizabeth receives her answer from a spiritual leader in Bali: “To keep grounded…” [he says], “you must keep your feet so firmly on the earth that it’s like you have four legs instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world with your head. You must look through your heart instead. That way, you will know God.” (on Page 28 of the 2007 Bloomsbury Edition).
By the way, the book is, apparently not very popular amongst Italians, at least according to my friend Franchesco (Oh, I hope I can call you a friend!), who says that it’s full of cliches and tells such an incomplete story of what Italy is and what Italians are. Other side: a few days ago, I met an Angolan man on the bus and he spoke a little bit of Swahili and I took out my rusty Portuguese, which I have somehow maintained by watching sporadic episodes of Windeck, and he and I tried to carve out a space of mutual understanding in the three languages we had between us. What was interesting about the interaction, and what reminds me of what Franchesco had to say, was that the Angolan Man is thoroughly convinced that Kenyans are super unfriendly. I told him he should visit different parts of Kenya before making that conclusion, and he said that he will not be able to say anything other than what he has experienced. And what he has experienced is this: that Kenyans are unfriendly and aggressive. Ouch.
As this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this, I have to consider that there might be some truth to it. Yet I feel a little defensive and want to be like nooo #notallKenyans. I think about it when I reflect on my traveling experiences, on ways in which I decided that this country, or this region, or this city was such and such a kind of place.
Anyway, to wrap up this rambling post, here’s a quote, from another Oh-I-Hope-I-Can-Call-You-a-Friend friend, that seems to fit in with all of this. Somehow.
“One cannot mute one emotion without muting all the others. This is to say that if you have the habit of going around saying “I have never had my heart broken, I have never been rejected, I have never been left” – essentially you are saying you have never loved and you have not lived. And that is to be pitied.”- BKW
Ok, let’s go, February.