When you are very young, it seems life is an endless path where crossroads can appear at any moment. Even if life is not even remotely as good as it could be, the deceitful notion of time tells you there is still hope. Getting to adult age, you realize time is pressing and crossroads only unwind around standstills from which you cannot really go anywhere. The brave fights back, the cynical laughs his head off, the weak can only drown in acceptance.
I hear so much talks, especially in these days of worldwide turmoil, and I am disgusted at the levity some people can put into their reasoning. Universal brotherhood is an empty word, if you’re looking at those desperately trying to change their situation before history swallows them up from your cozy Ikea armchair, protected by the safety of a steady job or by a family that in hard times provides you with more than enough means of subsistence, or if you are sitting at the local cafe with the browser of your posh computer opened on the news.
On a smaller scale, I also experienced lack of sympathy. And I cannot really complain, because I’m lucky enough to be able to sit here, read and hear what others have to say, and write about it. It means I too have too much time to waste right now, and this is evidence that in spite of my personal weakness I managed to keep head above water’s surface and feet on the ground. I too am to reproach and disdain. People appraise other people’s value on the basis of how much wealth their person radiates, but then they like to whine about their brand new car’s installments or taxes. They play the meek when they resist the urge to buy their fifteenth pair of shoes or when they don’t take an international flight to see their favorite band playing one or two timezones away. The truth is we are all so empathic when we have more than others have, but what sincere sympathy means we really don’t know anymore. Crocodiles, us all. And liars. Irresponsible big-mouthed pretenders. Considerations would be wasted on this subject, so I’ll refrain from going too much into it.
This was meant to be a very different entry, but… but… It’s no time for celebrating a small victory. True: by small victories, like by piling bricks, we can build our whole, and hopefully better, existence. But it’s now a time to be quiet. It’s a time to ask questions and try to read between lines, to dispel the mists of manipulated public opinion — often made thicker by the flashy lines of newspapers — trying not to be scared and infuriated. Fear and fury have short memory, thus we should not be blinded by them. Indignation on the other hand we should still be feeling, as it’s in our most humane rights and inclinations to be indignant at the wrongs of the world.
On this day, one year ago, we landed on Icelandic soil without even being here before. This was a year full of surprises for me. Good and bad, but mostly good. We were discussing about what impression the home country left on us in these months of absence and we reached the conclusion we have to be grateful we succeeded in leaving. When we descended the boat as we arrived in a Seyðisfjörður completely covered in ice and snow, if felt a lot like setting foot on alien lands. There was nobody in sight, apart from a couple of old men who wished us good luck. We went through a lot before we could escape our previous life, so ours felt like a cathartic journey. Iceland was the final chapter in an individual era of negation, but it was also a starting point. It’s a commonplace story, perhaps totally forgettable in history, but I am sure even from a story like ours some lesson can be learnt.
Comparing the life I used to lead before moving to Iceland with the one I am leading now, I am horrified. Was that person really me? Sometimes I wonder. Foreigners living in Iceland complain a lot about the fact Iceland is still so provincial and Icelanders are too relaxed and naive and self-absorbed, but personally I think these things are in the end only trivial matters — if you don’t have to do business with relaxed Icelanders, that is. Lack of responsibility is a plague of our times. We are educated to be teenagers till we are 72, and then we are all of a sudden too old and weak. Icelanders are fairly responsible on average compared to Italians, for instance. Lack of responsibility is not especially Iceland’s disease. Nobody wants to do anything, not anywhere where money circulates freely and in fair amounts, because taking responsibility would mean losing benefits and comfort. Everybody is a potential revolutionary, but nobody actually wants to stop buying the favorite brand of soda, go on foot and stop fattening the oil barons, turn off the TV in protest against contemporary media dictatorships, and so on. On the contrary, we want to take it easy, watch films that only tell the truth in part so we can think a little without having nightmares when we are tucked in bed, we want to buy products with a pleasing post-modern design and pay them as cheaply as we can. When possible, we ask for discounts. Just to be on the safe side. We still think the socially maladjusted and the poor living in Third World — or even Second World — countries are the only ones that need to grow out of their misery; with patronizing attitude, when we have nothing more interesting to think about, we offer the less fortunate our empathy. We are so grand, indeed. By talking about them in our spare time, in our lunch breaks, at the restaurant before our dinner is served, we acknowledge their existence. It doesn’t matter if our random attention is actually of some use to them or not. We pay respect to them with a massive flow of words; we are donors of babbling. It’s First World bourgeois babbling, you know. In the civilized world, words cost nothing, that’s why social networks are so popular — and full of what? Who cares anymore about quality of content anyway?
What I really wanted to convey, finally, is very simple and banal. Your life is yours only. Relations shouldn’t be ultimate manacles and you don’t have to belong to the crowd to make your life valuable to yourself. As cynical as it may sound, sacrificing yourself is out of fashion these days. You don’t have to live by accepted ideals or do universally recognized good deeds. It’s powers beyond your own power who will take advantage of your sacrifice in any case. You do not need to sacrifice yourself to have a conscience. Do what you wish to better your life and the life of those around you: by struggling in any way in your power; by asking yourself questions even when you know from the start answers are elusive; by rebelling against values you don’t share; by using words not only to create content, but to create content of some relevance to you. If this means being considered ungrateful or foolish by your kin, then so be it. A life wasted is a life you live by the expectations of the crowd: even if the crowd looks friendly and reassuring on the surface; even if the crowd includes your parents, your siblings, your mentors.