Tuesday late mornings wing at you like the unpredictable splash of sanitizing gel that hits anywhere but your palms. An appointment at the social security office on a late Tuesday morning, well, it’s like a splash of sanitizing gel hitting your lips while your mouth is partly open trying to say “Hi” to the porter – literally. Good thing my good morning was better than this welcome, and then it's just gel, what should I ever be embarrassed about?
While I pressed the button on the totem to register my arrival, a cleaning lady got next to me to call the elevator and glancing at my ticket, exclaimed: «111, what a beautiful number Miss. It's a good omen, you know? It will lead you to something good today. Trust me» – «Really? Oh, thanks! I hope so!» I replied surprised.
While waiting to see this supposed magic number appearing on the waiting room screen, I hastily ran my tongue over the right hollow of my upper lip, trying to relive the taste of breakfast. A tiny reminiscence of the welcoming avocado softness had managed to escape the napkin's brazen hygiene vandalism, moments before every crumb of brown bread was swept away by the fresh orange juice. If only I dedicated the same time and care I put into preparing my breakfast, to everything concerning me, by now I wouldn't have that bookcase embarrassingly overflowing with self-improvement books and maybe my therapist wouldn't have that new designer lamp in the corner.
It's beautiful, I can't define what it reminds me of – on the other hand, what could a soft white suspended in mid-air ellipse remind me of? An ellipse? It's not even a solid either. This thing of calling things with names that could hold hands during a walk on a Sunday afternoon in Central Park, but could never mirror one another, is starting to get cumbersome.
The doctor says it is one of the many possible characteristics of ADHD, whilst my dates see it as one of the quirks that gives me a bit of that mystery bohemian vibe. During my time at the Academy, I was empirically a so-called bohémien: when you leave the house for the first time, you are thrilled, enthusiastic, feverish. You imagine your new life in the most exciting and incredible situations.
Me personally, I imagined myself spending time painting, buying tubes of oil paint in some small shop with a funny grumpy gentleman in his seventies at the counter, too busy reading an endless newspaper while giving the rest of the coins; invited from flat to flat for the openings of the continuous exhibitions of my most esteemed colleagues (those who with time and experience I learned to define as "those who made it" – because saying "those who compromised" could sound too rude from the outside) drinking champagne while enraptured between discussions of quantum physics and Russian literature of the early twentieth century, to then returning home inspired, after a heartwarming easy dinner out, intoxicated with life and perhaps in the company of some incredible mind to wake up next to in the morning. In my naive, but even more, so privileged mind, there was no trace that presaged the backstage of all that "artsy" and "cool" life I idealized so much. There was no sign of having to sustain oneself logistically and economically; of having to think about one's own livelihood – also having to make ends meet when shopping at the grocery store (how much the hell do fruit and vegetables cost when you become an adult! I can almost see the glitter of gold in every drop of oat milk hitting my cup in the morning);
of doing all those very small and obvious things on your own, of which you didn't even know the existence (let alone the importance), which someone else always kindly did for you and which, in the very moment you put your foot out of your comfort zone, you realize how invisibly fundamental and tiring they actually are.
Googling "how to clean a bathroom properly"? Done. "how to remove grease stains from a silk shirt"? Done. "how to get over the anxiety of thieves coming to your house"? Done – also thinking that the only things of value that could be stolen from my studio were my computer, my cat and the farewell letter to my carefreeness; yes, my artworks were not an option.
I still remember when one day I called my mother on the phone and while she was meticulously going through the list of ingredients for her lemon scallops, passing an exasperated hand over my forehead, staining accidentally my face of blue, I asked her: "Was it also this hard for you?". She replied, "To do what?" and I "To live". She burst into a thunderous laugh full of affection and reality, and with all her natural reassuring charm she said: "And think that I also gave you life". I believe that that was the moment in which I stopped seeing my mother as an extraordinary parent, to see her as a woman with an exceptional soul, that with great sacrifices – hidden by an overwhelming optimism even in the darkest nights – that nothing have to do with the divine, she strived to make the burden of life of those she loves lighter.
And now it was my turn. Helping to make the burden of life of those I love lighter. Almost fifteen years have passed since that step away from the happy island of non-responsibilities, and I can state with great certainty that not even a four seasons show would be enough to retrace all the changes in plot, roles, characters, locations, languages and costumes I experienced.
What I have learned in the last three years is that helping others, without betraying your heart, without really expecting anything in return is hell courageous work. Because the risk of getting lost, of not remembering who you are, of not remembering why you do it, but above all, the risk of putting your life aside, regretting it because alienation from yourself was not what your heart wished for, it's much closer than around the corner. In essence, to help others with love, we must first love ourselves.
Maybe if the new age gurus hadn't bombed us with this self-love rigmarole in each and every way, sweetening it with ASMR and falsely affectionate handles – trying to sell us their retreats and products – we would be less anesthetized to the metabolization of genuinely putting ourselves first, or maybe not. No, I don't really think so; human beings learn through experience and above all, by getting hurt, because only by discovering what feels painful, we develop the drive to desire an improvement in our condition. From then on, it's up to us to choose what to do with it but the fact is that I can no longer stand the algorithms trying to maximize the capitalization of our moods.
Fantastic, just three more people and I will be done. Well, at least I hope so. We will see.
It does my heart good to know that I am here to help my uncle get some information on the disappearance of his small foreign pension; not something that would change his life economically, but emotionally. Tears almost welled up in my eyes at the thought of what he told me in his last call: “I don't need any more money. The only thing I would like is to have your aunt back here with me, and money can't give me that.”
Money is only a means, always, and by this case, it is something that brings back memories of a happier time, with more loved ones around, more colors, more flowers on the balcony, more smiles and less suffering. Knowing that I can save him from having to take several taxis – especially in his health condition – to reach the first available patronage in Germany and have a practical explanation for something that is instead romantically abstract, well, it's a good feeling.
Maybe once I would have seen it as a nuisance, a waste of time – now I think: how much time have I wasted, doing things that were a real waste of time, remembering instead only fragments of moments that deserved much more attention rather than being seen only with the corner of the eye? Better not think about it, actions matter more than everything else. Isn’t it?
«Oh, it's my turn!». Well, faster than I expected.
«Good morning Miss. By the checks we did on your uncle’s pension, it was just an error of our new system. We are very sorry for the inconvenience, and we did our best to restore it as soon as possible. Also, please extend our heartfelt apologies to your uncle for the disservice and inform him that if he needs any help or information, he can contact Helga, his new personal consultant».
Helga. My aunt's name. For a moment, the operator, the desk between us, the other counters, the plants, the windows, everything, vanished. On an ordinary late Tuesday morning at the social security office, everything disappeared and the warm memory of someone who was no longer here, enlightened the calmness of that cathartic moment, filling everything.
«Thank you». There was nothing else to say, really. At least, as far as I was concerned.
I left that place (or perhaps, that moment left me) lighter, although I definitely had something more. Something that for some would have been totally irrelevant, but that from my side I knew it would bring a fragment of joyful life back to someone who needed it.
That cleaning lady was definitely right.