I’m somewhere high among white clouds between Copenhagen and Barcelona, on my way back home to the latter. Suspended at this altitude, I’m struck by a sentimental notion.
A short time ago, I said goodbye to my parents in front of the airport. They stood quietly, waving, while I disappeared into the building. I recall this picture. It’s a picture filled with affection. Gratitude. I’m grateful. They know this. My actions speak volumes, to be sure, even though I do nothing.
Perhaps this is why I discern, no, actually, I recognize and feel a stifling doubt: How can I be sure that they know? Have I thanked them? Then, I think: thanked them for what? At this point, I rise to my feet and retrieve my computer from my rucksack in the luggage compartment overhead.
My parents are older than me. That’s the usual way of things, but they’re older in a way revealing that there are bigger divides between some generations than others. They were among the Baby Boomers born in the ’40s.
I probably belong in the mathematically unknown generation known as X, which is also linked to Y. Somewhere in between. I’m too young for Douglas Coupland and far too old for Miley Cyrus. Somewhere between ‘just too late’ and ‘a little too early’ is how I’ve always perceived myself.
A question of imagination
Technology, the growing dominance of science and expanding internationalization possibly constitute the biggest gap; yet without, at any point, having proved insuperable. Rather, there’s merely been a difference between what feels natural to my parents and what feels natural to me, rendering our relationship a question of imagination.
I can hardly imagine what it must have been like to grow up during their times. Their lives were shaped by a different history.
They’re perhaps better able to comprehend my times, but still, there are aspects they don’t fully comprehend, points where we can only reach each other through a fictitious interspace. Examples might be the ‘new’ ideals for a good life and a normative pressure that has settled like a membrane on modern life: child rearing—especially today’s positive psychology and the ways of living life that fall in line with that science.
A question of dreams
Perhaps it’s just a question of dreams. That’s what I think, anyway. I believe that my parents were (and are) better at defining their dreams, what they hoped for.
I dream, but I’m unsure about what. Or life is what I dream about. It is, in a way, so damn concrete, just like life itself, but also diffuse. I dream about forces and energies. My parents dreamed about managing financially, about stability, about creating a decent framework for a family. They dreamed about fulfilling their dreams; for instance, by opening a restaurant or a bike shop. They dreamed about having no regrets.
I envy them, to some extent. My dreams go further (but aren’t necessarily better). I never dream about having more money or anything like that. I’m not a capitalist, but I dream about a stronger sense of life, a higher awareness of life that has nothing to do with money.
I spend my life chasing life. And I live out what I chase. I’m unable to relax, unlike my parents, I think. They’d sometimes sit down and say, “Let’s call it a day.”
I’m free, but I never feel truly free. It’s not the pressure of ideals weighing me down, such as more prestige, status and the like. Rather, it’s this need to check if there might be something of interest in the plane toilet, which I then proceed to visit, although I don’t need to take a leak. All stones should preferably be turned. The present moment should be turned inside out. Drained. I dream about not missing anything. That’s not the same as aiming to have no regrets.
This ‘something’ I dream about is intangible. That’s what perplexes my parents. They don’t quite get it. To give an example, I couldn’t care less about parachute-jumping, getting a motorbike license, having sex with several people, being famous, Facebook-‘friends’ or other such lark.
I dream about life
There are brief moments when I sense that life isn’t just passing me by, but hitting me head-on, leaving its mark on me. I want to see the marks of life on my body. I crave wrinkles that don’t merely remind me of being alive now, but will also later testify to the whole extent of my life.
I crave experience. Not an endless series of experiences, but experience paving the way for new perceptions, with never any specific objective. Needless to say, I prefer the happy parts, but life is made up of everything, like Chinese sauce. Joy, happiness and escape from cheerlessness.
This is where the age difference between my parents and myself becomes evident. Their living conditions were different. They were tougher in a more basic sense. It was all about survival. Security. A sound economy and making ends meet.
My economy isn’t sound
That doesn’t worry me. I don’t consider money to be a motivating factor. Of course, this is easy for me to say, since I live in a part of the world where it’s OK for me not to worry. That isn’t to say that I’m on benefits. I never have been. I’m a writer, an extremely badly paid writer, who nevertheless manages to get by on short-term employment as a teacher.
The generation before me can look after me if everything should go pear-shaped. At least, I think so. This wasn’t possible, to the same extent, in my parents’ generation.
Something that makes my parents’ dreams different from mine is their use of normative words such as ‘must’ or ‘should’, which I can’t wrap my head around. It feels alien to me, and such words, to me, inevitably imply a ‘can’. You should brush your teeth every time you wash your hands, because you can. But must I dream about a career and a steady income? I simply can’t.
It’s not that I’m unable to invest in the future. I do understand the consequences of most of my actions. The things I do today, I do with a view to tomorrow. Naturally. Rather, it’s a case of wanting to invest in life, just life, instead of titles, status and power.
I write because, to me, writing is filled with life.
I dream of nothing
I dream of nothing, and that’s liberating. It’s the merit of my parents’ generation. I thank them while wondering what my own children, and perhaps their children, will want to thank me and my generation for.
Life is sustainable. Only life. Things are sustainable simply because they’re capable of sustaining life.
Perhaps I’ve reached a stage where I realize that my dreams of nothing are actually worth passing on. That’ll be my contribution. I’m fond of these dreams. They imply a sense of responsibility. But I can only pass them on by passing on what’s sustainable.
And what might that be, I wonder? Life is sustainable. Only life. Things are sustainable simply because they’re capable of sustaining life.
The reason I dream of nothing is because I realize that everything is connected. Nothing exists in its own right. Dreaming of nothing means protecting the genesis of everything: trees, grass, water, air, smiles, all the laughter and tears.
How can I pass on life? By continuing to dream of nothing while hitting out hard at everything that destroys a life worth dreaming about. Everything that works to halt a potential genesis.
I can only acknowledge life by—sadly—saying no to far too much. I do, for example, say no to drunken driving, to the cynicism of capitalism, to destructive growth, to stress and alcoholism, to egotism and hate. To war and violence. To a lack of empathy.
I can only safeguard life by producing life. It’s difficult, but I’m trying. It’s difficult because I detest egotism, and the world is overflowing with it.
Still, I’m hopeful. I owe it to my parents: hope. Is that not the best way of thanking them: protecting the life they granted me, by defending all living things in the world into which I was born?
So, for me to be able to continue dreaming about nothing, I need to increase my sense of gratitude. Quite honestly, this is possibly one aspect of life where I feel I don’t have much in common with contemporary attitudes. Gratitude.
Someone who dreams about a better version of himself or herself might start by protecting nature.
Alone, everyone is impotent
Sadly, there’s much egotism around. The idea is so remote from my parents’ generation, but I grew up with it. First, it was called individualism, and later self-realization, but the only way we can continue our lives is by dismantling it ourselves.
Humankind must set its sights beyond self-realization. That’s why I dream of nothing, as a method of protecting life. Call it life-actualization: possessing the ability to safeguard life that’s about to unfold and being able to pass life on. That’s the most beautiful gesture of all.
Deeds, not people, are immortal
This is a largely forgotten fact in the face of people’s pathetic self-love.
Word has it that nothing worth having is free. Discovering life and being able to pass it on to the next generation is hard work. Confirming life. Repeating what’s essentially worth repeating: the joy of life. Becoming generous on life’s conditions.
I think it was the sum total of all these thoughts that made me sentimental up there among the clouds, but sentimentality, per se, is lifeless. Instead, I wrote this piece.