I wrote this in an attempt to share my feelings with the group I’ve shared an amazing experience with, in an event in my beloved city of Cluj-Napoca, Romania in January 2019.
This city is somehow always linked to personal transformation for me.
In this event I had a profound sense of freedom of expression that I never felt before to this level, so when the ending came and it was as fitting as you may realise while reading my lines below, I felt the need to fully open up to my new friends and let them into my soul as I was discovering it deeper thanks to them.
I now decided to embrace my vulnerability and put it on a public place for others to be able to read as well.
Why could I not stop crying from the moment I laid eyes on that beautiful poem by Cavafy, until I was the last to leave that circle? And why was I acting like a silly kid most of the time? The two may be surprisingly related. Read on if you’d like to hear the story.
It’s been about three decades since I first read Ithaka in its original form, the special type of Greek language that Cavafy would thrive in more than a century ago, and I immediately got hooked and saw myself in the poem, in the form that I considered ideal, that of an explorer of worlds and ideas.
You see, I always wanted to explore. I would always be fascinated with every new idea, piece of knowledge, skill, every new place and every new person that would come to my life or I’d drive my life towards. I constantly needed something new, otherwise I’d get bored. As a kid, if I couldn’t discover something new, I would draw it. And I grew up in a very lonely place that you’d have to get lost to find, so I would draw all the time. Exploration is my drug of choice. Which would explain why I act like I’m high all the time.
But then I left that place and started discovering the world, a world far more diverse and beautiful than any of the books I’d read or anything I’d drawn. I started discovering more tools, more forms of art and the most important of all, I started discovering the magic of human interaction, pretty much the source of all the other things I would discover inside or outside.
But beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and recognising it comes with a price. The more new things I’d try, the more chances I had to fail. And the more love I would get, the more pain I’d feel when losing it.
Every time someone hurt me and even more when I hurt someone; every heartbreak and every mistake; every time love would fade away, or a loved one passed away, unexpectedly or after a painful wait, a little piece of me would break. No matter if someone else would break me, or if I’d break myself to find myself by losing it first, the way I’d fix it was, naturally, by putting the broken pieces together.
Ironically, the glue that would hold the pieces together, like that of the sticky notes we used in this event, wouldn’t last long, and there I’d go, broken again, just when I thought I fixed it.
But the pieces that got glued there in the first place were new. I wouldn’t even know they existed until someone would bring them to me and I’d be happy to add one more piece in my collection, like tokens in a board game, and I’d glue it together with all the others in an ever growing structure that I had no idea what would look like when finished, save for the fact that I kept wanting more pieces, even if some of them would clearly not match aesthetically; but I really needed the “new”. The magic glue of human connection would work itself out I thought and I kept on adding pieces.
But why speak with metaphors when I can open up myself to you? Well, here’s just a few pieces that broke just when last year ended: the first working attempt in the city I just decided to move failed, leaving me with some debt; I broke up with the girlfriend I thought would bring me balance, just when I needed that balance the most; and a friend ten years younger than me lost his fight with leukaemia and passed away. These all happened more or less within the same month and gave me a lot to fix just when Christmas had arrived.
Luckily there was also some glue laying around, as I was really lucky to discover some very inspiring new friends just as I moved to Berlin, adding to the small list of people I could fully open up to a few more that I could finally meet often physically. And most of them would randomly happen to live in the same neighbourhood as well.
I moved to Berlin after three years of nomadic life, where I’d be changing my location every week, in an attempt to take my explorer’s spirit to its most extreme, often breaking myself faster than I could glue my pieces back together. But then again, that adventure came as a result of even more pieces breaking before that, when I’d be facing unemployment, poverty and even more failing attempts for studies, work, relationships and everything that comes with the realisation that you can’t control everything that comes to your life, but only how you react to it, and the odds are not in your favour the more you do, as it often means more chances to fail. When that reached a dead-end, I got fed up to the point of giving away all my belongings except from only what I could fit in a backpack, plus a few books, clothes and a guitar that I left at my parents, and just started travelling from event to event non-stop, hosted by friends or sleeping in cheap hostels in between, in an attempt to escape from what suppressed me and discover myself in the fastest pace of life I’d live until I needed another change of tune.
I would have never had the bravery to let go of everything and just throw myself into the wolf’s mouth if not for the support I was getting from an inspiring network of young people that felt like a growing family to me (that has mostly been AEGEE for me, as you could tell from my t-shirts). When I moved to Heraklion for studies in the year 2000 I would gather a lot of digital gadgets, cooking equipment, tools, CDs and whatever would look interesting for the moment that it did, even though it would be forgotten equally fast. As I was discovering life I would get less and less of them, but I’d still hoard.
In 2009 I had my first international youth work experience and it completely changed my life, so I started switching drastically more and more to that. In 2015, when my life reached a crisis, I realised that since I started being more involved in international youth work, I wouldn’t even open up the boxes I would move from house to house every year (cause, yes, I was changing houses every year as nothing would feel like home), so when I couldn’t take it any more it was a relatively easy decision to just ditch everything and start travelling non-stop. I was now investing almost exclusively in experiences. But I also just realised while writing these lines that, just as I was hoarding lifeless objects before understanding experiences mean more, I was hoarding experiences after that, without realising it’s the same attitude, albeit more meaningful, and it’s my own self I keep running away from.
I just finished counting the international events I’ve attended and our event would be number 163. But I made another realisation while counting. I left out many seemingly international events I’ve attended in Berlin in the past two months I live there, because, well… I now live there so I struggle to consider them international even though they’re held in a language other than my native one and involve people from several different nationalities. That’s new to me.
So, why did I cry? How is this event different than all the others? One certain answer is that it’s the people in it that made it different, so I thank you all for being who you are. Every event is special in that regard, because of the unique combination of people it brings together. I learned to measure time by the tears of happiness that come with each meaningful experience and you made this one worthy of quite a few such tears.
Another answer is that it was different to me because I am different, so the way I reacted to it was as different as I was when experiencing it; as much as I have changed to comprehend each stroke on its canvas. Ever since I left my lonely birthplace, I haven’t drawn until this event. I made some minor attempts scarcely, like some graphic facilitation in my practice as a trainer, or persuading myself to pick it up again momentarily for whatever reason. But I never had it come as a spontaneous natural reaction to what is happening around me, as I did in this event. It just felt like the most appropriate way to express myself without that being a conscious choice. It’s as if this event held some kind of key that unlocked a part of me I’ve forgotten. So I thank you again for that.
And why do I act so silly all the time? Well, I now know what pain feels like, enough to know how lucky I am to be alive every moment this happens to be true. And that’s something to celebrate. Everyone of you is a new treasure that has come to my life and if I’m acting like a clown to make you laugh, I do so out of my gratitude for the new broken pieces you offer me, together with the glue to fix them on the incoherent structure that I call with my name. So please forgive me for the times the little kid inside me has been too intrusive or annoying for you; it’s a little kid after all, and it took many years for it to break out of the artificial prison of societal norms the adults call growing up. The grown up exterior learned the hard way that the only barrier I should impose on that kid’s freedom is the freedom of another. And that sometimes takes more broken pieces to master, so thanks once again for yours. I also measure time by the lives I’m touching, from the tiniest smile that may come from a joke, to the most life-changing experience I’m part of.
It’s been a long long journey, but I made it. I read the poem again and realised I’ve become what I considered ideal as a kid; that explorer of worlds and ideas. It just doesn’t feel as ideal as I thought. But it was never meant to be perfect, as the destination is the journey itself. I’m capable of understanding what Cavafy really meant, not just linguistically as back then, but with emotions that come with living life and reacting to whatever it brings, wishing for that journey to go on for at least as long as there are companions to give it meaning. So thank you once again for joining me on my journey. Stay healthy and happy until we meet again my friends! Cause Ithaka is still far away and it’s going to be one hell of a ride.