It’s not exactly easy to get a clear perception of the outer world when you live surrounded by rice fields. Things that for you are very important (i.e. planting nine beans and watching them grow every day, check!) may not matter to the rest of the nearly seven billion people living on the planet and, vice versa, if you are not actively reading news you are not exactly bombarded by media. Isolation however has its upsides (if you don’t have suicidal tendencies…): it forces you to listen to yourself a lot more, to confront yourself every day. There’s no place to run to, no TV to turn on or no shopping mall to drown your thoughts into. You are there, your thoughts are there, and one way or another you have to deal with them.
This morning I woke up after a bad dream, I wanted to sleep a little more but I couldn’t and so I stayed there, lying in bed pretending not to see the light filtering from the gigantic windows of our bedroom, still lingering in my nightmare.
I got up and checked my mail, I had been shortlisted for a job I had been wanting for years. Perfect job, perfect place, perfect day. My joy lasted about five hours, until I spoke to a friend who told me that a mutual friend had been shortlisted for the same position. Now, between me and my close friends we call this girl Maleficient (yes, like Snow White’s witch, that’s how much we love her!) and I wasn’t exactly overjoyed to know that my destiny depended on my, but also on her, performance.
I was scared shitless and, considering that for this interview I literally have to cross the world, I also considered not going at all. But then I thought that the group of volunteers I used to work with, back in Italy, asked me to make a presentation on my experience as a volunteer. For about five years I volunteered in a cancer centre, initially my job was to spend an afternoon with the patients. Yes, my terms of reference were “spend an afternoon”. Despite the initial difficulties (I was nineteen and walked for the first time in a ward with 40 patients with cancer at different stages) it was a fantastic time during which I met wonderful and less wonderful people who, each one in a diffent way, changed my life.
Today though, I decided to take my mind off the interview by writing the presentation for my volunteer group, and the memories started flowing. Possibly due to my not-so-great mood, I recalled the bad times more that the good times and, by the end of the presentation, I realized that what I had initially thought of as “bad times” were, in fact, as good as others. The bad times concerned mostly the death of patients I had grown fond of over the time they had spent in hospital, and yet there is something I ‘ve learnt from each of them and that will make them, through me and those who will convey their stories, immortal.
My presentation turned up to be mostly based on the concept of fear. When I walked into the hospital for the first time I was scared and my fear grew as I saw other people being afraid. I thought there was nothing I could do about it. But I soon learnt that fear feeds on fear and walking into a room with a shaking voice and unsure steps doesn’t make the person in front of you trust you. They see you afraid and they grow more afraid. They grow more afraid and make you afraid.
What is a volunteer in a cancer center afraid of? Not being able to answer questions, mostly. In a hospital, moreso in an oncologic ward, questions are seldomly like “What’s the weather like today?” or “How did Juventus do last sunday?”, they tend to be a little more philosophical. And yeah, when someone asks you what dying feels like you do freak out (the first time I ran away) but then you learn to deal with the questions and with your patients’ fears. And when you give fear a face, a body, well, then your enemy is easier to fight.
Together with the people I met I learnt day by day to appreciate life and the small (and huge) things that come with it because we might not be here to enjoy them tomorrow.
Why do I write about it now? Because I am aware that today, in the greater picture, my fear is small, it’s about getting a job, which is indeed important but not as much as my life or that of those I care for. Today my fear has a name, a surname and a face.
The year during which I never said no has officially ended, but I keep the essence of it (never saying no, as a metaphore of never giving up) with me. Today I know that I have the weapons to fight this battle and possibly even win it.
If I do get the job, and end up in Vietnam, I dedicate my victory to all of those who taught me to sharpen my claws and fight.