I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same. Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same. Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.
People throng through these streets. I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me. They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more. Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious. How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops. One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy. I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze. I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.
I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon. I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off, I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst. Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city. It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars. Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is. The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top. The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.
We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too. It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle. And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine. If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire. We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’. We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.
However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing. It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work. Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years. What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first. I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.
I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me! I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run. Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath. Simples.
I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome. Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along. It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.
I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done. It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years. Why should I change it?
But…. if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.
Another way back home.