We grow no matter what. We grow up, we grow old, we get wise or completely silly but we never stay the same. All our experiences are written in our cells. Some of them are visible… others not.
We meet a lot of people and most of those experiences change us forever. At any given moment our brain takes in new information. Most of it we don’t even remember.
I heard about an experiment done in a big city, I believe it was New York in Manhattan. Two people with different aspirations and background were asked to walk for a while on a street full of shops, bars, restaurants, etc. They had to walk and look around. Then they were asked what they saw. It was incredible to discover what they saw. It was the same street after all. Right? Well apparently for them the street wasn’t the same at all because what they’ve noticed was correlated to their subjective mind and how it was trained on a daily basis. One of them noticed a lot of restaurants, bars, appreciated the fact that there were places where they could buy ice cream and doughnuts, they also remembered seeing various street vendors with hot dogs and shops with antiques, clothes and such. The other person noticed that there were vegan restaurants, a space for yoga, another one for fitness and body training, a shop with fresh fruit juice, smoothies and other natural beverages, they appreciated finding a sports shop and training supplies. Basically they walked on the same street but saw a totally different space where their interests were reflected.
That made me ask myself what do I see when I walk on a certain street or boulevard. I always thought I always saw what there was. But having learned about this experiment that made me wonder about what was there versus what I saw there and what I thought that was there. How many times have I passed by a place and didn’t even notice that something other than the space was there? Maybe that garden for example wasn’t only a garden, maybe it was a garden with cats, or a garden where you can stop and purchase a cold drink in the summer, or the garden of a restaurant, or the garden of a painter… what lays there beneath the surface of my attention? Where do I put my attention?
For instance, I have a series of buildings that I pass by very often. For most people those buildings are just that: constructions with apartments where unknown people leave. Four levels with a handful of apartments per level, with windows watching the street below. Buildings that look like many others from the same street, being built at the same period with the same type of architecture, color, structure, etc. But what I see in those buildings is the difference between them and the rest of the others from the neighborhood: they have holes in them, from the bullets, from the 1989 Romanian Revolution that killed so many people. I see the struggle of history to remain alive in the collective memory, I see pain, sacrifice, imperfection, the passage of time…
I see silent witnesses of Bucharest’s history that are more faithful to the truth than any kind of monuments raised in the memory of those who have passed for their ideals of freedom, democracy, country. And I wonder… What did those people (long gone now) seen when they went on the streets delivering themselves to fate and paying the ultimate price? Did they see endless possibilities or dead ends? Did they see desperation or hope? What were their minds trained for?
So, yes, we grow, we grow up and grow old and most of what makes us, us, is what we train ourselves or are trained to notice. Most of the things we see are made by others just like us that are long gone but nevertheless are in a way still part of our lives and our mental construction. For instance we the people of Bucharest are trained to remember 1989. We are trained to notice our recent history and the ones that died in December 1989 left us with the traces of their collective existence that sometimes wakes up in us a sort of pride mixed in a little with sadness and regret but also with the essence of their struggles and their fight.
I somehow believe that the people of Bucharest still remember everything and every time they get out to manifest in the streets or simply take a walk they inevitably think of the reasons for which they are here and now alive and kicking. Because we can’t forget, we never forget in this place of memory, none of our struggles are pointless or stripped of meaning. We carry the burdens of the past, the memories, the desires, that fire that made our elders fight for more… and we breathe the same air even if it smells differently. All it takes is to look around and notice.