Society is a funny thing. No matter how little we may think we care for it, public opinion rules much of our lives. We conform to what we believe our particular society requires of us in any specific set of circumstances. Even those of us who consider ourselves rebels, recycled hippies, Bohemians… most of us conform most of the time. It is just ‘the done thing’. Of course, there are circumstances when we do so out of a sense of common decency. Or simply good taste. Or manners… or concern for others… The basic ‘rules’ of human society are there, after all, to make it possible to live together in our homes, towns and cities.
We look askance as a society at those who break those rules. Either because they make us feel uncomfortable or perhaps because somewhere behind the façade we are a little jealous. And I’m not talking of the bigger things here… just the small things can affect us deeply, and we do not see what a mirror is held up before us.
I remember walking through York a good many years ago with my parents, my husband and his mother. My mother had always taken pride in her somewhat unconventional image. My mother-in-law had worked in a very conventional position with the European government for many years. Her wardrobe was wall to wall Chanel while my mother happily borrowed my clothes.
The streets of York are ancient and cobbled. The place is always full of tourists and visitors, and there is always music. On this particular day there was an accordionist. My husband, utterly careless of public opinion, saw it as too good an opportunity to miss and we waltzed in the street. Then he danced with his mother, eager to join us. My ‘unconventional’ mother had turned her back on these embarrassing proceedings and walked away.
Of course, my husband and his mother were French… you could almost hear the condescension…
A small thing, but I remember to this day what an eye-opener that was. How easily we learn to accept people by the surfaces they project. How easily we can fool ourselves into accepting our own social surface. How quickly we learn to bury our joy behind a mask of conformity so as not to stand out from the crowd.
There is so little sheer joy in the public face of society these days. Smile and say good morning to a stranger and half the time they will look at you as if you are slightly odd. Even odder if you choose to stand barefoot in a mountain stream or laugh at the rain alone on the high moors.
Yet do you remember how you laughed as a child in the street? How you walked on walls or ran for the sheer pleasure of movement, for exuberance? Did you roll down hills or kick through piles of leaves in autumn? Are you really that different from that child inside? I know I am not.
Perhaps the only time we see adults en masse remembering the child inside is when it snows. That first wakeful morning of deep glistening white when the roads are too bad to travel and we take time to don hats and scarves, dig out the sledge or build a snowman. Ostensibly for the children of course, but we all know why. There is something about that muffled silence that invites abandon and laughter. And snowball fights.
Is it so hard for us to step outside of the accepted mould and just Be in the moment?
Physically constrained so much of the time by the necessities of daily life we find it so hard to embrace simply living in our bodies with joy and enthusiasm… and they get old and tired soon enough without putting it off till tomorrow! Not that it should stop us. My beautiful and round grandmother wanted to learn to water ski in her 60’s. It was forbidden as it she would look ‘idiotic’ in a swimsuit. And that is so sad.
We tend to put areas of life into little boxes in the mind… compartmentalising things so that they can be dealt with according to their needs and ours. We even deal with them differently, bringing the professional face to the work related issues, the domestic one for home and family… and the public face and the private can be quite different. One aspect of ourselves deals with the mundane and another with that which we hold as personal or sacred and this creates an illusion of separation between them which becomes a stumbling block on many levels.
Why not, just for once, throw off the shackles of convention and be a child inside again…
just for a moment?
Come and dance with me in the streets….