She smiled at me, her rosy cheeks instantly blooming red as the frosty morning air touched her face. Melbourne in winter can make even grown men hug themselves. She was wearing white and black crocodile shoes, a flowy gray scarf and a black winter coat. Her short black hair was cropped back, revealing a face that was unmissable. She was stunning. I was drawn to her, intrigued by the sureness of her steps and her confidence in apparel. What was she wearing? I smiled back at her. We were two strangers passing each other on our way to work on a wintery Friday morning. This happens all the time, strangers cross paths, being in the same place at the same time in moments that will never be duplicated again. Moments in time that slide into the past right before our eyes. Mornings are the best surveyors of these glimpses of time. Trains and buses are packed with bodies that unconsciously cling to one another for support. In peak time travel, when the train jerks there is often a body there to steady yourself against. And sometimes it is your body that acts as pillar for another. It is a strange state of affairs.
I thought about this as I passed the beautiful woman. I noticed the moment, breathed it in and then tucked it away, a precious pitstop to be revisited throughout the day.
The French have a word for moments like these, big or small, that take your breath away. Joie de vivre. The joy of living. There is no place where you can go to experience Joie de vivre unhinged and divorced from life itself. Nor is Joie de vivre something we can fake. It is too deep an expression to be susceptible to our knack for dressing up what is real or for our expertise in commodification and consumption. There is a simplicity in joie de vivre that suggests that perhaps it is not about the moments that happen to us but rather the capacity to see these moments.
When I drink anything, I have a tendency to cradle my cup. I love the feel of a hot drink seeping its heat through the porcelain and right into my fingers. We have an understanding, hot drinks and I, to share the warmth. I make my love known by savouring the heat and holding it close to me and it loves me back by investing all of itself into me.
Sometimes friends have seen me cuddling mugs and glasses and they have wondered what exciting drink I have this time. They ask, expecting some fantastical answer of expensive drinks sought from who knows where. I disappoint them every time:
“The way you are drinking that makes it seem like you are having something…special, something more than water.”
They lovingly berate me for my false impressions. I smile and roll my eyes, wondering what’s not to cherish about a cup of water?
But sometimes life plays us a difficult hand and nothing but getting through a day matters. In those moments, I still cradle my cups. The problem is I just don’t see that I’m doing it. I become blind to the moments. There is a penalty that comes with having a heart that lies too close to the surface. When it gets wounded, the skin cuts open and exposes the whole thing to the elements.
I think it has been 5 months since I felt human. I can’t tell you where I have been in that time because I hardly know myself. But I can tell you that sometimes I sit in the dark. Sometimes I sit in memories that never happened. They become more real to me than people rubbing shoulders with me at the grocery store.
For example, I remember my father not dying. This memory always comes to me when I feel helpless and life is full of nightmares. I remember life not taking this hard road. I also remember not being such a sensitive soul – people not scrapping my skin every time they come into contact with me, leaving me a little sore and a little full at the same time.
Don’t weep on buses. There must be a rule that says that. One that protects us from shocking each other with our sometimes unpredictable humanity. But I will weep on buses if I need to. Sometimes watching people pricks my core, it gathers all the stuff people carry on them and lands it on me – all the unspoken pain and sorrow. It finds me even when I’m minding my own business. And so I weep. I weep for humans. And I weep for myself. My mother says I should never assume people want or need the depth of care and consideration that comes naturally to me. For some, a weeping woman on a bus is the craziest thing in the world. It is a world out of balance.
Yet I’m seeing colour again. I haven’t seen colour in 5 months. I haven’t had the capacity to notice the Joie de vivre. I know because when I’m noticing it, everything comes alive. When I’m noticing it, I know that sometimes I even enjoy being squashed on trains. On the rare occasion when I stand next to a tall, good looking man who towers over me and smells like something masculine. I inhale him every time he shifts. Who keeps stealing glances at me and I, at him. We play ping pong with our eyes, silently appreciating what we will never know about the each other. The familiarity with which people on trains lean into each other is altogether puzzling and intoxicating. I notice that.
I think about this…this Joie de vivre as I pass the woman with the crocodile shoes, gray scarf and black coat. As I walk down the steps, I smile again at her choice of clothing. Would I wear that? How was she pulling that off? As I tug at my bag, drawing it closer to my body, I notice the gray sweater I’m wearing, the black boots, gray and brown scarf and the baby pink gloves. I laugh at myself. This is me. And I, too, am pulling it off. I am doing life, despite all the rocks and spears life has been hauling at me.
I’m becoming flesh again. I can feel again. Joie de vivre.