His face is gaunt and he stares blankly ahead. Dragging his feet up the hill to his house, he is either frowning in discontent, looking bored, or being downright spiteful and aggressive. His bubbly anger boils just under the surface. He is 5. At home he has a room full of toys waiting for him. And yet, he has no joy. His mother has no time to play with him, nor any desire. She is bored, too. It’s been a long time since she has known true joy. It’s all routine to her. They drag their feet together, with long faces, as in a haze. They walk by neat houses and perfect little gardens. The people they meet along the way are the same as they are. Everybody smiles politely, but nobody is truly happy, nor truly sad. Well, perhaps a little sad. There is no excitement, no emotion. Each person inhabits their own individual bubble and bubbles do not touch anymore. Except when they burst out in anger.
The first thing they had to learn, the first thing Western society ever offered and demanded in return was self-constraint. No laughter, no horsing around, no joy. Society is a serious thing, you don’t fool around with that. You ask yourself everyday what society would like you to be like, and then you put on a mask and play that part until you lose yourself in it. Otherwise you don’t have any friends. The ones you have are not really your friends, don’t really care for you, wouldn’t lose one hour of sleep for you; the ones you have don’t know you, the real you, but it’s better than nothing. At least there’s someone to make small talk to, otherwise you would forget the sound of your own voice. Most people only talk about jobs and money. Most people behave like tin soldiers, their inside haunted by soulless shadows.
The less joy people have in their daily lives, the more compelled they feel to rejoice at special occasions. Marriages, baptisms become huge vanity trips of outlandish proportions, pomp and excess. Every couple of years, we go on an adventure, we do extreme sports, where we pay to get the brains scared out of us. We pay to put our lives in (controlled) danger, we pay for a little exhilaration and a rejuvenated self-esteem. For a few hours, we are alive. For a few hours, we forget our constraints and we get a whiff of “la joie de vivre“. Just a whiff, though, not too strong. Then we go back to dragging our feet. Towards our jobs, our perfect little houses, our serious money talk. If only the dead could talk! Perhaps they could wake us up. Some of us are deader than a grave.