When the going gets tough…

Isn’t it weird how, as youngsters, we pour toxins into our bodies that kill the good stuff inside us until at some point in life we start pouring toxins into our bodies that kill the bad stuff inside?
Nowt as queer as folk, I suppose.

Even weirder I find the phenomenon that people I used to regard as cheerful and rock-solid often seem to crumble in the face of disaster, while the ones that struck me as kind of surly and more or less bored with existence time and again seem to rise to the toughest challenges in life – such as disease or violence.

In wartime Europe [as in any war zone, I suspect] there were many accounts of heroism by individuals whom it was least expected from – and who often paid for their acts with their lives.
They were more than once the seemingly ‘lost souls’, the ones that were deemed useless by society or accused of having no purpose in life, the social outcasts – they showed courage and moral fibre when their fellow men and women most needed them. Fellow men and women who after the war, as if nothing had happened, returned to putting their faith in the men and women of the highest social ranks, who had hidden under their oak desks or behind their castle walls when push came to shove. ‘Fellow’ men and women that in some cases at least had the decency to erect a memorial in recognition of real nobility – the kind that counts, the kind that doesn’t necessarily meet the eye.
That is why, next time around when war breaks out, you will probably find me seeking help and shelter at the house… of the homeless and helpless.

When she told me she has breast cancer, I crumbled.
Countless times in the past I have tried to lift her spirits in order to make her overcome setbacks; countless times I have tried to convince her that life is beautiful but that it doesn’t come wrapped in a box with a ribbon around it – that victories without a fight have sold out since paradise’s lost; countless times I have pointed at the blue skies and as many times she has pointed at some snag – at the (in Dutch) proverbial ‘adder under the grass’.
And now all of a sudden she doesn’t even seem to notice the grass anymore, smiling at the blue skies that are smiling back at her: ‘No worries, I shall overcome!’
Now all of a sudden she is the seemingly endless source of comfort and support to relatives and friends – instead of the other way around as it’s supposed to be.
What is that? Where does that come from?

And – closer to home – why am I a complete and utter shambles?
Have I merely been paying lip service to optimism and resilience? Am I one of those ‘smooth talkers’ that get the girl or the job, but after that have run out of steam? Am I just a façade, no more than a theatre prop?

All of this goes to show how after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution we still allow ourselves to be fooled by appearances. We still judge a book by its cover. We do not stop to realise that another person may be more than ‘just a pretty face’. And if we do, we all too often consider it to be ‘the exception that proves the rule’ or ‘sheer chance’ – instead of admitting we were dead wrong. While we file our own gross mistakes under ‘slip of the pen’ or under ‘to err is human’.

Yes, indeed, there’s nowt as queer as folk.
[I stand corrected!]

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