Just be yourself, my child
I’ve had one of the most memorable conversations in my life recently. It happened at a party while I was talking to a kindly 76-year old gentleman in a charcoal gray suit. He was of average height by Dutch standards, with strong shoulders, white hair and a gentle face. I remember he had a firm but soft voice and he exuded an air of authority about him.
I found out he was once a manager in a large fast moving consumer goods company. I asked him how it felt like to be in his age, pensioned off and retired. In my thoughts, I had presumed that he must miss running a huge corporation and making important decisions. After all, I’ve heard of a number of people who find it quite difficult transitioning to retirement.
With a glowing smile he replied, “these are the happiest times in my life!”
I was taken aback by his answer and so I asked him why. He told me the story of how he grew up in wartime so there was never any time to ponder about his situation or his life. Normalcy was to keep moving, keep going and get the work done. He never had time to be a child; his younger years were all about surviving. The painful memory of the war haunted him most of his life.
And now, with the past behind him, he can finally relax, without a care in the world. Just living each day doing what he wants to do, being who he is. No need to seek anyone’s approval and not scared anymore to say he’s a Jew. To him, it is the sweetest thing in the world.
I asked him, if there was one advice he would give to a young woman like me who is still trying to make something of herself and find her place under the sun, what would that be?
He looked far away and pensive. Speaking slowly, as if he were in a trance he said, “Listen to your thoughts, but above all to your heart. And listen to the truths that it whispers, who you are and what you really want to be, what you really want to do. And do that. Because you are lucky you never have to hide your identity. So speak your highest truth, be your highest self. You will know when you’ve found that which you are trying to seek, your body will be in sync and you will find the peace and oneness with the universe within your soul. There lies the fulfilment of happiness.”
And then he looked me in the eye and gave me the sweetest smile I haven’t seen for the longest time, a glimpse of an aching memory in a distant past in my life I didn’t know I was missing until that moment. Like a grandpa smiling down at his grandchild, he held my hand and said, “Listen to that one”, and made a tapping gesture at my heart.
“And just be yourself, my child.”