I don’t believe I’ve ever thought, as a child or a young man, of the meaning of self-discovery. A libertus of the neighbourhood play, some sort of aristocrat among the children who loved reading, I didn’t need a self that was worth discovering. I relied on the mystery of discovering the world around me, my hands touching the hot walls of the red reality that we were living back then. School and then high school did not train us for the self unless the self became our way of introducing ourselves to the community. It was simple, you’ll say. Not at all. You couldn’t steal watermelons from the pile in the market. They’d tell your parents and it was worse than being taken away by the local policeman. You would have skipped school, especially on the first days of summer. Behind the blocks of flats, the patches of grass weren’t forbidden by the asphalt. We’d play games on the side of the roads around our building. A thing that they couldn’t do today. We have more cars than strips of asphalt. Suffocation by boredom was not an option. Everything was new. From the acacia flowers that we were hunting for their sweetness to the apricots ripening on the branches of the only apricot tree in the neighbourhood – which we devoured with our eyes and whose fruit we received as the Eucharist bread of chlorophyll itself, everything was ours. How can one be preoccupied by self-discovery in a universe that was almost a concentration camp? With already developed ideological tics? With jokes whispered at street corners which made us laugh so hard that they could hear us from beyond the railway tracks where we collected the caramels thrown by the foreigners from the Mitropa train? No. I don’t believe I was looking to discover myself, but merely trying to make sure there’s light in our children’s hearts.
Then came the personal concerns, somehow different from the struggles of my neighbours or classmates. We were growing. We each had our own tastes. Our own eyes stuck to the cornice of the sky. The times when we would bury the dead birds in the garden downstairs had passed. A cemetery of flights. We were allowed to witness the first funeral. Behind the blocks of flats. With the coffin placed, obscenely I’d say today, on top of the ping pong table where we’d crush the wind by the hours. A cheap coffin, painted with silver bronze which is still haunting my memories. I didn’t know him. He was from the new blocks of flats. We, those from the old blocks of flats, had out own caste. We would only go to the hinterland between the buildings for some grand fight. Now we were watching in astonishment. All I can remember from the service was the wave of incense rising in the heat of the day. The nasal singing of the priest. My parched mouth. Then the taste of a bun that reminded me for years of a watch band. That’s how it tasted. Bitter, of failed rain. Some sort of a surprise. Then for days I tried to discover the family of the deceased. It was late that I noticed the black clothes of the widow. All children had gotten their hands on some black ribbon and we’d wear it on our lapels, our track suit or even our t-shirts’ hem. Everybody asked us whether one of our classmates had died. We believed that that neighbour placed between those bronze-painted planks was one of ours. Then we heard a little owl hidden among the branches of the chestnut trees. And Mr. Ion died, who had raised me for a year, at noon, when mom or dad would come back from work to replace dad or mom at my safety control panel. They worked different shifts so that I won’t have to carry the house key around my neck. They weren’t concerned about me, they trusted me. They didn’t trust the bad guys. Mr. Ion was terribly smart. Even if, according to some, he hadn’t gone too much to school. He had books with letters and no pictures. He read to me from these books and he was the first to discover that I could read myself. He also had books with pictures. Just that he showed them to me secretly. He had books which didn’t have comrade Nicolae Ceaușescu on their first page but some young handsome man that looked like a prince. He was a Prince. He was even a King, he told me. I knew he was a good man and I wasn’t afraid. I wrote my first letter to Mr. Ion. I missed him and I scribbled a few words in my own language on a piece of paper. The other letters really didn’t matter. And for years I told him what I was doing. While walking towards the Șchei cemetery. I was starting to discover my own self. A self that had grown on the peaceful streets.
I think this way of raising us together with our parents turned our neighbours into a second family. Staircases and apartments which brought together people who were tired and sad and sometimes happy and noisy. Their children were like our brothers and our interests rarely collided. When I started reading I thought it was amazing. I was leaning on a book’s back like an axle of the sky. I was living the characters with emotion and taking turns in trying on their clothes, their gestures, their thoughts. My mother discovered that I was rewriting the stories from the book. My father would laugh quietly at my effort to go to school with swords and shields or with wooden pistols hidden in the pocket of my school jacket. My sister was wisely watching my crazy pranks. She would laugh encouragingly when they were true. When they’d cut off the power, we’d have the time of our lives. The flashlights would come out from the darkest corner of the house. Yes. A sort of laser weapons before having heard of lasers or Star Wars. There were searches, armed interventions. No one was German nor did we want to be the Russians. We were the Romanian army and many of my friends from the building who went on to military high schools had their first training right there. It was then that I discovered that part of one’s self that’s called vocation. And I waited to see it growing. Like an abscess, like a cataclysm of love.
We were watching the autumn fall hidden under the staircase entrances. Which didn’t have any intercom or code. But on the ground floor there was always a referee of our time. A hag that was constantly bothered by something. She’d scold us for a while, then she’d bring us cookies or give us water after some harder game. No one smoked. Nor did we swear or else we would have died of embarrassment. We didn’t do any cool stuff but this didn’t mean that we didn’t have a good time. A sort of good time that made us sleep peacefully. A sort of good time that wasn’t disturbed by exams or constraints to our childish nature. This was a state one abandoned, as a boy, when one was conscripted for the army. Only weddings took the girls from our side. I personally believe that we had no long term ambition, that’s why we were all alive. We’d float in our absurd and at the same time perfect worlds like rain in the core of the sun. Mornings were dry. Until some ball made itself heard hitting the pavement. Like a vesper. Like autumn rain. When winter came, first we’d breathe in the air ‘till we got bored. We’d play hockey with the fervour of any sports stolen from the TV. We’d always try to be the same team. That’s how we discovered the sense of communion. Of group movements.
It may seem odd but I haven’t read anything about social education, community construction or democracy until late, when I was at the university. I had experienced all these to the full by the mere fact that somewhere, when I was five years old, my folks had moved from the rented basement of a house into an apartment. A state apartment, like they used to say. Late, when I was 14, my father discovered the stamp of my grandfather who had been a constructions foreman on the living room bricks. The father he had lost when he was five. It was then that I learnt to tear down the plaster and look for the real meaning underneath. The stamp that marks the solidity of a space.
I am writing down these thoughts because I don’t believe there are real classes for self-discovery. There are just the days of our lives like some permanent exams. There are people like forgers in the heights of our expectations. If today’s world is full of depressions and failures, some of them, alas, imaginary, it’s because we no longer live our lives but rather try to do everything by the book. When I hear of some cultural event that’s named class of… or of… or of… I remember that it’s obvious that the neighbours didn’t die. The staircases of our buildings set us on the edge and the honks of our scooters make us anxious. We’re terribly bothered by the supreme good in which we live our expectations.
When I discovered that God Is, light was shed on all these feelings. And I discovered immortality as a value of one’s soul. The pursuit of one’s self is actually a self-pursuit in the brightness of Resurrection of God’s own existence. The rest is nothing but practice…