Just like yourself

A few days ago has been the Women’s Equality Day. Nobody (or almost nobody) disputes today that women must have the same rights and opportunities as men and are equally capable of carrying out jobs and professions traditionally reserved to the male gender. At least in theory. There are many shadows when it comes to putting this into practice. Books, manuals, statistics, and the news, all of them soundly agree: the situation of women in our society is far from being equitable. We women know this all too well. We have endured it and our daily life brims with examples of inequality (and I am just talking about the developed countries: the situation of women in underdeveloped regions is something I cannot even start pondering here).

Personally, what I like most of the word equality is that it does not imply sameness. It does not mean that everything has to be exactly the same and be measured according to a fixed, immutable rule (something that horrifies me). It is the idea of equality that embraces diversity ensuring that there are the same opportunities for everyone.

Because men and women are different in the first place. And I like it this way. What should never happen is that the difference becomes a justification to give a poorer treatment to a collective of people. From the perspective that the affronts we have endured have given us, sometimes we women make a mistake: we pretend that we must be the same as men (instead of equal to them) in absolutely everything. For instance, historically it has been taken for granted that women are physically inferior to men. How do we measure this? When it comes to strength or velocity I have to agree men tend to be superior to us with a few commendable exceptions. However, there are other physical capabilities in which we outperform them, such as elasticity or flexibility. A quote pops into my mind from that delightful, amusing TV show, The golden girls: “Black people are not equal to us white people.” As her coffee companions look at her horrified she hastily adds: “Okay, name just one single white person who can dance like Michael Jackson.” I also think about all those women who faced so many difficulties to break through in a hostile, testosterone- filled professional environment; many of whom ended up reproducing the most aggressive, ambitious, competitive patterns (in the worst sense of these words) of the masculine behavior in their own leadership styles.

Men and women are different biologically. The question of whether our psychological differences happen by nature or as a consequence of education and social learning would start a debate that does not fit in this article, nor do I have enough knowledge to initiate it. By the way, men have to endure prejudice too. For instance, I have often heard that women’s emotional intelligence is far superior to men’s. In my very own life I can find plenty of examples that confirm this theory and at least as many that deny it. Men are not beyond suffering damage, either: many have had a hard time showing their tender, gentle nature or admitting (even to themselves) that their familiar vocation is bigger than their professional ambition.

While we wait for our society, firms, laws, and governments to solve this issue (or to not do it at all), whether you are a man or a woman, I would like to encourage you become an active participant, to find and pursue your own definition of equality: examine your life and identify where it is well balanced and where it needs a tweak; which tasks you do not mind doing on a regular basis and which ones make you feel frustrated; which parts of your life you are ready (even willing) to give up in order to achieve others. If it is your wish to stay home looking after your kids and you can afford it no one should ever judge you. You do not have to crave that professional promotion at all costs, either, if it is going to take up a valuable time you currently have and happily use for something else. And it is not at all humiliating to be ready to do more than others in a specific area as long as this is what you want. Personally, I do not even need to see similar numbers of men and women across all professions. Can’t we, men and women of the world, have different (neither better nor worse) interests? There are two conditions though:

  • There must not be any bias according to which girls already grow with the belief that they are not fit for (or should not consider) certain professions.
  • Any woman who wants to work in those fields must be entitled to do so with the same opportunities, and valued according to the same parameters, as her male colleagues.

The specific implementation of the ideas about equality in your daily life raises plenty of questions and your decisions on how to improve equality in your environment or how to act when it is threatened are only yours to make.

If you are a man reading this, how does this whole equality thing affect you? Maybe you have worked tons of extra hours because your company refused to replace a woman of your department who was enjoying her maternity leave? Maybe you never saw this extra effort recognized? Is there anything that you envy of women, anything you would love to enjoy too? Maybe being allowed to express your emotions more openly or having a wider range of options for your professional attire instead of being stuck with the ‘suit and tie’ set? Maybe you are more than ready to work shorter hours yourself to look after your family but you fear being frowned upon?

How about you, woman who works shorter hours to look after your family? Have you ever wanted to yell in anger when that male colleague who wastes his time at work got a promotion while you keep squeezing your days until the last drop and (to top it all) have given up a proportion of your salary? How many companies do still measure professional worth through hours and presence at the office instead of performance, attitude and valuable contributions? How many men are actually able to meet said standard of hours and presence only because their female partners reduce their salaries and working hours to look after their offspring while sadly coming to terms with the fact that their careers will not get far?

And you, childless woman who works full hours, have you ever found some kind of professional ceiling at some point, one that has never seemed to exist for your male counterparts? Have you ever had to face your manager’s expectations that you work longer and harder than others because ‘after all, you don’t have kids to take care of’?

I have thrown a lot of ideas and questions here, some of them inconvenient, and there could be so many more. I will not try to answer all of them nor am I trying to blame anyone: I am just trying to show that equality affects all of us and laying bare the complexity and multiplicity of factors and variables that participate in it. And all this without having even bothered to start analyzing the psychological elements (fear, mistrust, insecurities…) or cultural values (unequal standards for men and women in terms of beauty, ageing, sexual life…).

I will finish where I started. Equality has to be in rights and opportunities. The intention of equality is rooted in the will to embrace diversity, enrich one another and thus make a freer, fairer, equitable world. Equality protects our differences and ensures that our diverse natures can express their richness for the benefit of everyone.

After all, there is nothing more unfair than to treat everyone in the same way.


English transcript of mi blog for Womenalia, published September 30, 2017


Awarding a life

People like him exist to remind us that it is not just politicians, scientists, or humanitarian workers (category the latter to which he belongs without a doubt) who have the fate of the world in their hands. Artists do, too, and the wider their celebrity and their success, the bigger their responsibility for sharing their vision, their inspiration, and their example.

Art and activism meet in him to such a degree that it is impossible to determine where one ends and the other begins. It does not matter: Edward James Olmos does not understand his profession and his life except through a constant effort, determination and commitment.

In 2009, at the UN headquarters in New York City, he claimed that ‘there is only one race: the human race’ owning the main leit motiv of the acclaimed TV series Battlestar Galactica on which he was the lead star between 2003 and 2009. On it he gave life to Admiral Adama achieving such height of acting excellence that it makes the expression ‘give life’ more accurate than it ever was before. Last week, in the luxurious (and packed) salons of the Palace Hotel, downtown Madrid, he graced us with another one of his lines: ‘The future is one hundred per cent in our hands.’ And when he says so, with that voice and that gaze that compete with each other in depth, you just have to believe him.

Edward James Olmos has come to Madrid to receive the Honor Award on the IV Edition of the Platino Awards of Latin American Cinema. This recognition moves him to the core and his eyes get teary over and over again every time he expresses his gratitude. Both at the welcome photo call at Callao Plaza on the evening of Thursday, July 20th and during the press conference held in his honor the morning after, he answered the questions from the reporters and kindly welcomed those of us who approached him, compelled by our professional commitment to the coverage of the event as much as by the admiration towards his career and the respect for the values he represents.

Edwards James Olmos has that kind of charisma hard to describe but that you can recognize without a doubt when in its presence. When asked about what it takes for Latin American movies (and everything Latino) to achieve the recognition they deserve and get over the numerous prejudices existent in the US, his homeland, he tersely replies: ‘Patience.’ He says so with the calm, mocking inflection of those who have fought a thousand battles and keep hope alive because they have learned to postpone the reward: the tone of someone who has lived enough to know that dark times are just that. That you must always keep working for the things you believe in, for the necessary causes. That it is worth the effort even if you are not alive to see the outcome. That, sooner or later, truth shines and that history, even through setbacks, ups and downs, moves always forward.

His faith is unbreakable; his passion infectious; his idealism is no daydreaming: it buries its roots in reality, it works with both feet on the ground. It is down here that it finds its strength. Jaime Escalante crossed his path in 1988 and brought him (Jaime brought him as much has he brought Jaime) to the threshold of the Oscars. He did not get the figurine but he took over another role from his character in Stand and deliver: that of the great teachers. Education is, for Edward James Olmos, the tool to change the world, to end discrimination, to save lives. To the mission of spreading and promoting it he is tirelessly dedicated, body and soul.

When I talked with him at the welcome photo call, he said he felt good despite having landed in Madrid only three hours earlier. The morning after, however, at the beginning of the press conference he admitted a monster jet lag and joked about his age: ‘The 70 are the new 68.’ Little did it stop him from sharing his thoughts, experiences and sense of humor with us for more than an hour. When the press conference finished the audience beat incandescent, thick with that kind of energy that emerges from those people who inspire us, those trustworthy leaders that are such a rare species in our present lives. Those of us who have been lucky enough to listen to Edward James Olmos on other occasions already knew this would happen. It was no surprise, either, when so many reporters approached him to congratulate him personally and ask for selfies once the conference was over. He conceded with such gentleness and pleasure that you would have thought he himself was interested in those pics. Journalists, photographers and reporters are also fans, admirers… we are human. Humanity attracts us.

Edward James Olmos received his Platino Honor award last Saturday in a ceremony held in the Caja Mágica. His speech, which he gave overcoming the emotion that gripped his throat with the sheer force of his will (‘did you understand me?’ he asked me later, worried that his shaky voice might have blurred his words) was once again a lesson in strength, honesty and heart. A boost of energy, an invitation to shake off the excuses behind which we hide to avoid doing what we have to do. To avoid pursuing even those things we truly dream of. It is not for nothing that he is author of lines like ‘Do what you want to do even when you don’t feel like doing it’ and ‘if you fight you will be successful because success is getting the best you can get in what you love the most’. On Saturday I heard him say these words again, not during his speech but in some of the many interviews he granted to reporters from different media.

Among all the ideas he shared on the speech with which he received his award I choose this one: ‘Creativity knows no borders: it just requires opportunities.’ This powerful assertion summarizes the main energies running through his bloodstream and setting his life in motion: talent, diversity, dedication and equality of opportunities for everyone.

When I talked with him after the ceremony he passionately claimed that the Platino Award means more than the Oscar to him. This figurine is certainly the recognition of a life even more than of his art or his wide, varied and successful career. As I write this he has already started working on the new film directed by his son Michael: Windows of the World. A poignant story whose plot meets all the requirements to be something he would like to get involved in.

Movies, education, human rights, fight against prejudice and marginalization… When we ask him what has been his life’s main project he answers right away without an eye- blink: ‘My children.’ It is comforting: in the middle of the maelstrom Edward James Olmos stays well grounded.

Now that I think about it, I forgot to tell him something before he left. I am thus saying it here and now: all of us who have listened to him, who have found our lives inspired by his lessons, who have fallen in love with his roles and his characters are also, if only a little bit, his children.

Of molds and ceilings

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be among the press covering the IV Platino Awards of Latin American Cinema ceremony. These awards celebrate the Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American movie industry and promote our shared culture, language and history in a borderless, genuine, and cheerful brotherhood.

As directors, actors, actresses, editors, producers and other members of the Latino cinema family walked the red carpet before my ready camera in a glamourous parade my mind reflected about the presence of women in this industry, as well as the roles they are handed and given the chance to perform.

It has been stated repeatedly that the movie industry chastises women forcing them to appear always young, to keep an amazing look for decades while, at the same time, they often get relegated to secondary, stereotyped roles not likely to raise too many hackles. It has been declared that female presence in film will not get significantly better either in quantity or quality until the proportion of female directors does not take off from the ridiculously low level where it currently sits. If this is the reality, the Platino Awards give me hope.

It gives me hope to see women like Gracia Querejeta, quiet pioneer, solid presence when it comes to directing movies in Spain, walking the red carpet. She also makes me dream that those who have taken over from her, such as Icíar Bollaín or Isabel Coixet, will also receive this award one day.

It makes me proud to applaud the sublime Geraldine Chaplin or Marisa Paredes, showing off their age before the photographers with the kind of calm ease that exudes only from those who have nothing else to prove to anyone or to themselves.

I feel overwhelmed in the presence of Sonia Braga, who received the Best Actress in a Leading Role award wrapped in all her elegance, her stunning figure and her unsmoothed wrinkles that highlight her beauty with the lines of a face that is not ashamed of having lived.

The energy and indelible smile of the singer Lucrecia infects me and I feel comforted by the fact that a black woman with a fair amount of flesh over her bones and multicolor hair brightens up a red carpet shattering race, figure or styling stereotypes.

I too love all those tall, elegant, slender women in their night dresses, high heels and baroque hairstyles: Leticia Dolera’s, Elena Furiase’s, Amaya Salamanca’s or Clara Lago’s fresh, talented youth; Pastora Vega’s, Silvia Marsó’s or Emma Suárez’s (nominee but absent from the ceremony) splendid physical and interpretative maturity.

It is not written anywhere that being beautiful is a sin. It is just fair that we can show off our beauty without our intelligence or depth being questioned. Do not we love attractive women? Let us let them be, then. And let us not fool ourselves: quite often, our most cruel critics are not male.

When it comes to crushing stereotypes, she deserves her own paragraph. I confirm her face is just like it appears on the photos. And it is wonderful. Rossy de Palma is not pretty: she is beautiful. Because beauty, both in movies and in real life, is much more than just a perfect face; because character can shift our simple perception of a combination of traits. If you still doubt it, just look at her.

My heart swells with gratitude towards directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, awarded yet again last weekend. He has certainly dedicated his life to exploring all the facets of women and, along the way, he has taught us not to be ashamed of any of them: the mother, the daughter, the whore, the friend, the lover, the weirdo, the neighbor, the passionate, the tormented, the defeated, the lonely, the brave, the fighter. Young and mature, Spanish and Latin American, all of them great: women such as Carmen Maura, Penélope Cruz, Emma Suárez, Elena Anaya, Blanca Portillo, Leonor Watling, Cecilia Roth, or Marisa Paredes herself have all graced his camera. His movies are, more than anything else, a praise to female diversity and the subtlety of our language, codes, and emotions; an eccentric but genuine reconciliation with our very true nature.

Movies are probably the most important mirror of our current society as well as its biggest critical and reforming force. If there is a field where molds and preconceived roles must be shattered as an example for others to follow, it is in the movie industry without a doubt. Because, as the recipient of the Platino Honor Award Edward James Olmos said on his speech, ‘talent, imagination and creativity know no limits, no borders: they just need opportunities.’

The Platino award is a woman. The figurine, designed by Mariscal for the first edition, portraits a woman holding the world in her hands, offering it in praise, as if she herself was ready to fly. It is a stylish, beautiful, poetic image. The explicit wish of the founders of this event is to turn these awards into the Latino Oscars and I could not think of a better formula: he is Oscar, golden like the sun; she is Platino, the moon. And they do not fight each other: right on the contrary, both are participants.

Thus, the world gets balanced.

Premiar una vida

Las personas como él existen para recordarnos que no son sólo los políticos, los científicos o los trabajadores humanitarios (categoría ésta última a la cual él pertenece sin duda) quienes tienen en sus manos las riendas del mundo. También son los artistas, tanto más responsables de aportar su visión, su inspiración y su ejemplo cuanto mayores son su visibilidad y su éxito.

Arte y activismo se entremezclan de tal modo en su persona que es imposible determinar dónde termina uno y empieza el otro. Ni falta que hace: Edward James Olmos no entiende su profesión ni su vida si no es desde el esfuerzo constante, la dedicación y el compromiso.

En 2009 clamaba en la sede de Naciones Unidas en Nueva York que “no hay más que una sola raza: la raza humana”, haciendo suyo uno el principal leit motiv de la serie de televisión Battlestar Galactica, que él protagonizó entre 2003 y 2009. En ella dio vida al Almirante Adama, alcanzando un nivel de excelencia actoral que hace que nunca la expresión “dar vida” haya sido más precisa. La semana pasada, en los lujosos (y atestados) salones del Hotel Palace, en el centro de Madrid, nos regalaba otra de sus frases: “El futuro está al ciento por ciento en nuestras manos.” Y, cuando lo dice él, con esa voz y esa mirada que rivalizan en profundidad, tú, simplemente, te lo crees.

Edward James Olmos ha venido a Madrid a recoger el galardón de Honor en la Cuarta Edición de los Premios Platino de Cine Iberoamericano. Este reconocimiento le emociona y, por enésima vez, cuando lo agradece se le aguan los ojos. Tanto en el photocall de bienvenida en la Plaza de Callao el jueves 20 de julio por la noche como en la rueda de prensa celebrada en su honor al día siguiente, respondió las preguntas de los periodistas y atendió con amabilidad a todos cuantos nos acercamos a él, movidos tanto por nuestro compromiso profesional con la cobertura del evento como por la admiración hacia su trayectoria y el respeto por los valores que él representa.

Edward James Olmos tiene esa clase de carisma difícil de describir pero que uno reconoce sin lugar a confusión cuando se halla en su presencia. Preguntado por lo que hace falta para que el cine iberoamericano (y, en general, todo lo latino) alcance el reconocimiento que merece por encima de los abundantes prejuicios existentes en Estados Unidos, su tierra natal, él responde lacónico: “Paciencia.” Lo dice con el tono socarrón y sereno de quien ha librado mil batallas y mantiene viva la esperanza porque ha aprendido a posponer la recompensa: el tono del que ha vivido lo bastante para saber que las épocas oscuras son precisamente eso, épocas. Que uno debe, siempre, seguir trabajando por aquello en lo que cree, por las causas que lo merecen. Que vale la pena, incluso, aunque uno no viva para verlo. Que, antes o después, la verdad se impone y que la historia, aunque con reveses y altibajos, al final va siempre hacia delante.

Su fe es inquebrantable, su pasión contagiosa, su idealismo no se anda por las nubes: está arraigado en la realidad, trabaja con los pies en la tierra, y es aquí abajo donde halla su fuerza. Jaime Escalante se cruzó en su camino en 1988 y lo llevó (Jaime a él tanto como él a Jaime) a las puertas del Oscar. No obtuvo la estatuilla, pero de su papel en Stand and deliver recogió otro testigo: el de los grandes maestros. La educación es, para Edward James Olmos, la herramienta para cambiar el mundo, para acabar con la discriminación, para salvar vidas. A la misión de difundirla y promoverla se dedica en cuerpo y alma, infatigable.

Si cuando hablé con él en el photocall de bienvenida me comentó que se sentía bien a pesar de haber aterrizado en Madrid sólo tres horas antes, a la mañana siguiente, en el arranque de la rueda de prensa, admitía un monstruoso jet lag y bromeaba sobre su edad: “Los 70 son los nuevos 68.” Ello, sin embargo, no le impidió compartir con nosotros sus pensamientos, sus experiencias y su sentido del humor durante más de una hora. Al término de la rueda de prensa la audiencia latía incandescente, llena de esa clase de energía que emerge ante las personas que nos inspiran, ante esa clase de líderes íntegros que son una especie tan rara hoy en día. Quienes hemos tenido la suerte de escuchar a Edward James Olmos en ocasiones anteriores ya sabíamos que esto iba a ocurrir. Tampoco nos sorprendió ver cuántos reporteros se acercaron a él, concluido el acto, para felicitarlo a título personal y pedirle selfies, que él concedía con tanto gusto como si él mismo tuviera interés en esas fotos. Al fin y al cabo, los periodistas, los fotógrafos y los reporteros también somos fans, admiradores… somos humanos. La humanidad nos atrae.

El sábado, Edward James Olmos recogió su Premio Platino de Honor en una gala celebrada en la Caja Mágica. El discurso que pronunció, sobreponiéndose a base de voluntad a la emoción que atenazaba su garganta (“¿Se me entendía bien?”, me preguntó más tarde, preocupado por si el temblor de su voz había enturbiado sus palabras), volvió a ser una lección de fuerza, honestidad y corazón. Una inyección de energía, una sacudida a las excusas detrás de las cuales nos escondemos para no hacer lo que debemos. Para no hacer, incluso, aquello con lo que de verdad soñamos. No en vano él es autor de afirmaciones como “haz lo que sueñas con hacer incluso cuando no te apetece hacerlo” y “si peleas, siempre tendrás éxito, porque el éxito es llegar a ser lo mejor que puedes ser en aquello que más te importa.” El sábado le oí pronunciar estas frases de nuevo, no durante su discurso, pero sí en algunas de las entrevistas que concedió a los reporteros de las diferentes cadenas.

De entre todas las ideas que compartió al recoger su premio extraigo ésta: “La creatividad no conoce fronteras: sólo requiere de oportunidades.” Ésta potente afirmación reúne las distintas energías que alimentan su sangre y son el motor de su vida: talento, diversidad, dedicación e igualdad de oportunidades para todos.

Cuando hablé con él después de la gala me aseguró que el Premio Platino significa para él mucho más que el Oscar. Esta estatuilla es, sin duda, un reconocimiento a su vida tanto o más que a su arte o a su extensa, variada y exitosa carrera. Mientras escribo estas líneas, él ya ha comenzado a trabajar con su hijo Michael en la nueva cinta que éste va a dirigir: Windows of the World. Una historia sobrecogedora cuyo argumento cumple todos los requisitos para ser algo en lo que él querría participar.

Cine, educación, derechos humanos, lucha contra los prejuicios y la marginación… Cuando le preguntamos cuál considera que ha sido el principal proyecto de su vida, responde de inmediato y sin pestañear: “Mis hijos.” Te sientes reconfortado: en medio de la vorágine, Edward James Olmos no ha perdido la toma de tierra.

Ahora que lo pienso, antes de despedirme de él se me pasó decirle algo que, por eso, digo aquí y ahora: todos los que le hemos escuchado alguna vez, los que hemos visto nuestras vidas inspiradas por sus enseñanzas o nos hemos enamorado de sus papeles y sus personajes somos, un poco, también sus hijos.

Across the stars

Writing about Bill Adama and Laura Roslin does not come easy to me. As a matter of fact, I even fear it. I fear it with that kind of distress and frustration that takes over you when you are not sure you will be able to convey all the extent of the meaning of something you deem essential to define yourself, the kind of heart-wrenching fear that grips you at the prospect of not being understood for feelings, that have become a part of your own deepest core.

I fear them. I fear them, because I love them and the things they make me do; the things they make me feel are intense and scary. They grab my neck and make me write about them. They whisper words, suggestions in my ears in real- life situations; I measure my reactions, my decisions against their ethics; I examine myself under the light of their lives. They warm my heart, and they keep me emotionally open. I overcome obstacles in my life with just them in mind. I find words for my emotions because they presented them to me like a mirror. I set goals for myself and change my attitudes and behavior based on what they have taught me.

They are fictional. Yeah, okay. Just don’t say those words aloud in front of me ever again. Don’t you even dare to think them. You know better than to piss me off. Or maybe… maybe yes, say them, because it does not matter anyway. They might be fictional (I am still not convinced about it), but they are also beautiful and the world needs beauty. It does not matter, because sometimes we can survive life and come back into ourselves again only in our imagination. And in our lives, it is us who decide what is or is not real. And if someone changes your life for the better, if they kick your ass and get your numb heart in gear and start a flood of emotions in your gut that you never thought possible, does it really matter if they are real or not? To you, they are, because your feelings are, your emotions are, and your renewed life is their testimony.

Am I exaggerating? Not one tiny bit.

But I digress. This text is not meant to be about me, but about them. From wherever they are buried, in this wonderful planet that we human beings have been given, I hope they can hear me because they deserve this.

Laura Roslin and Bill Adama are the leading characters of Battlestar Galactica, a SyFy (former SciFi) series which aired in the US between 2004 and 2009. BSG (as it is referred to by its fans) is undeniably an ensemble cast show, where secondary characters get their own fine arcs while main ones blend naturally with the action and the storylines, and share a fair amount of screen time with the rest. However, Adama and Roslin still outstand for a number of reasons that go far beyond the series creator’s intention (we have Ron D. Moore to thank for this) to write them leading scripts.

First and foremost, they are leaders. Leaders by accident, not by choice, in the worst of all the circumstances imaginable. Their leadership is based on values, not political or personal interests; on struggling to tell right from wrong, not on pre-chosen left or right wings or on maneuvers destined to keep the power; on the greater good, not on the selfish needs of a selected few; or on setting an example and the highest standards for their own actions. They are ready to sacrifice themselves (and do we miss this kind of leaders in our world today!).

Bill Adama is the stern military man, used to ordering his crew around, caring for each and every one of them more than he is ready to admit to himself. He is looked up to as a father figure by everyone except for his own son, who cannot bring himself to forgive him for being an absent father and leave him and his younger brother Zak at the mercy of a mentally sick and booze-addicted mother. Lee cannot forgive him either for drawing both of his sons into the military by the sheer force of the inspiration he casts over them like a spell despite themselves (just as he does over all of his subordinates, too) and thus indirectly causing the death of his brother in a flight accident. Lee blames his father, especially, for making him want to be like him as a way to earn his father’s love, which Bill is certainly not gifted at expressing. A lot to overcome.

We are introduced to Laura Roslin as a former school teacher turned into Secretary of Education: a discreet, slightly shy second-line politician, close enough to the president (and attractive enough too) to cast some influence over him, but also sort of trapped in his net (both emotionally and politically involved in it) and quietly struggling to break through, to reveal her inner strength and to let her true self shine. The fact that she has just been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer really does not seem to help her case and her fight.

When the colonies are nuked by the cylons (robots created by men in the past, that come back to destroy their ‘parents’) and the scarce remains of humanity are forced to fly away across the universe, Roslin becomes the president by means of the line of succession: she gets propelled into the office and into an overwhelming responsibility, which you feel inclined to swear is the last thing she needs at this point of her life. Her trembling hands and quivering voice as she swears in confirm our impression.

Adama and Roslin butt heads from the very beginning: even before the attacks actually happen, she visits Adama’s ship, Galactica, with the purpose of decommissioning it. Saying their first exchange is tense would be an understatement. When she becomes the president, they get forced to work together. They set limits, boundaries, and rules to the game they are going to have to play. They compromise. And they have a hard time keeping all of this together: every time they meet to discuss an issue you can quite literally see his frustration at the naïve school teacher in front of him, who unfortunately appears to be also quite determined and stubborn, and maybe even very smart. You can read in her face she is holding back her anger at the harsh remarks and short-sighted strategies of the obnoxious Commander.

The fact that the writers and creators choose (and dare) to place Roslin, a woman, in the highest power position available adds complexity and richness to her arc and to the entire show, by presenting us with a situation we are far from being used to.

As she starts to get her bearings in the turbulent waters of the President’s office and he starts to figure out she might deserve more credit that he had initially granted her, they begin to thread a fascinating relationship: sometimes in agreement, sometimes at odds, sometimes mistrusting each other and, eventually, finding common ground more naturally than you would expect; their exchanges speak volumes about their commitment to their mission. They might not agree about the means most of the time, but they feel equally responsible, and they are equally determined to lead what is left of the human species to safety and salvation, to a new home.

The fact that their ultimate goal is genuinely the same and a deeply ethical one is, to me, one of the keys to the development of their relationship. It is true that there are still a few ups and quite a lot of downs before we see them forgive each other and themselves, coming to terms with the situation and agreeing to start from scratch: now, yes, as a truly united front. Among the aforementioned downs we have Roslin’s drug-induced visions, Adama putting her in the brig just to get shot in the chest mere moments later, the martial law declaration, and Roslin pursuing her religion-rooted mission and thus splitting the fleet.

Exploring the process and the motives that lead them to this turning point would take quite a lot of analysis; let’s just sum it up in a few facts: Adama’s realization that keeping the fleet (the family) together is more important than being right and offering Roslin his forgiveness, gratitude, respect and unconditional support represent the turning point. You can also tell his admiration for her grows to the point of perplexity the moment he learns she has terminal cancer (although he never voices such thoughts). Finally, after days trekking across the rainy forests of Kobol, they open the Tomb of Athena and, for a few miraculous seconds, they stand on the surface of their promised land, Earth. Laura’s mission has given her purpose and drive, as her life slowly fades, and now the facts prove her right on her pursuit.

Adama and Roslin’s relationship gradually shifts and deepens and it is now that its development truly becomes fascinating to watch. Their trust in each other grows and their team work proves effective and fruitful on more and more occasions. As they become partners and then allies and then friends without them even noticing it (as organically as it would happen in real life), their well-defined previous roles get mixed up and the once clear borders between their psychologies and the keys to their actions become blurred. If the start of the series got us used to seeing Roslin as a vulnerable-looking, warm, caring, even motherly figure to the fleet in a very ‘school teacher way’, leaving the harshness, the rudeness, the anger and the tied frown almost entirely to Adama, their roles get reversed more and more often. While she gets rid of undesired political adversaries, with maneuvers worthy of the most refined political strategy manuals, and comes as far as to advise assassination, he is eager to show his crew’s frailest, most humane side for a journalist’s report and slowly finds ways to get closer to his son. Far from feeling out of character to any of them, this evolution provides them with the kind of layers of depth, unexpectedness, richness and contradiction you find in real, living human beings as you are allowed to scratch their surface and progressively get to know them better.

Their friendship is forged, their alliance solid… Once their trust and the support they have in each other can finally be taken for granted under no risk of making a mistake, the way Adama and Roslin balance, reinforce, and counteract each other’s flaws, emotions, decisions and actions becomes a delight for the eyes, the mind, and the heart. She is the greater picture, he is the detail. She is the fleet, he is the individual. She is the one ready to sacrifice anything for the survival of humanity; he is the one making sure humanity stays worthy of survival. She is the one willing to sell as much as her own soul if that buys the fleet a future, if that is what she thinks her mission asks from her; he is the one who will not let that happen. She keeps him sharp; he keeps her grounded. She makes sure he remains capable of paying a high personal price when it is required; he is the one watching the emotional cost closely so that they don’t harden their hearts too much and lose themselves in the process. Both of them carry heavy burdens in their hearts. And slowly, naturally, as it is bound to happen between good- hearted, strong-willed people thrust into positions of power, which leave them lonely, with only the other to share those concerns with, with just the other to listen to their worries and to understand their regrets, they start caring for one another and start looking after each other as they lead and protect the fleet.

As Roslin’s health quickly deteriorates and her death morphs from a distant threat into something imminent, we are given the first unmistakable hints that their feelings for each other run much deeper than any of them is ready to acknowledge. Adama’s tender kiss to Roslin as she promotes him to Admiral represents one of those moments of lucid acting instinct. Brilliantly improvised by Edward James Olmos in the middle of the emotional intensity that the script asks from this scene, it comes out as unexpected to the writers and directors as to Mary McDonnell herself, who plays along beautifully nevertheless, thus completing her part of this poignant scene (none of the subsequent takes resulted as good as the original improvised one which, in the end, made it to the final cut). For the viewers, it is a heartbreaking joy to see this solitary, brave, fragile, ailing woman happy for a second, receiving a proof of love when she has literally nothing left to give or to expect from life, and this military man, all hard shell and soft core, carried away by his own feelings despite being painfully aware (or maybe because of it) that he is going to lose her very soon.

When Roslin’s cancer is sent in remission by a last-minute unexpected cure (to those who have not watched BSG I promise this plays out far better than it sounds) and she remains in the office, she and Adama resume their previous professional relationship. The personal one is carefully navigated, yet it impregnates all of their exchanges: those unspoken things, those unanswered questions, those possibilities they never counted on having given the prospect of her impending death, can now be found in the glint in their eyes, their renewed partnership, their unconditional support for one another, the sidelong glances, the easy, companionable smiles. That is about as far as they can go given their positions, their responsibilities, and their emotionally cautious, reserved natures. Their feelings for each other are far riskier now that she is no longer dying; their personal relationship is thus left pending of a renewed meaning.

Up to this point we have seen them cope with devastation, the decision to blow off a ship potentially full of fellow humans, enemy armies, lack of basic resources, exhaustion, military authoritarianism, and sickness. Now we see them deal with terrorism, the death of their loved ones, black markets, the banning of abortion, the hijack of a baby girl, all before an election which Roslin loses and tries to rig, not because she is selfishly craving the power, but because this is what she believes she needs to do for the greater good, even if she will have to live with that weight in her conscience. Once again, Adama will not let her get away with it. We do what is right, for the right reasons, using the right means. Even in this situation, we can’t do no matter what. And your soul is too high a price to pay to buy humanity’s survival. This is basically what he says to a defeated, broken Roslin who is trapped between her deeply-rooted belief in democracy ethics and her refusal to give up the fight.

She is convinced that the new president’s decisions will only lead them to disaster. Once again, the facts prove her right. But, in the meantime, we get to see her easily falling back into civilian life and resuming her former school teacher profession, as well as allowing herself to enjoy life a little bit, be more mindful of the present moment. Relegated from the presidential duties, she is just one more woman now, and she is more joyfully eager to pursue her romantic relationship with Adama than she ever was before. Their scenes together are tender and subtle, seductive and funny, revealing rather than showing. They are relaxed, easily enjoying one another’s company, letting their body language do the talking: a talking that speaks volumes. You feel inclined to think they might actually be up to more than you get to see, but the camera respects their privacy.

It is not without great pleasure that we attend to the development of this romance between two middle-aged people, something the current fictional TV worlds are not exactly brimming with, as if the experience of love had to be reserved for the younger ones only. Adama and Roslin’s relationship unfolds in a very organic, realistic way. Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos’ performances are rich, nuanced, easy-flowing and magnificent. Not just in terms of the romance but in each and every one of the situations their characters are presented with. There is not one single second throughout the series where their incarnation of Adama and Roslin results in hardly believable, superficial, simple, or not living up to the highest standards. They truly infuse life into the characters; they turn them into flesh and bone. A treat. First-class acting.

After the mess of the previous presidential term (I will not provide details so as not to include any more spoilers than strictly necessary) Roslin swears in as the president again. We could not expect otherwise. She and Adama immediately roll up their sleeves and get down to the hard work of leading the fleet together once again. The upcoming months will entail challenges such as reconciliation throughout the fleet after a war period; epidemic disease, genocide, and torture. Their personal dreams and expectations are thus set aside once more. You can feel them hanging in the air, their glances and gestures thick with meaning, full of affection and a mutual attraction they cannot act upon. In the genuineness so characteristic of their relationship, we don’t see them struggling or frustrated. They don’t seem to have a hard time accepting their fate. We see them embrace it and lean on one another, grateful for each other’s presence and support and for the chance to be themselves around the other. It is with the same sincerity that they gradually acknowledge their own and each other’s feelings, providing care, thoughtfulness and affection without treading upon any inconvenient line.

This far into the series, it has already become obvious to any viewer that Adama and Roslin (pretty much as all the other characters in the show) are far from perfect. They have a past containing not just happiness and success, but also a fair lot of hurtful experiences and reproachable actions, certainly not the type of actions any of us would be proud of. They make hard decisions with dark consequences on a daily basis and struggle to find ways to come to terms with it. They call each other out on their mistakes; and are often called out on them, or get figuratively kicked in the ass by other characters (Dee, Athena, Chief, Lee are the first to pop in my mind). Even in their positions of power, they don’t always manage to achieve their goals. They lose their minds and their lucidity flies out of the airlock in certain situations because, yes, they have their limits, too. They have a temper and are not afraid of using it, even with each other. They can be ruthless, also towards one another; even more so when they feel lost, weak, sad, when reality is too much for them to bear. They get cheated on. They are complex, contradictory. They hold regrets for the consequences of rightly made decisions and try not to navel-gaze much regarding the wrong ones. They think more than twice before opening their hearts and souls and they are reluctant to let others get into their privacy. They protect themselves, build walls and have a hard time letting them crumble. The ability they develop to see right through each other and accept what they see is both a curse and a blessing to both of them. It is scary, because it leaves their souls naked to the other, but it is also what ultimately ends their loneliness. Their humanity is compelling in its frailty, in their determination to live up to whatever life requires from them and to keep trying, to keep caring, to never, ever give up and to stay morally grounded no matter what.

As the series progresses into its fourth and final season we get to see both characters reach the summit of their arcs and, simultaneously, we are rewarded with the very best of McDonnell and Olmos’ performances. Roslin suffers a relapse in her cancer, something that plays a relevant role in the subtle way they let themselves drift towards each other. They might not be crossing any lines yet, but they are certainly turning them into blurry, barely-there threads. Bill gets involved at a very personal level: no longer caring to hide his feelings, he reads to Laura during her treatments, helps her endure them, and welcomes her in his quarters as she moves in with him under the plausible excuse of having easier access to the medical attention she requires. They observe propriety but they seem clearly done pretending with each other. They seldom mention or wonder about the nature of their relationship, they certainly don’t act upon their feelings, yet these feelings are the subtext for most of their interactions, especially when they are alone with each other.

If the cancer, as well as the natural progression of their affection for each other, draws them towards one another, we can also see Laura withdrawing, shutting her feelings down, closing emotionally. The awareness that she might not have much time left operates in opposite directions: on the one side it makes Bill more eager to show his feelings, which he does on several occasions through very well selected words from a book he reads to her, a few lines thick with meaning, which allows him express what –out of either caution or difficulty to find his own words- he could not say aloud otherwise. We certainly see them more willing to share their time, their burdens, their intimate thoughts; to enjoy one another’s company. On the other side, though, Laura seems determined to stay focused on her mission for as long as she can without letting anything (or anyone) else interfere. Her disease and the treatments are giving her hell and the feeling that she is running out of time once again makes her reluctant to open up her heart, to let love in. If she allows herself to get softer, it might be just too much for her to take. Thus, she clenches her jaw and fights on. It is her own death that she is facing and she has a hard time wrapping her mind and heart around her tragic fate, as she copes with the side effects of the treatments and the fleet’s business. She becomes harsh, ruthless. She seems sad and lost. Once a strong, focused and resolute woman and president, now there are moments when she can barely tell right from wrong anymore. She loses her wit, her smile along with her hair. Mary McDonnell’s stunning performance accentuates her distress, her fear and her sorrow to a point where we can feel it in our bones.

All this comes to a turning point when she ends up being an accidental cylon hostage in the middle of a mission. The basestar she is visiting in a desperate search for answers to the nightmares that populate her dreams suddenly jumps and disappears with her in its belly. Bill agonizes over her disappearance and, when the decision is made that they cannot wait any longer for the basestar to jump back to their coordinates and that they need to keep searching for Earth, he cannot bring himself to do it. He resigns from his post, stays back and waits for her. The anguish is palpable in the Admiral’s contained expression but it is not until his own son confronts him that we hear him say the words: he cannot live without her. She is his sine qua non.

Simultaneously, Laura’s mercilessness reaches a peak aboard the basestar: we see her resolved on letting her biggest enemy, Gaius Baltar, bleed to death when she learns he was involved in the cylon attacks, which destroyed the colonies at the beginning of the series, and when he even has the nerve to suggest God loves him and has forgiven him nevertheless. Through a series of visions where she is confronted with her own death and its impact on the people that love her most, she finally comes to remember something she was in the brink of forgetting: that life and survival mean nothing without love and that this truth applies to herself in the first place. She needs to let love in. We gradually see her finding the light within her heart, allowing herself to get softer, to feel true, tangible emotions for the people who have come to mean so much to her. Among those people, she surrenders to the realization that there is one outstanding presence, one pillar, one love she cannot and does not want to walk away from anymore: Bill Adama. She stops Baltar’s bleeding, saves his life, and earns the ownership of her heart and emotions (her full compassionate humanity) back in the process.

Roslin and Adama have a poignant reunion aboard the basestar. Once more, it is the amazing performances that express everything the few scripted words are meant for. Choked whispers, shy smiles; emotions barely held back in the way we have already grown accustomed to; watery eyes giving everything away. Their whole interaction melts our hearts. Tenderness exudes every take without resulting too affected or overacted. This is a mature love performed by mature actors. And it shows. Her ‘I love you’ (at last) whispered into his ear like a secret only for him to hear is met with him shutting his eyes with force against the flood of emotion that washes over him. His ‘About time’ is the perfect reply which conveys everything that needs to be said in just two words: I know, I have known all along, I love you too, I was waiting for you, thank you. To Bill and Laura, speaking in half-words, trying to keep everyone else oblivious to their feelings for each other, comes out naturally from habit given their positions and the inconvenience to get romantically involved, as much as from their reserved, private personalities. If anything, the economy of words makes the whole thing all the more intense, poignant, and believable. It feels just right. At last, emotion takes over: Bill and Laura wrap their arms around each other in a powerful, tear-jerking embrace. We see her cling to him and cry, letting everything out at last, literally melting into him, trusting him to hold her up. The last take does not let us see his face but I personally believe he sheds a few tears, too. Not even the Admiral of the fleet can hold back when he no longer needs to do so, when he has just heard the woman he loves say she loves him back (after getting so close to losing her) and there is absolutely no one around to object to their display. During the series we have heard him say ‘I love you’ in many different ways: ‘it is good to see you’, ‘that’s a nice color on you’, ‘you made me believe’, ‘missed you’. He is the master of saying it all without saying the actual words and we forgive him: it is part of his charm, and emotion spills out of his eyes, his expressions and his actions all the time anyway. As a matter of fact, at this point in the story he is the gentlest, most emotional member of the couple without a doubt.

In the second half of the fourth and final season we see Bill and Laura fall from the ecstatic heights of having confessed their love to each other and found Earth to the most terrible grief, disappointment and loss of hope when the planet turns out to be an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. Laura lets herself fall to the floor (literally), burning down to ashes what is left of her faith (also literally), drowning in regrets and guilt for having pursued the wrong path, losing thousands of lives along the way. The mission that gave her purpose, that infused meaning to her pain and her sickness, is a blatant lie. It is dust. Bill, on his part, clings to the bottle and tries to provoke his best friend and cylon Saul into putting a bullet in his head to end his suffering.

Defeat, desperation, suicide, exhaustion, lack of purpose, of meaning, of direction. All these painful emotions mark a new turning point in at least two different ways.

On the one side, Laura’s priorities shift abruptly. If she needs to keep living, if there is something left in her life worth fighting for, it certainly has nothing to do anymore with any noble mission or the search for an inhabitable planet with a more than unlikely outcome. She is done with the presidency; she is done with her role as dying leader (that she had embraced as early as season 1 in accordance to the Book of Pythia, their sacred scriptures); she is done with the endless demands of the Quorum and the fleet; she is done with her treatments that buy her time at the expense of draining her energy and numbing her soul. If Bill manages to recover and gets ready to resume the search from the same point where they had left it (after allowing himself to drown in both sorrow and booze for a while), for Laura there is no turning back. From now on and for whatever time she has left she is going to live on her own terms. She needs to push Bill a little bit, to shake him to make him realize it, but eventually he surrenders: it is time for them to live, here and now. They deserve it; they need it. As delightful as it is for the viewers to see that (now, yes, without a doubt) they have consummated their love at the physical level, at this point it almost seems a sweet add-on which might not be essential. The point of the whole Adama/ Roslin story is not that they end up in bed (or that we get to actually see it): they have already spent years making love (of the truest, deepest, most mature kind) with their glances, their hands, their ever-present affection for each other, their acceptance and forgiveness of each other’s weaknesses and flaws. The physical relationship might be the next natural step in a slow-burn love story such as this one and it is certainly refreshing to get to witness it in that, once again, there is no taboo in showing how mature people are still sexually active (and judging by their expressions, in a very satisfying way). All of it is organic, raw, naked and so very tender. However, there is so much more to Adama and Roslin than just that.

On the other side, the situation marks a point of no return with regard to the fleet. Morale has gone out of the airlock and, pretty much as it often happens in real life, frustration and disappointment quickly become rebellion. Laura and Bill’s well-deserved downtime is sharply interrupted when a mutiny outbursts in Galactica. Forced back into their power positions in the middle of a life-or-death situation, we see them rise with resolution and take charge once again. Their lives (and those of many others) are at stake in a nightmarish scenario where you can no longer tell who your enemy is. Humans pick sides (either with the rebels or with the defenders); cylons mostly align with the defenders (interestingly enough; but exploring the depth and the humanism in BSG, fascinating and mind-blowing as it is, is not the point of this article).

Once more, Roslin and Adama, McDonnell and Olmos, leave us jaw-dropped. In the relatively short screen time they get during this arc (the fast-paced action is supported by almost all the characters still available) we see them experience domesticity, realization, determination, anger, passion, worry, wrath, despair, defeat, relief. From the greatest display of strength to the most heartbreaking vulnerability, they cover the entire ample range of emotions in-between leaving us stunned, exhausted, and moved to our very core.

At this point in the series, there is not much left when it comes to Roslin and Adama. In the remaining episodes we get to see Laura’s health quickly declining and Bill refusing to believe it, seeking refuge in the bottle whenever the prospect of both Laura’s and Galactica’s demises becomes unbearable. If the scenes where Bill is broken do not feel gut-wrenching to you, you probably need to have your heart checked, because Edward James Olmos’ incarnation of Bill’s hopelessness is agonizing to say the least. Laura’s arc reaches its summit (as, simultaneously, Mary McDonnell breaks all the acting ceilings yet one more time) in the poignant, heart-wrenching scene where she explains to Bill she has found home with him after searching for it her whole life. Home is not a physical space, a house, or a planet: home is where your heart belongs. So close to crossing the threshold to the afterlife, she loves and is loved. She is at peace at last.

Laura dies. Laura dies soon after they arrive at Earth (our Earth, the true Earth finally) and it is okay, and it has to be this way, because saving her again would be cheating on the viewers, betraying the realistic tone of the entire series, failing to comply with the prophecy, denying Laura’s arc a meaningful, satisfying completion, and maybe even indirectly insulting all the cancer patients around the world (all of us are painfully aware of the many lives this disease takes still today).

It does not make it less painful to watch.

Bill is with her and, as soon as the scene starts, it is clear you will not be allowed to get away with a happy ending for your beloved couple, no matter how badly they deserve it and have earned it. Furthermore, you are expected to watch it. You owe it to them, to Laura and Bill, whatever the cost in tears is (and believe me, in my case it took me to the verge of dehydration). Everything get us headed to (if not ready for) the end: the way she is determined to keep admiring the beautiful world around them (despite the fact she can barely make out forms, colors, or breathe now); the knowing looks and smiles she and Bill exchange, both of them aware that this is the end, both of them serene in their pain; Bill carrying Laura’s limp body to the raptor to offer her one last gift- a flight to catch a closer glimpse at the scenery and the wildlife from the air-; the goodbyes between them, Lee and Kara (at this point I am already sobbing uncontrollably).

The moment of Laura’s death is highlighted and put in context by a few previous flashback scenes where we get to see her in her former life in Caprica, in her condo, stuck with people, emotions and situations that feel superficial and dissatisfying to her; struggling to find a purpose to which she can commit “all the way to the end”. As Bill flies her over the green hills and flocks of pink flamingoes, gently talking soothing nonsense to her, we realize she has found it. She has both carried out her mission and stayed by Bill’s side all the way to the end. Until her very last breath.

When she lets out this last breath, we stop breathing along with her. The few seconds Bill keeps talking to her, until he notices she has already left, are pure anguish. Time and space get suspended until he casts a glance at her, realization dawns on him and he takes her wrist to check a pulse that is no longer there. He kisses her hand as his features contract in agony. It is no longer Edward James Olmos inside that raptor: it is Bill, alive and grieving, his guts slit open and, just like him, we forget everything else and dissolve into a puddle of tears we could not choke back even if we tried. Not that any of it matters anymore: Laura is dead.

The moment Bill places his wedding ring on Laura’s lifeless finger, we fear we will not be able to take it any longer. It is his last vow to her, his way of giving himself to her completely, no matter that she is gone; his warning to the universe that tears them apart that they will always belong to each other. The last we see of him takes place beside her grave: he is talking to her, describing to her the beauty of the world she led them to, telling her he is building the cabin she dreamed of sharing with him. Remembering her, living for and with her, forever.

Not only because of Laura’s death (all characters get poignant, compelling arc closures) but mostly because of it, I stayed crying on the couch, curled up in fetal position, for more than half an hour after the end credits of the episode were over, in a silent, empty room in the middle of the night. I could not bring myself to rewatch any scenes or read anything remotely BSG-related for weeks after. I was mourning Laura.

I still do.

I still do, and this article might be, among other things, one of my many attempts to keep her alive. She literally brought me to life, dragged me from illness, raised my awareness of myself, untapped my potential, and healed my soul. As politically incorrect as this may sound, I care more about her than I do about certain living creatures. She has done me good only; I cannot say that of every person I have crossed in my four decades of life.

Bill Adama and Laura Roslin. They were the leaders of the fleet; they became the parents of the battlestar Galactica family. Bill Adama and Laura Roslin were meant for Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell as much as Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos were meant for Laura Roslin and Bill Adama.

I honor these characters. I love them in their vulnerability, their struggle, their weaknesses. They are broken, they are flawed, they are brave, they rise. They love.

And they have taught me a whole frakking lot about all this.

Where life is born

I am just back from Africa. One of those trips that leave marks on you, that make it impossible for you to get back to normal once you are home again, pretending you have not seen all the things you have actually seen while you were there.

My heart has come back heavy with a reality which has imposed its truth upon me making my life seem superficial in comparison, making me feel a stranger among all the things that were so familiar to me just a couple of weeks ago and deeply annoyed at situations that did not use to upset me at all. I do not mean my former life was empty or meaningless but I have this strong feeling that I have spent four decades getting life wrong or, at least, with a rather incomplete idea about what life actually is about. And all this despite having my priorities clear in my mind and heart and being (I believe) a pretty level- headed woman: but this thing I am describing operates on a different zone. In such a foreign context reality challenges you, questions you, and you suddenly discover a new dimension of yourself that you never even suspected that existed. Once this door is open, you can no longer ignore it.

I will avoid falling into clichés. I will not say people in these countries are happier than us. Their lives are dreadfully harder and they do not pretend or fool themselves: they want to achieve the same degree of development and comfort we enjoy here. They fight for it. Progress is something good and I wish with all my heart that their quality of life improves. However, part of me is afraid that their soul will get lost in the process. 

No, they might not be happier but they are much more alive, truly alive, closer to the roots of life. They have not lost contact with the touchstone of their existence. In this blinding, hyper-developed world of ours, where everything happens as we expect, where we can make all kinds of plans and take so many things for granted, where there is a solution for almost everything sooner or later, we can keep pretending we are immortal, we can afford living with our backs turned to our pettiness, ignoring we are as subject as everything and everyone else to certain universal laws. 

In Africa, the risk and the uncertainty are a part of everyday life and leave no room for nonsense. In general, people are very well trained in the balance between the fight for life and a willing acceptance of what it brings. With pain, sure, but also without that extra burden of frustration and almost affront which invades us, poor occidentals, as soon as something, anything, even the tiniest thing, does not turn out as we expected. They know full well how small we all are: this is exactly what gives them their greatness. Hearing a schoolteacher with over six hundred dirty, poorly-fed (and brightly-smiling) children and no means at all for teaching say life always goes on leaves you wondering, almost in shame, how on Earth you could ever doubt it, even in your lowest hours.

The African experience equals that deep dimension of life you suddenly grasp when you lose someone you love, when you have health problems… when something really, really serious hits you on your very core. Everything becomes deeper, life acquires a different weight and density, you start asking yourself questions you usually would not spend a second pondering (the type of questions which have no answer) and yes, maybe you are sadder but you also get rid of many mental distractions as your ideas gain wit and clarity.

Africa also knows that there is happiness in their fight, that you should never stop celebrating life; that life itself is something bigger than all of us, vaster than anything we can think of, feel, or create. Africa is grief and misery, color and music. It is the contrast and the absurdity of such a poor people in such a rich continent. It is life itself, just like it is: therefore, mingled with death.

Despite what it might look like, the purpose of this writing is not to talk about Africa. Not just, not exactly that. It rather is a reflection on our imperative need to recover at least a tiny bit of that essential, instinctive part of our existence, that connection with the source itself, that capacity for astonishment, that impression of greatness, that humbleness of heart, that spirit of fight mingled with pure joy, and that will to confront and overcome even the worst. Unless you volunteer within a NGO and move to any of these countries you cannot get off the wheel, you cannot isolate yourself from your context, your circumstances or your reality and, of course, you should not feel guilty for having been born where you actually were born, for having and enjoying the kind of comfort and luxuries you have and enjoy. But you can pay attention to the world around and to your inner voice and act accordingly.

You do not even need to visit Africa: we all have gotten through significant, life- changing experiences and events at some point. Let’s use the impulse they provide, welcome the learnings they bring to us, let’s keep that fresh perspective alive. Let’s make the changes they ultimately claim from us in our environment, our habits, and our attitudes.

Africa fights, struggles, and dreams. Africa grieves and dies every day but gets up again every morning, rises from its own ashes and its misery and goes for it all. Africa knows life is renewed over and over again, and living (and dying) is all about this.

Life is terrible, and terribly beautiful.

Translation from my own post originally written and published in Spanish in October 2016