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15th February

No more switching

When I was growing up in the Netherlands I used to play a game by myself that I called ‘switching’.

From my room, I imagined being able to get into the heads of people I saw on the street below. I’d be this tiny person in the head of the lady with the flowery dress, then I’d move to the repair man in his blue overalls, and after him the office worker who hurried by holding on to his attaché case. From my snug position I’d observe their lives, as if wearing what we now call a virtual reality headset.

I’d see the sausages they had for breakfast, their lamps with tassels, sofas with frills and embroidered cushions, so very different from the sleek furnishings in the home I grew up in.

I imagined they’d be going to Mallorca on vacation or that they only had five guilders and twenty-five cents left in the bank.

As long as I switched, no other thoughts or feelings would go through my mind. I’d be safely absorbed in my fantasy world.

I’m sure the curiosity I still have about even the smallest details of other people’s lives drove me to play that little game. But my need to escape the loneliness and vulnerability I felt so deeply at the time must have played a part as well.

Yesterday, after receiving disquieting news about the health situation of a dear friend, I stepped out onto the street to get a breath of fresh air. A lady in a green coat and a matching hat came my way and I was startled when the voice I hadn’t heard in a long time urged me to disappear in her head.

But unlike when I was a boy so eager to escape, I chose not to play.

I stayed put and allowed myself to feel the sadness brought on by the bad news.

I guess some might call that a sign of progress.

No more switching
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