One afternoon I was lying on the sand, enjoying the summer. Thoughts of gratitude were running through my mind about the warm sun, the cool sea and the playful sounds and colours. Close to me was a group of men, women and children of different ages. I heard one of them, who must have been in his fifties, ask a child some forty years his junior: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” My face twisted in a grimace of disgust and I tried to hear the answer. I didn’t manage to but I did read something on the child’s face saying «I don’t understand what this annoying man, who doesn’t know how to play, is asking me but I guess I have to say what mum and dad want to hear». I remembered that adults used to tell children of my generation, perhaps they still do, that we should become doctors or lawyers. Back then, we didn’t understand why, but now I know that what they meant was that we should have money, power, make everyone respect us or fear us, have degrees, have a leather swivel chair, be dressed in suit and tie. That’s what they told us to become. But I still haven’t understood who you become, after all, if you manage to wear a tie around your neck and put a few framed university papers on your living room wall.
I, too, sometimes ask teenagers what they want to be after they finish school. «I’m going to be a cop», one of them told me, «it’s a secure job». To me, it’s a little contradictory that this youngster is not afraid of doing wheelies on his motorcycle but is worried about not being able to find a job after school. It seems to me this is a fear that is expressed by his parents. A teenager cannot feel afraid, if he’s not made to, because he is simply oblivious to danger. Come to think about it, most of the fears that haunt us throughout our lives are nothing but our parents’ legacy. When a young John Lennon was asked by his teacher what he wants to be when he grows up, he is believed to have said «I want to be happy». The teacher answered «You probably don’t understand the question» to which Lennon replied «You probably don’t understand life».
It’s never too late to wonder what you want to be. So I also wonder, like children do. Do I want to be handsome like Brad Pitt, with a perfect smile and the body of a model? After all, if someone dedicates all his time to this purpose, he might make it in the end. Thousands of people go to gyms and beauty institutes and, let’s be honest, very few of them put their bodies in this trouble to improve their health. They just want to become like the people they admire: actors, athletes, you name it. But beauty, apart from temporary, is also highly subjective. The most beautiful smile I have ever seen is that of my grandmother when she was around 90 years old. My cousin was telling her jokes and she couldn’t stop laughing, her eyes shutting with tears coming out of them. She must have had just about three or four teeth at that time, not enough for her to chew a piece of bread, but with that smile she taught me something important: what it means to laugh with your heart. I still think I can hear the sigh she let out when she finally managed to stop laughing.
I wonder, if, when I grow up – not that I’m young but I intend to grow up some more – I want to be a millionaire. Make a fortune, build a villa on a mountain and have a swimming pool with a view on the sea. Have a sloped garden with fake grass and a three-level basement for my stock of canned food and a vault right next to it. That’s just silly. Who in their right mind would go up into the mountains, dig a hole in the ground, fill it up with water, get in and look at the sea from a distance? Who dreams and dedicates his life to make as much money as he can, when the most important things in life cannot be bought with all the money in the world? No one can buy love, good company, health, not even luck. Who works like a dog and trades his time for 3 or 4 euros per hour and gets happy if one day he gets 5 euros and thinks to himself “now it’s worth it”? I admit it, I do. You do, everybody does. But no mortal – yes, we all are, my friend – managed to make time go one hour back, so that little hour stayed out of the estimate, priceless.
I don’t want to become famous and have my face on magazine covers, I don’t want to become smart, know everything and make fun of those who don’t. I don’t want to become leader of the flock and pretend to be the coolest sheep in the farm. Even if I wanted to, I could no longer become the sheepdog keeping an eye on the sheep in return for a bone and a “well done, mongrel”; it’s been years since my A-levels. If you start to take out, one by one, all the things you don’t want to do, in the end you realise that the best you can do in this life is dedicate your time to those you love and what you love doing. Become a “giver”. I want to be one of those people who come home dead tired and offer a massage to their wife to help her relax. I want to be a person who hears about someone being in a bad state and takes the initiative to support them, even if they never get to know who helped them. I want to be one of those people who are so wise and, at the same time, have no fear of failure, who look at you with their bright, smiling eyes and tell you “mate, maybe we’ve lost but at least we played”. I want to be that person who doesn’t ask children what they’ll be when they grow up. I want my last thought just before I die to be not about what I became, not about approving or regretting that, but about being able to say “in the end I managed to become myself”.