As I left the cinema after watching the Spanish cartoon film Arrugas, I was more convinced than ever of an inconvenient truth: life is a lonely experience. The story depicts the years in a person’s life when this circumstance is felt in the most tragic way, old age. In fact, the film is a pitiless account of the encounter with the retiring home environment as seen through the eyes of an old man whose son and daughter-in-law believe he has become an unbearable burden on their family life. He is forgetful, not independent anymore, and feels alienated from everybody’s daily routine.
If the nursing home was not enough to accelerate senescence, the old man goes through the ordeal of the degeneration of his mind. But before eventually finding out he is actually affected by Alzheimer’s disease, he discovers the existence of a notorious second floor where those patients are confined and cared for. One day, he steals up the stairs and sees with his own eyes people who could hardly be described as humans anymore. They are more like vegetables, and he knows he is destined to turn into one like them.
The terror of that department is the bogeyman that everybody in the home avoids bringing up for fear of bad luck. It makes everyone feel menaced by abandonment in the embrace of a state that is near death, without human dignity or respect even from those who, often unprofessionally, are supposed to look after them. It seems that although the old age residents of the story live a communal life, they are fundamentally experiencing the utmost degree of loneliness. They know that as the end of their life approaches, they will be put to the ultimate test and live the unavoidable experience that cannot be recounted or shared with others.
This film reminded me that every moment of life is fundamentally a lonely experience. I learned this lesson and accepted its consequences a long time ago, maybe as far back as my adolescence years. It was then when I first observed people of my age feeling the irresistible urge to bond in a group in order to escape loneliness, and they merged into a higher self that requested them to behave according to set patterns, wear given styles of clothes, and speak the same kind of language.
But for me it was just a big delusion: inside a group I felt even more lonely because, shy as I was, I couldn’t express myself adequately. Besides, the flattening action of the group was too much for me to bear, and I didn’t find enough loyalty in the relationships. My path of fulfilment was necessarily outside these patterns of social interaction. I learned to stand alone and not be afraid of it, thinking that within or without, the solitary condition of man didn’t change much.
When I was still in my teens I kept a low profile about my originality, and I remember being described as one who followed the mainstream. I resented this remark that failed to comprehend my personality: within myself I counted the reasons why that was not truthful, starting from my refusal to adopt my schoolmates’ foul talk. Later, I became bold enough to think that if I chose to be original, I might as well be brave about it. It has taken time to sweep aside self-consciousness, but now I don’t hide behind embarrassed reticence anymore.
This may be like every person’s path into adulthood, but it has made me aware of the inescapable loneliness of life. Even now that my friends are many, I keep thinking that the challenges of life are all to be lived individually. As long as all is fine, communication is fluid and rewarding, but when difficulties arise, a barrier made of pride, indifference, prejudice, etc. isolates you from the others. Nobody is able to grasp the real extent of your worries. Hardships are to be lived alone, choices to be made individually, and in the end you only find yourself to rely on and talk to. Social life keeps us busy, but basically doesn’t change our situation. Even surrounded by friends or life partners, man always stands alone. We don’t need to wait until we languish in our last days in a nursing home in order to discover that, like it or not, this is our destiny.