I don’t have one. Mine quivers at the first sign of trouble. It’s not that I don’t want one. I do. If I could nip down to Tesco and pick one up I would but it would seem that it’s a genetic thing. I can only hope my children have inherited their fathers.
I was quite skeptical of the stiff upper lip when I moved here but I’ve slowly become a fan. I wasn’t comfortable sensing I didn’t know someone’s true feelings on a subject. I like to be able to read people and this quality makes reading the English quite difficult. I also believed the stiff upper lip to be an emotionally unhealthy way of avoiding difficult feelings. I’ve since come to the revelation that A) these ‘true feelings’, belonging to others, are none of my business. And B) When used correctly it is far from denial. It is the ultimate acceptance. Life goes on whether you’re sulking or not so you might as well ‘get on with it’, as they say over here.
My ingrained drive for the pursuit of happiness always seems to take me back to times of self reflection. Problem is, I’m now starting to find all of that a bit boring. I used to love sitting in a coffee shops for hours on end with friends (it was the 90’s), analyzing every possible choice for every possible event. I don’t think I’d change a thing about those years but I am now old enough to know there is often no ‘right’ decision. It’s more important to just make one and shut up about it. I still believe that life is a spiritual journey but I now revel in the lighter moments much more than the heavy ones. The English are good at this. When it all hits the fan they prefer to deal with things in a dignified silence. I still believe the psychotherapy hype because there have been times when it’s served me very well. Handling life’s more difficult periods in this manner is in my genes and I am certainly more vocal about it than most of my English friends but it’s all to a lesser degree now. It’s starting to spill over into the rest of my life as well. My exercise of choice has always been yoga. While I still love it I’m finding I need to balance it out with something a little less serious. So, I’ve taken up the hula hoop. Much better. Still a challenge, but also a bit ridiculous. Just like life.
A few weeks back I had one of days when the world catches up with you and sits it’s fat, Sumo wrestling ass on your shoulders. It was a bad day. A very bad day. In my effort to be more like my peers I decided I would suck it up and ‘get on with it’ anyway. I went about my business, put the kids in car, headed to shop and then off to the toddler gym. It was Tuesday. This is what I do on Tuesdays. I thought the routine would sooth me. If I was English it might have – but I’m not. I then proceeded to loose my marbles in the parking lot as soon as my friends starting turning up (we all do the same thing on Tuesdays). It was very public and oh so embarrassingly American of me (either that or Italian but I really don’t look like the latter) but this sort of display kind of works for me. I have to admit I felt better afterwards. The beauty of this moment lay not in my failure to achieve the holy grail of stiff lips but that those around me had it covered so I was free to fall apart. No one reacted. They just acted. My children were calmly guided away from the scene by the mothers of their friends before they ever had a chance to notice anything was wrong. My shopping list was taken off my hands so I wouldn’t have to multi task picking up milk AND losing my mind. Another friend sat with me until I was OK to go inside. Everyone else kept a respectful distance until I was ready to socialize and not once did I feel any pressure to ‘explain myself’. No one asked me what was wrong. They only asked if I was alright. And not just that day but for weeks after.
That day cleared some things up for me about the stiff upper lip. Aside from being well aware of the amazing friends I have, which I already knew, I also know stoicism isn’t about not talking about things. It’s just about waiting for the right time and then doing so quietly, perhaps with a cup of tea and just one or two people, so you can hear yourself think. Maybe the biggest thing to change is the tea instead of coffee. In the end the result is the same.