Denial is the first of all pleasures – at least Sabine thinks so. For most people, denial holds them back from moving forward. However, in Sabrine’s case, denial allows us to be the person we are, have always been and want to be in the future. Whether it be denying the fact that we have gained weight since high school, are getting gray hairs or are no longer able to make it past midnight on a Friday night. Denial is helping us all find pleasure in life.
By Sabine Clappaert
The undeniable importance of denial.
Oscar Wilde famously said: “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” I don’t want to bump chests with the larger-than-life Mr. Wilde, but I think he got it wrong on that one. Denial is the first of all pleasures. And having just turned 36 (OK, OK, damnit: 37), I know a thing or two about the pleasures, and necessities, of denial.
Let me give an example of unequivocal denial that all those over 30 will relate to. (Those under 30 can skip this paragraph; you won’t know what I’m talking about – yet.).
Those over 30 will know the guilty pleasure of bumping into an old high-school friend you haven’t seen since platform shoes were in fashion (the first time round), and with a pang of glee noticing the first wrinkles fanning their eyes, those extra good-living kilos that pad out their face a little too ruddily. And while your eyes stealthily scan their face the way a thousand-watt searchlight scans a midnight sea for survivors, you quietly think to yourself: “Boy, I’m glad I didn’t age the way they did. At least I still look pretty much the way I did at 25.”
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is denial in its purest form.
But not all forms of denial are born equal, and not all afford us the same measure of pleasure.
First there’s pragmatic, necessary denial. The accountant of denials, this rational form of denial protects us against the harsh, inescapable realities of life: the cruel ending of love, sky-high taxes and sagging breasts.
Then there’s also a second kind of denial: the impractical, non-essential kind. Now don’t get me wrong, it is not because this denial is non-essential that it is therefore less valuable. Au contraire: non-essential denial can be very essential indeed. This irrepressible dancing harlot of denials is every girl’s best friend.
It’s the kind of denial that assures us our jeans don’t fit any tighter than they did last month, that we’ve just left them in the dryer a tad too long. It’s the kind of denial that convinces us to break the cardinal fashion rule “no miniskirts after 30” because well… it is summer and we don’t look a day over 28. It’s the kind of denial that whispers soothingly that just one more cookie won’t make the difference, or with a reassuring shoulder pat reminds us that a glass of red wine a day is good for the heart. It’s also the kind of denial that cheers us on to climb a bar counter at 2 a.m. to do the Two-Tequila Boogie with a boy barely out of college, knowing we have an important 8 a.m. meeting the next morning.
It’s the kind of denial that keeps our best friends looking as youthful to us at 36 as they did at 22; the denial that keeps our hips slim and our husbands from growing beer bellies. It’s the this denial that keeps our parents from becoming senior citizens and the one that keeps us animatedly crooning “Like A Virgin” in the presence of our preteen son.
But most importantly it’s the kind of denial that gives us the courage to backpack across India at 40, climb Mount Kilimanjaro at 50 or sell the house to motor along Route 66 in an open-top Alfa Romeo Spider at 65.
This denial is the racy red lingerie, the little black whip and the fluffy pink handcuffs in our pragmatic underwear drawer of life. This denial allows us to dream crazy dreams and take courageous decisions, regardless of the realities of our age or circumstances.
It is this priceless denial that keeps us kicking up our skirts to dance on the bar counter of life – at 36, 56 and yes, also at 76.
In keeping with the theme, Sabine answers the Identity 5:
1. What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?
Learning to jog/run, which I used to dislike intensely. Although I’m a sporty, outdoor person – I love mountain-biking and swimming, I really disliked running. Because I’m someone who doesn’t believe in self-punishment – mentally or physically, I tend to quit things that make me suffer. Learning to run is suffering. For the first six months, every single run was a struggle against myself, my excuses not to do it, my body’s physical resistance. I persevered for the sole reason that my runs took me outside, into the forests, along beautiful dirt tracks between fields, in the snow, rain and sunshine. Today, I cannot live without my run three or four times per week. I reconnect with myself, fill my lungs with fresh air, lock out the world and dive back into nature. There is nothing better than coming back home cheeks blazing, out of breath, sneakers dredged in mud with my dog panting happily at my side.
2. What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?
I am extremely happy that I was born an optimist. Being grateful, on a daily basis, for even the smallest things in life, is one of the aspects I like most about myself. I try to stop at least once every day to think about all the good things that happened that day. In life, I am most grateful for my health, which allows me to do whatever I want to do, and for the many fascinating, inspirational people I get to interview in my job. I truly believe that “we are the sum of the people we meet” – if we allow them to influence us positively.
3. What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life?
Driving from Belgium to Gambia (a journey of 7000-km) in 2009 in an old SUV to raise awareness for childbirth mortality rates among African women. Together with a female photographer, we wrote/photographed our four week journey for the weekend edition of a national Belgian newspaper. We also raised money and used it to help fund a small gynaecological ward in a hospital in southern Gambia . What goals do you still have? One of my main goals is to make sure we preserve the wisdom of our elders by preserving their stories. Niti Bhan, an Indian scientist, once told me “We have lost our culture of wisdom.” She is right. In Western cultures we have indeed lost our culture of wisdom. I want to continue to interview inspirational women (and men), tell their stories – respectfully and authentically – and make that wisdom is preserved for future generations.
4. What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?
I am impulsive (which I try, in most cases, to balance by first thinking and then acting) and I see possibility in almost everyone and everything. And I simply cannot resist the sentence “Shall we give it a try?”
5. How would you complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
I love my life.
Sabine is a Brussels-based journalist specializing in gender issues