Editor’s note: Marshall Smith is a reporter for the Town Crier. He is writing from Spain.
I have been coming to Spain since December 1981. I made my first trip here for the law office for which I worked.
I came as many as three or four times a year for an eight-year period. Then I made occasional visits to family friends in Madrid and Barcelona.
All of these trips and visits created in me a love the Spanish lifestyle.
Spaniards boast that they work to live, not live to work. Much time is spent in cafes and in often heated conversation with friends and family.
Life, if followed in the Spanish way, is a pleasant ritual centered around socializing on the street, as they say.
Everyone seems to have opinions about everything, many if not most of them laughingly deprecating of one thing or another.
Recently, while visiting friends south of Barcelona, I had a conversation with a 21-year-old son of a family friend. I have known Miguel for probably eight years. He is in his last year of university, tall, athletic, good looking and smart.
Since I expected him to be enthusiastic about how his life might soon unfold, I took him for a beer to a beachside cafe to hear about his plans for the future, his possible career choices, and his dreams for himself and perhaps the family he might one day have.
The future in Spain is clouded by a very severe economic downturn. Everyone calls iẗthe crisis.
Unemployment is around 25 percent and even higher among some demographics. Nevertheless, cafes, restaurants and shops seem to be full.
Yet, in most conversations, there is a pervasive cynicism about the future, both for individuals and for Spanish social and governmental institutions. Few if any think it will get better soon.
No one with whom I spoke offered any hope or shared any personal dreams for the future. So it was with Miguel.
We began by talking about his classes in economics, his major. He takes many of them in English. I asked why English?
Did he plan to take graduate courses in London or in the U.S. or pursue some career in which English could be particularly helpful?
He took classes in English because they were offered, not because of how they might advance his career, he answered.
When pressed about his career, he was evasive, desultory and most certainly gloomy. I asked about his dreams for himself and for his future family. He laughed and said, “I’ll be responsible.”
That was the most I could get out of him. What dreams and aspirations might he pass on to his son or daughter I asked? He laughed again saying that we Americans couldn’t understand.
We were a frontier people, who pushed boundaries and built the dreams they envisioned, I replied.
I shared with him that I had worked since I was 17 and had accomplished much of what I set out to do, starting from very humble means.
I told him that many of our best presidents had come from very humble beginnings. I shared that I encouraged my friends and family members to always believe in their dreams and not let anyone say otherwise.
“Did you change the world?”̈Miguel asked, throwing down a gauntlet that surprised me.
I stopped and thought that over. “No,” I said. “But I did make small and positive contributions to the lives of many people, and that is enough.” ̈
We moved on to other things. Have a good life, I wished him when we parted, not knowing when or if I’d see him again. But I kept thinking of how hopeless he seemed at 21.
I thought about how, even now facing our own American crisis, most of us still believe we can change the world in small and even large ways. I thought about our upcoming election and how each time I cast a vote I believe I am making a contribution and making a difference.
Spain is an old county. It’s empire is long past. Cynicism is a way of life. The gaiety of street life is infused with that cynicism. Live now, it may never be better, seems to be the standard outlook. There are so many ways I wish I could encourage Miguel to dream. But perhaps it is something built into our culture that will always be lacking here. I am constantly reminded of how different it is to be an American. And I am happy to still be able to dream.