My choices and circumstances, part 1 – London bridge is falling down

When they asked me in kindergarten what my favorite smell at home was, I dreamily replied: “The fresh, electronic smell of my computer!’’

This response raised a lot of eyebrows, and the context is important to realize why: It was the beginning of the 90s, when Yugoslavia, and with her the last remnants of a normal life, were falling apart. For a lot of families, buying food and other basic necessities was becoming an everyday struggle, so owning this strange new machine was almost unheard of. As my parents were very forward looking and realized they’ll need one for their work, I was fortunate enough not only to have a computer in my home, but to also be allowed to spend hours in front of it, so I, well.. spent hours upon hours in front of it. Video games were the staple food of my computer diet, of course, but I did also spend a large amount of time learning DOS, Windows and other programs, which at age 6 made me quite possibly one of the youngest computer geeks in Serbia – a distinction I’m more confused than embarrassed about, because of the following reason:

You know how kids say that they want to be astronauts, doctors and whatnot when they grow up, and then they imagine what it would be like? Well, the one scene I kept daydreaming about over and over again was me standing in front of a panel of scientists, proudly presenting a new, ultra fast computer I have created (600Mhz, compared to the 133Mhz of the time), and the audience would then applaud and I’d stand there smiling happily, receive my prize and then go back to making an even faster computer.

I’m not kidding. For some reason I was completely captivated by computers. If you asked me what I like doing, I would say “everything with computers”, and if you asked me what I’ll do in life, the answer would be the same one. They were my everyday reality and, it seemed, my future, and I couldn’t imagine it being any other way.

Until the moment my idea of me and my life was turned completely upside down. It was, of course, because of a girl – I fell in love for the first time. It happened in London, I was 15, and she was from Thailand.

How I got to London is a product of circumstances which were mostly beyond my control or conscious choice. I grew up with two Serbian friends with whom everything I did was in English. Reading books and comics, watching cartoons, listening to music, using the computer – English was a constant presence in our everyday lives, and pretty soon our conversations spontaneously became bilingual. By the age of 15 I was more than fluent in English, and the English language school I had been going to decided to send me as a representative of Yugoslavia to an international public speaking competition in London.

When I got the news, I was ecstatic – and who wouldn’t be? I was promised a five days all-expenses-paid trip to London where I’ll meet all sorts of cool people from all over the world. I was sure it would be a great experience.

It turned out to be more amazing than I could have possibly imagined. Anyone who’s ever been to some sort of exchange or summer camp remembers their first one with fond memories, but this one needs to be put into perspective: an introvert geek from a country under a dictatorial regime where white foreigners were a rarity and black or Asian ones were practically unheard of, was now shaking hands, talking and laughing at the same time with people from Australia, India, Pakistan, Japan and many, many other strange and wonderful places.  It was dreamlike.

And then, when I thought it couldn’t be any better, I met her. It was on our last night in London, of course; if Murphy didn’t intervene every now and then, our life lessons wouldn’t be half as interesting.

The next morning everyone left, including her. I went back to my room and sat on the bed. Staring blankly in the distance, all the intense emotions of joy, surprise and amazement which I’ve felt in the past 5 days – this unreal bubble of being in love while surrounded by wonderful people in Great Britain’s London, coupled with this stark realization that it has suddenly burst, that it’s all gone now –– all of it hit me straight in the face in one concentrated strike.

The tears started pouring out, but this wasn’t normal crying. The whirlwind of emotions and experiences of previous days was raging inside me, and I had no idea how to express it, what to express. Yet, the crying seemed to be dying down quickly, as I could feel one new thought, idea, emotion, or however you could call it, fighting its way to the surface and engulfing me. It was so strong, so vibrant, that I couldn’t help but utter these words aloud in my empty room: “Not computers – it’s about people!”

The reason this statement won’t really get any awards from the epiphany marketing board is because it’s a very approximate translation of a much better sounding and more meaning-imbued Serbian phrase which is yet again a mere verbal attempt at expressing a sudden, overwhelming change that I could see happening in me. I was through with computers, and I wanted to do something with people. I had pretty much no idea what that something was supposed to be, but I was damn sure that it was out there and that it involved people.

This was the first of several moments throughout my life that drastically shook my view of myself and the world around me. They always came unannounced, when I least expected them, as products of circumstances I would only later more fully grasp. But while this is the story of those moments, it is also a story of choices – what I chose to do after having those experiences, where these choices took me and how they helped me deal with the circumstances that life would have in store.

So lost in thought in my plane seat that I didn’t even notice we’ve took off, I left London that afternoon with two clear thoughts: First, that it’s about people, not computers, and second – I am going to marry her.

How it turned out? I’ll leave that for part 2.

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3 Comments to “My choices and circumstances, part 1 – London bridge is falling down”

  1. awwwwwwwwwww
    I heard it live
    but it’s still exciting to read ^^
    i feel inspired today
    and this was a bust up from about 10 to 20% 😀

  2. People are strange when you’re a stranger,
    Faces look ugly when you’re alone.
    Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted,
    Streets are uneven when you’re down.

  3. What a beautiful story, that you write very well !
    Even if you did not marry the girl, I’m pretty sure you have an interesting life.

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