I could start this piece with something along the lines of: “I believe that every life is defined by a handful of determining moments, and this was one of mine”. I could, because I have a feeling that it may be true, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll start with something simpler…
The past week was incredible. In fact, it was so incredible that I doubt I’ll ever experience anything like it again. The story of everything that led up to it makes it all the more unbelievable. Let me explain.
I found out about Rethinking Economics only a couple of months ago, almost by accident. I attended one of their events in the Netherlands, and then a second. From the very first moment, I understood that it was an organisation that shared many of my values and ideas.
I wasn’t part of the movement, and although I was set on joining it later this year in London, the only thing that tied me to it were a few conversations with some of the Dutch members. I heard about the gathering in one of these conversations. It would be a week-long conference bringing together members of the groups from all around the world. My first thought was that it would be the perfect opportunity to meet some of the UK members and get to know more about Rethinking in general, so I put it out there that I would love to go if a spot opened itself. I didn’t think anyone would bring it up again.
I received the first email a month and a half ago, asking me to fill in an application. Even at that point, I had no idea what I had really set in motion. I filled in the application, without really knowing how important my answers would really be – I had no clue of the magnitude of the entire thing. Three weeks and a lot of emails later, I got the confirmation for my train tickets.
I was excited. Clueless, but excited. I was about to embark on a week-long journey with a bunch of strangers I literally knew nothing about. So I read up on the movement a little bit more. I scrolled Facebook in search of anyone that may attend as well, in the hope of finding out anything about their age, background or personality. Nothing. I was going in blind.
Shortly before the gathering, I got another email from one of the organisers to ask me if I wanted to give a workshop during the week. My overzealous self immediately said yes. Does that sound insane to you? Because rereading these last paragraphs, it certainly does to me!
Either way, on the 11th of August 2018 at 09:45, I was on the train, on my way to Paris, where I would take a bus to the gathering, somewhere lost in the national park of the Vexin.
The very first person from the gathering that I met was on the same train as me. She lived in Amsterdam, so we shared the same itinerary. We talked for the entirety of the trip, and from that first encounter, I knew I had made the right choice by deciding to attend. I was talking to someone with the ability and the willingness to challenge me from the first moments of our conversation. If even just a handful of people there could do the same, it would be a worthwhile experience.
The reality exceeded all my expectations. Every single person there had a perfectly unique story to tell. After the first round of introductions around a pick nick table, my only worry was that I wouldn’t have enough time to hear all of them out.
The programme was packed. Every day, sessions ran from 09:00 to 19:00, with a few short breaks in between. It was designed to be as immersive as possible, and it was. Beyond simply discussing economics and the movement itself, there was a strong emphasis on creating a sense of community in the group from the gathering itself. It took me less than a day to feel like every other aspect of my life, past, present and future, had been banished to a deep, dark corner of my mind. I was new to all of it, but they all took me in like I had always been a part of this genuinely amazing community.
We talked about how to build and strengthen our movement, and hearing what everybody had to say, I became convinced that this was the start of something big. We talked about tactics, strategies and projects that made me believe in our collective ability to save the world. If you think that sounds naïve, you should have been there… it was extraordinary!
The days were exhausting, but it was the kind of exhaustion that almost makes you want more. There is something euphoric about it. And even after many hours of discussing our common goals and visions, I could sit down – during a break, at lunch or in the evening – with a different person every time, and hear about the stories that had brought them there.
They were stories of exploration, of discovery, of their self and of their world. They were stories of people that had travelled and of people that never did. They were stories of love and hope, but also of pain and frustration. Crucially, they were all unique, authentic, wonderful stories. I wish I could tell you all of them right now… I can’t yet, because there were so many that I still need to sort out what they all mean to me, but mark my words: one way or another, you will hear these stories one day, hidden in my poems or my books.
I’m back home now, and all I can think of is how quiet everything suddenly feels around me. I’m torn between an immense gratitude for the opportunity to experience this past week and the burning wish to make it all last a little longer. Although I’m aware that all of this is over now, everything that happened, all the conversations and these now familiar faces will keep playing in my head for a long time. Above all, I will remember the people.
I don’t know how many of them will end up changing the world, but I know for a fact that all of them can and that some of them will. So here’s to all of them. To the girl with the golden leaf. To the guy who knew about happiness. To the girl with the dolphin tattoo. To the guy who lost his suitcase. To the girl who gave me a real hug. To the man who travelled across the globe to be there. To the girl who lives in a van. To the guy with the mysterious earrings. To the girl who won us the quiz. To the guy who let me read his poems. To the woman who made me sign a drawing. To the guy who tried to speak French and Dutch with me. To the girl who needed more sleep. To the guy with the salesman’s name. To the girl who called me “Luka”. To the guy who studied Behavioural Economics too. To the girl who played football with us. To the guy who carries his paintings in his wallet…
To the girl who came to sit next to me and talked about hope, and love, and art. To the guy who kind of looked like Jesus. To the infamous “golf course vandal” and the people that witnessed that tale. To the girl who understood, encouraged and shared my craziness. To the guy from South Africa who made us all think twice about our lives. To the girl who gave me a hollow coin…
And to everyone else… To everyone who made it, and to all those that so unfortunately couldn’t! Thank you.
Hear more from Luc at his fantastic blog ‘Signed LS‘