A not-quite-smiling face looks up at me. A face that must show both ears and is not allowed to smile. Two requirements for a Schengen Visa application photo. My face. I look down on the photograph, released from its plastic sleeve, along with an old passport and the Capago Italian Visa application form. As my eyes lower to meet the eyes looking up at me, so too does my spirit.

 A sadness creeps across me, pulling the slightly upturned corners of my mouth straight, unwrinkling the crinkles around my eyes – the warm expression my face initially formed into when I first saw the photo while sorting through a pile of papers from my office cupboard. The sadness gains weight as it crawls down my shoulders, over my chest and into my stomach. I want to look away from the photograph, to be freed from the dark curtain its lightness is paradoxically pulling across my being.

 The lightness and anticipation the not-quite-smiling picture holds. The picture, a passport of its own to excitement and experience, to stepping into the unknown of people and place. A visa for my first trip to the International Labour Organisation’s training centre in Turin. March 2014. What wonders awaited. Wonders maybe sensed and reflected in the ease and unspoken enthusiasm pulsing gently from the four corners of the picture.

 The smiling sadness grows. I strain to look away, an act of self-protection. Out of the window, a wintry Sunday afternoon winds down further. The day’s last thin light seeps away. Further into the sorrow I slide, the melancholy of 18 months of a passport in hibernation, of steps not taken, conversations not had, connections not made. The absence of meeting of hearts and minds, even more so, the absence of meeting of hands.

 Yes, the past year has brought surprising riches of online connection, but how enormously, and increasingly acutely, I am feeling the loss of being and working with people in physical presence. In the noisy flow of words and ways and stories, and in the subtleties and nuances of the unsaid, of body language, and the “sweet territory of silence”[1].

 No longer the challenge of crossing the frontier into meaningful online connection, but a return to, a bottomless yearning for the weaving together of people and process in a single place. A respite from the state of languishing to which recently, I seem to be a regular visitor – a state of greater muddling through and lessened motivation.[2] And for me, an antidote to the muddling and low-grade motivation, an elixir of travel and human touch – an elixir entirely unknown in its timing.

 My eyes return to the photograph and the Capago form. With a surge of mixed emotions, I retrieve a pair of big orange office scissors from my pencil box. I cut the photo into pieces. They flutter and land in a box of anonymous recycling, leaving me free of the light not-quite-smiling eyes, but unreleased from the unhappy turning and churning in my stomach.

[1] Angles Arrien

[2] Adam Grant in a recent New York Times article entitled ‘There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: It’s called languishing’, described languishing as a feeling of stagnation and emptiness, an emotion he contends might be the dominant emotion of 2021. He argues that by acknowledging it, we can start “giving a voice to this quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void”.