Torstai 21.6.2018
Minä olen kuin eksynyt lammas. Etsi minut! Sinun säädöstesi mukaan minä tahdon elää. Ps. 119:176, 94

Blog: Encounters

in English 26.8.2017 06:55 | Päivämies-verkkolehti
This city has a lot of inhabitants. When I moved here ten years ago, I was astonished to realize that I could go into a big shopping center, walk around picking items into my basket, pass innumerable faces – and still not meet anyone familiar. When I lived in a smaller town it was normal to see familiar faces quite often.
It was funny to think that most of the people in this city are Finnish but still quite unknown to me. Once, when I came here for a job interview, I sat down on a yellow bench to rest and watch the stream of people passing by. An elderly gentleman sat down next to me and began to talk. Thinking back, that was actually quite strange. Finns seldom open their mouths to strangers – unless the stranger is a dentist. This gentleman did not say anything special. He just commented on the weather and pointed out some celebrity among the crowd. I could not think of anything clever to say.
I have been wondering if the propensity of Finns to silence is due to our national character (excluding the sociable Carelians in the easternmost part of Finland) or to some psychological or sociological factor that makes it seem threatening to speak to an unknown person. I remember having read somewhere that Finns know more languages than any other people. We know how to remain silent in all those languages. When I brought my car to a service garage today, a guy came to the coffee machine and nodded a greeting to me. A few minutes later he spoke French on this mobile. Not a surprise!
I meet daily 430 pupils and more than 30 teachers and other school staff. In the morning, when I get off the bus where I have not met anybody, one of my first-graders may call my name and run to hug me. There is no way to avoid this, and the little one almost knocks me over in his eagerness. I sometimes feel moved by this privilege. Yesterday a small Iranian-Afghan girl broke the ice by smiling and saying, ”Seppo, you look really tired.” I was tired but still felt like laughing. The encounters that follow in the staff room are usually more strained, as I am not a very outgoing person and have not even had my morning coffee yet.
As the day unfolds, there are more encounters. Some people say that teachers should aim to make themselves unnecessary. Yet, an educationalist on the radio recently said that it is quite OK to learn by imitating. He was referring to the traditional master–apprentice relationship. I often wonder if a person can ever really be replaced by anything except another person. My most important task may actually be to serve as an adult for children who do not have parents.
When I come home on weekday evenings, I often need an hour of complete silence. I even keep the radio switched off, though I often listen to it at other times. Later in the evening, when I meet people in hobbies, I feel OK to speak again.
I do not always meet people during my weekends. It is easy just to relax at home, and when I go jogging or skiing, I usually see other people who only communicate with the headwind and the music in their earphones. Late in the evening I have sometimes tried to talk about the track conditions or suitable wax types with someone, and occasionally I have even got a response. I guess some Carelians like skiing.
Before I go to evening services on Saturday, I try to remind myself of how one speaks. “Just open your mouth, relax, breathe, and say something”, I tell myself. Yet my throat is tight and I am short of breath. I wonder if I manage to utter a single word. “I’m sure small talk is just a non-Finnish marketing gimmick”, I bristle to myself tying my shoe laces. It is strange how quickly one can go dumb and retreat into one’s shell. How on earth can the elderly tolerate the daily routine of their nursing home day after day? The caretaking robots planned for the future make me wonder if our collective understanding of good life in old age has gone completely amiss. The demand and supply do not meet.
I sometimes find the frantic socializing after services a bit confusing. There are many familiar faces, but it may still be difficult to really meet someone. There seems to be a complicated code system that has evolved slowly over time, which is not accessible to all people. When I go back to my home town, it is easy to communicate with many people. Could this be due to the distance, I wonder. There are also days when I would like to withdraw into a bubble and not meet anybody. I would just listen to the services and then leave as quickly as possible. A bit strange, isn’t it?  
I have come across people that I find hard to communicate with. I have made a big effort at finding a ski track that we could share, but it seems we have been using different brands of wax and different manufacturers’ skis. Even our styles of skiing have been different. When I have looked into the mirror afterwards, facing the possible guilty party, I have remained baffled. For a moment, reality has seemed distorted and depressing. At those moments I have longed for the company of ordinary familiar people similar to myself.
For me, meeting people is a hobby, a cause of distress, and a means of consolation. It is understandable that meeting the right people at the right place and the right time cannot be a mere coincidence – but neither can those uncomfortable encounters. This is how I like to see this matter, although we may never find out the true meaning of such encounters for the parties.
If there are others who share my anguish over meeting people, they should pray to the Heavenly Father for help. “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matt. 21:22).
A small post scriptum:

After the Sunday service I went into the church crypt cafeteria for a cup of coffee. I took my cup to the far end of the room with a lot of vacant space and sat down. I was reading the news on my mobile, when an elderly couple asked me if they could sit down at my table. It seemed impolite not to say anything further, so I returned the mobile into my pocket and began to talk. It turned out the couple were only visiting and came from – Carelia.

Text: Seppo Tervo
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen

You will find the original Finnish blog post here.

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