When I was in my early twenties I had great plans for my life, like one should have at that age. But like many young people, I too had some quite timid ideals of what a successful life would look like. And success was, of course, the ultimate goal. This year marks a sort of 10-year anniversary. I have not arranged any festivities, because I just realized the existence of this jubilee. As it happens, ten years ago my life took a turn that made me completely rethink dreams, plans and the perfect life.
The year before I had been an exchange student in Berlin. There I took a huge leap forward in my singing, and when I returned to Finland, I immediately made it through a couple of auditions for singing jobs. I felt like my parents could be really proud of me and that I was well on my way towards the life of my dreams. My parents were already retired, but very youthful and active, and able to travel from where they lived to see me perform, help me move and whatever parents do for their grown up children. I still have a picture that was taken of my parents and myself during my exchange, while they were visiting Germany. In that picture we all look very young and glamorous. In my twentysomething mind that was a picture of successful and happy – maybe even slightly better – people.
Spring 2008 came and my parents were once again in Helsinki listening to one of my concerts. Afterwards we enjoyed a nice and delicious dinner together. For dessert my mother told us that she had cancer.
The news were of course crushing, but we were all optimistic, like one fortunately can be nowadays when it comes to cancer. Spring became summer, my mother received treatments, I went off to do my summer job singing at an opera festival and fell in love with my future husband. What took place next and in which order, is all a blur in my mind. My father got some kind of a hospital germ while having a heart surgery, which made his condition take a dramatic turn downwards. My new boyfriend left to Japan for nine months. I applied again for my dream job from the previous summer, but did not get it again. At some point during the fall my mother called in the middle of the night to tell me that my father had had a stroke and things were critical. While visiting my father at the university hospital, my mother told that her cancer had spread again and things did not look good.
During that time my pain was sometimes so intense that it felt like some alien sitting on my chest. Reality as I knew it was completely crushed.
But in the midst of it all I had some beautiful bright moments so memorable that I can still go to that place in my mind now: the sun was still shining, the snow was glimmering, the scent of nature was as wonderful as ever and I could hear the sea breathing. The world around me was still going crazy, people kept loosing their minds over little things. But none of that, no plans, no ideals, no fears were able to influence me, because my worst fears were already there. I lost the control of life and was more than happy to give it away. I was safe in the eye of the storm. And there… everything was soft and quiet.
That really was a time of life and death for me. After my boyfriend got back from the other side of the world, we moved in together and I got pregnant with our first child. My parents still had the strength to travel to see the new baby. But soon after that I started the travelling. What now feels like every couple of weeks, I would pack the bags for me and my baby and travel a few hundred kilometres up north to see my dying mother. I stayed up, breastfed, packed, unpacked, travelled, buggy into the car, buggy into the train, I even worked, organized… I certainly did not have time to dream, because I had gotten to the phase in the game where you do not think anymore, you just act.
My mother died and my father got better. And as odd as it may sound, I was more at ease and happier than ever – of course not every single moment, but somewhere deep inside. I did not make any plans anymore. I just let life take me wherever it wanted me to go. ”Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans” and ”Relax, nothing is under control” were most likely my go-to life lessons at that time. My attitude towards following ones dreams was ironic to say the least.
And life did take me to nice adventures when I just let it. Singing was left in the background, but luckily did not vanish from my life altogether. I got married, had another child, worked with music journalism. And then life took me back to Germany.
So many times after that I have seen some signs that life might be taking a turn towards calmer waters. Every time those signs have proven to be wrong. But now I am rediscovering my relationship to dreams and plans. They do not alone make a good life, but maybe, just maybe, they are not a source of divine laughter after all. Living in the moment and taking life as it comes are great virtues, but they can also be an excuse not to take responsibility of ones life direction.
My thoughts at the moment on making plans for the future are quite well described in these sentences by Eckhart Tolle on one of his YouTube videos:
”The future is fine too, of course you need future for many things but you don’t look for yourself in it. You can’t find yourself there so it’s no longer problematic. It’s no longer threatening, the future, nor is it all that promising. It just is and you deal with it. You make arrangements without seeking an identity through it. Simple, effortless doing. There is no fear of loss any longer, it’s the end of fear.”
I cannot find myself in realized dreams, but I do feel very alive in this moment, right now, as I am making the plans and following through. I am doing my part and letting life decide on the rest.
A few weeks ago I met a woman, maybe ten years older than me, who told me that she has not had a moment of chaos in her life. I thought: how very strange and interesting. That life could be like that for someone… I may have failed to organize my life like that in spite of the initial intentions, but what if the phases of chaos and the serenity I found in the midst of them are my capital in life? Maybe – if I am lucky – even capital that could benefit other people?
This story is not that special or even unusually dramatic. I have not got a friend that would not have gone through some kind of curriculum of real life by this age. And of course I still have fear in me sometimes – for new things, for the unknown, for failure, for what have you. But what if it all ends in a disaster? Now I know that the eye of the storm is there, not at all scary, just waiting for me to enjoy the wonderful serenity whilst the world keeps roaring around me.