During the past year a few persons close to me have died. I also have acquaintances and relatives who have reached a high age and are experiencing some related ailments. This has made me think about life and the process of getting old. Although I am just under thirty, I can already see how my views on getting older have changed during the past ten years. How they will develop in the future, I can only guess, but the contrast between my current perspective and the one I had ten years ago is visible.
When I was twenty, I hardly contemplated about death on a personal level. I had been to funerals, but at that time death was something that would meet the old miserly while I was young and healthy. Death was not something that could happen to me or my friends of same age. Now I think and acknowledge that death could meet me eventually, but at the same time it seems to be very, very far away, maybe infinitely far away if no accident should end my life. While the twenty-year-old me saw himself as immortal, the current me has abandoned this illusion while thinking he can still live potentially forever.
When a person gets older, they gradually lose their physical prowess and mental faculties. In what order these steps take place and to what degree, varies between individuals. For the person themselves, having a clear mind in a feeble body is likely worse than the opposite; the mind can observe and grasp how its physical housing is collapsing and how it must also come to its end. In the opposite case, an otherwise functioning body without a lucid mind cannot foresee its own faith, living both without joy and worries.
Getting older and having a visceral feeling of dying must be tough for both the person experiencing it and also the people around them. However, I think we shouldn’t worry about death but rather accept it as a necessary conclusion to our lives. If we can accept death as something over which we have only limited control, we can spend more time enjoying the good things in our lives. Living in fear of death is hardly living at all.
About a week ago I received a small parcel from Switzerland. The sports club, the treasurer of which I was for a year and a half, had sent me some gifts to thank me for my work. I found the gesture and the gifts in themselves very thoughtful, so I decided that writing and sending them a hand written thank you card was in order.
In the past years I have written a few cards or longer greetings to some close friends and have always found the whole process very pleasant. When writing a longer letter by hand, one in which you really put thought into, is a meditative experience. If one wants to avoid using any correction fluid and insists on also producing an aesthetically pleasing letter with straight lines and beautiful letters, it’s essential to fully concentrate on the task at hand. You must consciously make every stroke, cross each t and place the dots on each i with care. Try to read your e-mails on the side and you end up either missing a word, choosing the wrong one or producing a figure that remotely resembles some letter.
What I like about writing letters by hand is how it improves my ability to concentrate. In today’s world we tend to have shorter attention spans and jump constantly between things, spreading our attention to all direction without focusing on any single one. When writing a letter by hand, you must invest hours to produce a good result. The one and a half pages I wrote to my friends in Switzerland took maybe two hours to compose. Writing letter by hand also develops your thinking as you have to formulate and develop your thought to its full conclusion before putting it on paper; each error means that everything thus far must also be written anew to produce a flawless result. Of course you can write the text first on a computer where you can quickly edit your text and correct mistakes, but writing a hard copy requires a finished text to begin with.
Hand written letters are also personal since they contain the writer’s unique handwriting instead of some preset font designed by a third person. When the letter is finally finished, you have a very tangible result of your own work. Receiving hand written letters is also nice since you know that the person must mean what they say; otherwise they hardly would have invested the time.
I am not advocating that we should stop using electronic devices for producing text but I highly encourage and recommend writing the occasional letter to someone important. It takes more time but also develops your concentration and patience while also making you think what you want to say and how to say it.
The other day I went to a barbershop to have my hair tidied up. For the last three years I have let my hair grow longer and I’ve only had the tips cut occasionally. As a result my hair was very thick and below my shoulders. Since I don’t invest much time in doing my hair, I decided to get it shortened a bit and have it cut a bit lighter.
Coming back from lunch at the university I took a short walk to a nearby barbershop I had seen many times before but never visited. Around lunch time they have reduced prices and they also take walk-ins, so I decided to pop by. As I stepped in, I saw a man and a woman in the waiting area, sitting and talking to each other. One or two employees were serving other customers further right. The man asked whether I had an appointment. I said no and looked at the woman quizzically, whether she would have the time to cut my hair. The woman said she didn’t work there and the man asked me again whether I had an appointment. I repeated that no, I didn’t have one, but would like to have a haircut, which was arranged after a short wait.
While sitting in the barber’s chair I realized how I had fallen quilty of sexism and my preconceptions. On walking in and seeing a man and a woman talk to each other I thought I was seeing either two patrons or a customer (the man) and an employee (the woman). Accordingly, I also focused on the woman whom I assumed to be able to help me, although the man was the first to speak to me. Thinking about my own behavior, I felt quite bad about it later on. I had let my preconceptions guide my behavior, although I should have followed the situation: in a barbershop the person who asks you about your reservation is likely to work there, whether it’s a man or a woman.
What also made my behavior surprising to me is the fact that I have visited male barbers before. Seeing a man cutting hair was nothing new to me; abroad I have even seen barbershops with male employees only. In Finland it has been a profession dominated traditionally by women but during the last ten years or so more men are increasingly in the profession, or at least that’s my impression. Maybe it was because I was in Finland, where barbers are predominantly female, that I unconsciously expected the woman to be working at the barbershop and the man to be a customer. Nevertheless it was a good lesson how we can unconsciously promote sexism and other types of discrimination.
Even if we cannot get rid of all our ingrained stereotypes and preconceptions, it’s important to acknowledge their existence and recognize when we fall prey to them. I believe that to be necessary to reduce their power, stop their spreading and have a more equal society.
It’s been two and half week snow since I moved from Switzerland back to Finland. During that time I have already revived some old hobbies of mine, like hunting and role playing, and have also enjoyed the Finnish summer by wandering in the woods looking for mushrooms (plenty of chanterelles here) and picking blueberries.
On leaving Switzerland I didn’t feel very wistful, rather I was full of expectation, anticipating the beginning of the studies in physics. Of course I left many wonderful people behind, but leaving Switzerland didn’t feel like giving up something. Maybe that’s because I can keep up with my friends there quite easily using e-mail WhatsApp and other communication channels and because I tend not to become too fond of places. I expect to miss the Swiss Alps sometime in the future, but in Finland I have the forests, the lakes and other wonders of nature to enjoy.
At the moment I am feeling quite tranquil, relaxing before the studies begin and getting the everyday life here on track.
Today, June 12th 2017, was the first day of the rest of my life. My resignation and coming studies in physics were announced in our team, and the following Wednesday we will announce it to the whole department. On my way home from work I decided to inform my friends, close relatives and people who had helped me during the process of finding my passion in science and physics.
I spent the evening calling my friends and telling them the news of having decided to pursue university physics, starting from the very beginning, and planning to move back to Finland in August. All of the people I called greeted the news joyfully, congratulating me for taking such a step. One friend said he was hardly surprised by my decision to go back studying, but such an extreme move, instead of studying alongside work, was not for him the most expected decision. Anyhow, he was fully supportive and happy for me.
Being able to inform my close friends and relatives was such a great feeling, being able to lift the veil of secrecy and be open, be honest and tell where my passion lies and that I had decided to pursue it. They gave me supportive feedback and encouragement without a hint of doubt or belittling; once again I was shown how great friends I have, friends who don’t judge me and are open-minded.
Unfortunately I didn’t reach everyone this evening so I will continue with the calls tomorrow. Even if I become repetitive here, I must once more say that being open about yourself, your personality, interests and passions is relieving and lets you pursue those things in full without wasting energy on hiding things or trying to play a foreign role.
This blog post was originally written on June 12th 2017.
Day 22 What I did: Once again, I forgot to do today’s RAOK, although I do high fives and fist bumps with my colleagues weekly and it’s fun, energizing and strengthens the bond between people. Result: Did not do today’s RAOK.
Day 23 What I did: I let a colleague go before me at the food stands at our company’s Christmas party. For me today’s task a usual thing to do. Result: My colleague thanked for the gesture.
Day 24 What I did: I did not give away any clothes yet, but I have a few nearly unused sweaters I will offer to a friend of mine when I meet him during the holidays. Result: Decided to ask a friend if he wants to have a few unused sweaters I do not need anymore.
Day 7 What I did: I wrote to a friend in WhatsApp what a great person he is and how I feel happy to have him as a friend. Result: It felt good to acknowledge openly the importance of a person in my life. Such small gestures and sentences are essential nourishment for the closest of relationships.
Day 8 What I did: I said “yes” to the chance to speak up and say my opinion on a potential initiative in a team meeting. Result: It felt good to contribute and know that I gave my opinion when it was time for discussion.
Day 9 What I did: I called to my grandfather and had a short chat with him. Result: My grandfather was happy to hear my voice. The feeling was mutual.
Day 4 What I did: I open doors to people regularly, so this day’s RAOK was nothing special for me. Unfortunately, this day was a lazy Sunday with little contact to other people, so I had no good chance to open a door to someone. Result: From past experience I know that opening the door to someone usually earns a smile and a thank you. It also gives you a good feeling, a feeling of having helped someone.
Day 5 What I did: I totally missed this. I meant to pay for someone’s coffee or something like that. Having done my grocery shopping today, I realized I could have paid the couple of sodas the person after me was getting. Result: I did not do today’s RAOK.
Day 6 What I did: I shared my little knowledge on plumbing at the nearby bouldering hall. I noticed in the heating pipes an open valve that should’ve been closed, closed it and notified the personnel that it had been open. Result: The hall personnel thanked me and I felt good knowing that I had done the right thing, not having closed my eyes and thought: “Not my business.”
I spent the last weekend with a few colleagues from work climbing to Piz Buin, the highest peak in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg. For some people Piz Buin might be more familiar as a sun block brand, and sun block was much needed during the days as the snow reflected the still strong late summer sun shine.We were very lucky to have a clear blue sky with the sun shining on both days. Our group was lead by a professional guide who taught us some basics of mountaineering, e.g. how to advance as a group when attached to a rope, how to act when someone falls into a crevasse (a chasm in the ice) and how to walk with crampons attached to your shoes.
We started our trip on Saturday morning by driving to Austria and climbing about 400 meters up to the cabin “Wiesbadener Hütte” on Saturday morning. The following afternoon we spent training with our guide on the glacier.
After the first training and introduction to hiking on glacier and a very brief peek into hiking on mountainous routes from our guide Moses , we were well equipped to climb to Piz Buin, with Moses’ help and guidance of course.
The Climb to Piz Buin
On Sunday morning, we started our climb at around 6.30 am from a height of 2443 meters above sea level (ASL). The first part of our trip took us through some stony landscape, broken by small streams flowing down from the melting glacier. As we climbed higher, we arrived at the edge of the glacier where we put on our crampons. Slowly and steadily making our way even higher, attached to the rope, we enjoyed the silence and whiteness of the surrounding landscape. After a while, the glacier became flatter, and eventually we reached the saddle (“Buinlücke”) between the Grand and Little Piz Buin, some 3000 meters ASL.
Our final leg was climbing the remaining 300 meters to the top the Grand Piz Buin. The leg consists of a hiking path and some simple rock climbing with a rope.
Finally, at the top, 3312 meters ASL, the view in all directions was simply beautiful. We were looking down at the surrounding peaks and could see far into the Swiss side. There was no wind and we were the only people there. Amusingly, we also saw a small single-engine airplane circling around the Grand Piz Buin. It passed us at nearly eye level, not 100 meters away from the peak and with its three passengers waving at us.
The trip back.
After a break of good 20 minutes at the top we started our way back from the summit, again rock climbing and after that hiking a steep path to the saddle point between the two peaks.
From there on we crossed again the glacier, feeling how the snow was already getting softer and softer as the afternoon sun was throwing its warm beams at it. Multiple groups passed us on the glacier on their way to Piz Buin, which was somewhat surprising, since the melting snow makes the trip a lot harder in the afternoon.
Arriving at the lower end of the glacier, we trotted down the stony path back and visited a glacier cave at the foot of the glacier. According to our guide Moses, the ice layers in the cave, reachable by bare hand, were a few hundred years old. The contrast between the glacier cave and the surrounding desert-like landscape just outside of the cave reminded me of a sci-fi film.
One experience richer
At about 2 pm, back at the cabin, we were admittedly tired but also full of joy after the experience and proud of having done the trip. A good part of the experience and our success are attributable to Moses and the excellent weather conditions. With his experience, calm and trust inducing manner Moses helped us through even the more difficult parts on the trip.
Our trip from the cabin to the Grand Piz Buin took us 3 hours and 45 minutes, while the whole round-trip, including a 20-25 minute lunch break and a visit to the glacier cave took us 7 hours and 30 minutes, so it was full day’s trip. I will add photos later on, since my writing doesn’t do justice to what we experienced.
I think I was bit by a mountaineering mosquito and might find myself next summer on a couple of such tours. But before that my colleagues and I are planning to take a rock climbing course to be better able to clear legs requiring rock climbing and gaining the confidence and skills to do it right and safely.
Edit from 4.9.2016: Photos added. Many thanks to Moses for the pictures. Also fixed some typos.