Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Dim Light of Relativity

Exactly 20 years ago I was doing my mandatory military service. Was in the middle of nowhere on a winter camp practicing certain extreme skills. Was exhausted physically after carrying all that stuff on my back and walking long distances. Hungry for not having time to cook that food on the small heater outdoors. Thirsty, because the drinking water had to be boiled from the snow, purified with a purifying pill. Cold, there wasn't much time to dry the clothes on in the hour or two long breaks in the tent not that often. Tired, I slept altogether six hours during that camp week.
Still, when the week ended, we got to go back to the base. Got off on the weekend holidays. I probably slept in my warm bed for most of the weekend. Took it all back. At least I had the possibility.
During my eleven months in the military, I got free train tickets to go to my weekend holidays. So I visited my grandparents quite regularly. Once my Grandpa asked how the food in the military was. By that time I was back in the same base where I had had my basic training, one of the last bases with the old style table passing meals. I was quite sick of that same pork dice sauce. I told my Grandpa it. He said: "Yeah, I know. It used to be bad as well. During the war we had this shred soup. Bit of porridge with a little pieces of ham in it."
I never complained again.
These situations bring different problems people have to the same line to be compared. I know that while I could be complaining about food, during the wars military men were struggling to get anything to the front line. And yes: children in Sudan are suffering from starvation.
As I go back to my "so tough" military memories, they now seem more as golden times. Even the harshest moments can be remembered with some humour. About having "the unicorn grown in the forehead" during that demanding winter camp week. Nothing compared to those boys sent to the front during the wars. Some of them scared to death what they'd be experiencing.
When I was in Under Officer School we were brought to different neighbourhoods from the base to collect money from door to door to disabled war veterans. I had been collecting money already twice during the basic training. Did it twice during the next months after it. It was a tradition for the guys doing their service annually for decades.
We were brought to Kallio district, few kilometers Northeast from Helsinki city center. The district is a known place for working class and artists. Bit bohemian, in some parts rough, but full of life. Some people in their nicer homes didn't even open their doors to us. Some people who obviously had less, gave us from their little. We were living a deep recession. Unemployment rate was going up to nearly 20 per cent.
There was a dim light coming out of the door to the hallway when I had rung the doorbell. An older man opened the door. He seemed a bit slow. Maybe due to his age or something. Then I noticed a huge hole scar in his upper forehead. Probably from the grenade.
I introduced myself and as I told about the money collection for the disabled war veterans, he lost it. As if seeing a young man wearing his gray military holiday suit was bringing back all his memories. Nightmares. All the horrors young men had to go through. He broke down.
I don't know if it was his daughter or a granddaughter, who walked him peacefully away back to the kitchen. Looked at me, so I'd understand. I nodded. We seemed to be agreeing without many words that I should go. She would have her moment together to calm the old man down. In their dim light. In their small kitchen in this working class neighbourhood.
After finishing the tour, I walked back to our gathering place by Karhupuisto, a small park. Some men, who had apparently gone into the side paths of their lives, were having a drink from their bottles in the park. Commenting something to us. We ignored them.
Until they gathered together. Soon a delegation of those probably homeless alcoholics came to talk to us. "We gathered our money together and would like to make a donation. My father fought in the Winter War", the leading man said. He was moved. Got us all slightly in the same state.
At that point I realized that life is not black and white, and things might not be as they're thought in the first place. And everything has sometimes everything to do with relativity.


  1. Ihan tuli tippa linssiin, kun kerroin noista laitapuolen kulkijoista, jotka keräsivät kolehdin keskuudestaan veteraaneille.

    Isäni muisti aina kertoa sotakaveristaan, joka oli nuorena poikana ollut vähän ronkeli ruoan suhteen. Hän oli kertonut isälleni, että oli joutunut sodan aikana tilanteeseen, jolloin oli nälkkäänsä paistanut rottaa nuotiolla. Oli kuulemma tullut mieleen koti ja lapsuus, ja ne kerran, kun äidin kotiruoka ei oikein maistunut.

    Terveiset täältä etelän "lämmöstä".

  2. Kaikki on tosiaankin kovin suhteellista. Eikä meillä useinkaan ole mitään tietoa minkälaista oikeasti huono tai olematon ruoka jossain sotaolosuhteissa on ollut. Muistelen tuota Pappani kommenttia keväällä 1993. En usko hänen itse edes ajatelleen, että mun ruokani EI olisi ollut yhtä huonoa kuin hänen sota-ajan riekalesoppansa. Muistan itse hiljaa hävenneeni valittamisiani ne kommentit kuultuani. Oppia ikä kaikki.

    Terveiset sinne etelän lämpöön!