Stories you don’t want to hear

When I initially wrote this in Swedish, I figured it didn’t translate. But perhaps it does. It’s a long text, but rather important, so I hope you do read.

A few weeks ago, a documentary of one of Sweden’s most cherished late singers, Josefin Nilsson, went viral back home. Since I watched it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. The internet connection was so poor as I streamed it the show buffered incessantly and the picture was blurred for almost the duration of it, yet for one hour I didn’t move a muscle, and I sat there with my gaze fixed to the screen. Listening to her life story being unfolded. A story about a woman with so much to give to the world, and a story about a man who took it all away from her. Who abused her so severely, she never fully recovered.

Josefin passed away in 2016, just shy of her 47th birthday.

As I sat there and the producer’s credits starting rolling down the screen, I felt a fire raging inside of me. Ignited by all the anger I had in my heart. The anger for all the people in this world who by their own petty limitations, their own ignorance and their own oblivion towards the people around them, have felt entitled to bereave another human being of as much as a fragment of their own self-worth. Because as much as that documentary revolved around Josefin, her artistry, her zest of life and how much she devoured it, as much it revolved around all the ones who’s ever been denied their inherent right to their own body. Whose narrative was chosen for them, not by them.

I came to think of something that happened to me in primary school when I was seven years old. An incident which doesn’t hurt anymore, but who scarred me. Scarred me invisibly, by opening up an abyss I sometimes still find myself falling through. It was a regular autumn’s day back in 1999. I was standing in the lunch canteen and had spotted the last vacant seat by a crowded table. As I sat down, the entire table simultaneously stood up and moved to an empty table nearby. They left me there by myself. And that shame. That humiliation. That social rejection is still a vivid memory, long after it stopped hurting.

I thought about a friend of mine. When she was about the same age as I was at that time, she routinely saw her school nurse. At one point, the nurse had blurted out, admonishingly, that she was ”a little chunky” for her age. Maybe this sounds harmless, but she only confided this to me quite recently, after yet another rant of me reminding her that she shouldn’t have to ”deserve” dessert, or ”be good” in order to ”feel” good about herself. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to not try a new dress, and it certainly is not easy to undress in front of a new person, when she hears those words each time she has to look at her own body. It’s not easy because at a point in life when fitting in meant everything, she was told off for not doing so.

I thought about another acquaintance. I remember when she first told she’d been sexually abused as a child. The first time, she was six years old. The second time she was nine. The third time, she was 14. She told me that she doesn’t know how to think, or what to answer, each time someone asks her at what age she lost her virginity.

I thought about him. He, who was never allowed to be himself. He, who got thrown out on the street when he was 16 years old because he told his parents about this boyfriend. He, who still has to pretend, even though he’s past 30. He, who also finds the world to be quite tiring after having seen it, several times over, but who prefers to travel somewhere new rather than to go back home for leave, since the price of completely new experiences is less than that of old lies.

And I thought about her. She, who is just as reluctant to go back home as he is. Not because she is not allowed to be whoever she wants to be. Because in her parent’s house, there’s a black and white photo from her childhood, framed on the wall. A blurry old photo with frayed edges, of her, her mum, and a late male friend of the family. Had her mother known about the memories she relives each time she lays eyes on the photo, that cherished photo she often dusts off, she’d live a half-life thereafter, and she doesn’t think her mother is deserving of that. Because she wasn’t the grown-up who let her down, but that’s what she would have thought.

I cried as I wrote this down. Cried for to the powerlessness. For to the incapability. For to the injustice. For all the bad luck. And for all the luck. Because it’s nothing more than just luck. Luck that the shame I felt sitting abandoned by a dining table 20 years ago, was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Luck that I’ve never had to question my own right to my own body. Or my own thoughts, my own curiosities, my own wantings. Luck that I was given something as rare as unconditional love, from so many people. And the responsibility it calls for, from me, from everyone who was lucky, to make sure that’s the love who lives. The love that encourages. Includes. Protects.

There is injustice we are powerless to change. People in need we cannot help. Stories we don’t want to hear but have to listen to. People we want to cherish, but have to question for their actions, and experiences we wish we didn’t have but have to share to prevent them from repeating. At the end of the day, we’re all solely responsible for our own lives, and no one but ourselves can pick us up whenever we fall. But no one stands strong on their own.

What is the value of buying a new dress, to someone who resents her body in everything she wears? What is the value of saving your body for someone you love, to someone whose right to decide over her own body has been revoked so many times she’s lost count? What is the value of sharing a dinner with your family, in a room with a picture of a man who bereft you of your childhood? We are not always able to save each one another from harm. But we are able to remind ourselves that we are fragile. and so are the people we love. Perhaps there no moments in which we are more fragile, than in those where we thought we would never have to be.

I also believe it’s good to remind that when other’s confide, you do best to stay silent. But when others stay silent, you do best in not staying silent.

a trivial thought about the fear of a life where people come and go

To jaunt out into the world and leave your comfort zone is probably one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever give to yourself. Everyone who’s ever done it would tell you so. They would tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to that immense sensation of wanderlust and curiosity they all felt the day they set off. Because there isn’t. And they would tell you that the world is every bit as magical as you imagine it to be, and every bit as terrifying. And how there’s a dual harmony between the two that awakens an insatiable desire that can never die. An equal two-way desire of both the joy and the sadness found in this world. Because the joys are truly so many, but without the sadnesses as a constant reminder of how blessed we are, we often miss out on the opportunity to enjoy them while we can. Important.

But it comes with a price. Everything worth doing, having and experiencing often do, and far from it’s a monetary price. The thing is, in this unparalleled life constantly consisting of new acquaintances, unseen skylines, contradicting timezones, not yet savored cuisine and unexplored cultures, the person you spend the most time with is usually yourself. And that can either lift you up or completely break you down. And that is because most people are not entirely comfortable being by themselves. However, it’s the rare few who are brave enough to sit down with their loneliness, look it in the eyes, hold its hand, listen to what it has to say and allow for it stay whenever it comes to visit, that are the really fortunate ones in this world. Because they know that loneliness is not the time we spend in our own company. Far from.

People come and go into most people’s lives all the time, and that’s not a revelation of any kind. That’s just a fact. But what makes it unique for a traveler is that slowly, precariously and surely, you become so accustomed to this high flow of people that the old beaten process of getting to know someone, opening up bit by bit and taking time, is completely out the window. Because that’s just it, there is no time. And living a life where the one thing that unites most of us in it is that we’re trying to make the most of the time, we skip a few steps of the order in which things are normally done and instead go hardcore straight away. I can tell you, I’ve lost count on the occasions I’ve sat down next to someone I’ve met just moments earlier and opened up about something very personal to me, or the times when someone else has done this to me. Most of the time I don’t believe it’s about seeking for advice, it’s simply about ventilating. To prevent the things holding us down at the moment from nesting in our minds. I would describe myself as quite a private person normally, and that’s why I rely on the belief that we become adept at assessing quite quickly whom to trust, and whom not to. At the end of the day, we’re all strangers and know very little about one another. But I think it’s healthy. Not only to be reminded that all of us struggle sometimes, regardless of who we are. But, to trust.

It’s can be a privilege to be able to choose your alone time, just as it can be a torment to have it chosen for you. In this life, it’s chosen for you very often, and if you don’t know how to dispose of that time, it can be lethal. By now I don’t think there can be any more existential questions a person can ask themselves while taxiing around an airport, walking down new streets in new cities and starring into the hotel room ceilings on jet-lagged nights than I have already done. But the reward for asking questions is finding answers. And I feel like I do all the time. Asking questions is scary quite often since you don’t always obtain the answers you’re looking for. Even scarier if there’s no one by your side in those moments. That’s why I don’t believe this life would work unless you know that you have your safety net, a phone call or a flight away. And that’s enough. For me, right now and right here. More than enough.

People may come and go, but we’re still here. And somehow, we’re fine. Maybe not right away, or even every day, but we’re fine. It’s a nice thought to think that at the end of the day you don’t really need anyone. That the people in your life are there because you chose them, and because they chose you. But perhaps one day you won’t chose them, or they won’t choose you anymore. You will choose differently. Perhaps nothing except for right here and right now can be granted, and for exactly that reason it’s a good idea to stop for a moment and take a look around you. We don’t know what won’t be here tomorrow, regardless of what we know today, so to celebrate anything that makes life a little bit more colorful, is never a bad idea. Life will continue to take turns we didn’t see coming. Some things we can control, so let’s. Some things we can’t control, so let’s. It took me some time to embrace, but there’s a genuine power hidden to be found behind the things we are powerless of. Just precisely that simple, and just precisely that difficult.

Namaste.