A few months back, I heard a cry for help.
I was heading home from downtown when I passed a man on the street. He was very agitated, locked eyes with me and said: “APUA! Minä tarvitsen apua.”
In what felt like an instant and an eternity, I looked away and walked on, as many others before me had done. The pain I’d glimpsed had felt unbearable: grief, despair, hopelessness… those human emotions we try to bury and hide because we fear feeling them might kill us.
I continued to think about him and our silent exchange for the rest of the day and in the following days. The truth is, I felt really ashamed. I do not want to live in a world where someone’s deep pain is met with frozen indifference, where someone’s cry for help is seemingly ignored. And yet, I had found myself immobilized in the (literal) face of so much pain.
As fate would have it, a few days later, I crossed paths with the same man. It’s almost like I’d been looking for him, awaiting the chance for him to pierce my heart. This time I was ready: “APUA! Tarvitsen apua!”
Our eyes locked and this time, I welcomed the connection. I was able to stay with myself and the now-familiar feelings, as his words and tears tumbled out.
I asked him exactly what kind of help he needed, keeping us both anchored in my breath. By the time we parted, both our hearts were opened and the air around us peaceful.
While I struggle to put into words exactly what was transmitted, hope was restored in many ways. That my own cries won’t go unnoticed, trust in serendipity and the kindness of strangers. That we have immense power as individuals to witness and perhaps support someone in difficult circumstances. Whether our intentions are felt, or not.
From my end, I can say that this man and our exchange was a gift I needed to learn to receive. The first time, I wasn’t able to. But life was kind enough to offer me a second chance.
This man, like me, had moved to Finland as an adult and had met hardship. Our exchange took place in Finnish. Without Finnish, would I have thought: “this doesn’t concern me, I’m not from around here,” and expected ‘the Finns’ to do something about it? (As I have surely done before, even with Finnish!)
Life has shown me that belonging is something I get to claim and define for myself. Who am I, if not a local? Who am I, if not a Finn? (among other labels). All else is a myth.
In his case, Finnish enabled him to ask for help, and his pain kept him asking. How many others are out there who, for whatever reason, are unable to ask?
In my case, Finnish enabled me to be an active participant in my community. In a situation that was so challenging, that not every person was able or willing to engage (as I saw the first time). But I was willing and able, eventually.
For this exchange, Finnish, the location and everything else we shared, I am really grateful today.
Please know that you are loved and seen.
That asking for help is a gift you can offer someone.
And that offering help is a gift you can offer yourself.
P.S. Thank you for reading today’s unexpected letter. It just felt like something important to me, which I wanted to share. Maybe something in there resonated with you as well. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🖤🤍🤎