Diary from the Sauna

At the end of the rainbow there isn’t a pot of gold, there is a sauna, I’m sure of it. Or the story could begin: when I die and go to heaven I hope all my friends and loved ones are there in a great big bath house, drinking Czech beer and going to the sauna in between cold sips of beer. Never mind the fact that I am not religious, don’t believe in God or heaven and hell or any of that mumbo jumbo.

This last year, and especially these last couple of months, I have been going to various saunas several times a week. In fact it has almost become an obsession for me. I love how every time I go to the sauna I come out feeling rejuvenated. Diving does the same for me. It’s a place to be in the moment and check all worries at the door. But, among other things, the sauna is also a symbol of my love for Finland and my friends there. I know of nothing better than to sit outside a sauna after a warm sweat and a cool dip, drinking a beer and talking with friends. In this way the sauna also bonds me with people close to me.

I read this folktale which really captures the spirit of the Finns or at least how they sometimes like to be portrayed (or is it really how we like to portray them?). It tells the story of a farmer who uses the sauna to reduce his chances of going to Hell. Over time he began to be able to withstand more and more heat and eventually the Devil heard of him and came up from Hell to meet the farmer and invited him to Hell to see if the farmer could withstand the heat of Hell itself. The Devil then told his minions to heat up Hell and make it hotter than ever before, but no matter how hot Hell became the farmer just smiled and asked for more heat. Eventually the Devil became so embarrassed and angry with the farmer that he threw the farmer out of Hell shouting at him never to return.

Saunas have the power to function as social hot spots (no pond intended) or a place for inner reflection. It can be a cleansing ritual, a rite of passage both spiritual and physical or simply the beginning of a night out with friends. But I guess it’s just a matter of finding the poetry in the experience, just like a walk down high street can be just that, a walk, or an epic adventure like none ever set upon before in the history mankind.

Being a romantic and a poet at heart (who knew) I tend always to see the beauty and poetry in the occasion. I realize that even a sad and tragic event can have a beautiful side to it, and even moments of joy and exhilaration can have gloomy sides to them. It all depends on the way in which you choose to behold these moments and events in your life. A Hollywood love story with a happy ending can be a sad experience if you come out of the movie theatre feeling as lonely as when you went in. The death of a loved one can bring with it the bonding of family and loved ones and the realization that you need to feed your hopes and dreams before it is too late – stillness can bring motion and death can bring life in the same way, that life will ultimately bring death.

So why write about poetry, tragedy and love, when this blog started being about my love for the Finnish sauna. Well, the answer is Steam of Life a Finnish documentary set in a series of saunas where different people talk about love, life and tragedy. Young love is always portrayed as stormy, and indeed it can be. I’ve been there. I’ve loved and lost, but recovered to find love yet again. But love can manifest itself in many manifold ways and be poetic and beautiful without the fire of youth. One monologue in the documentary mentioned above tells of such a love. Read for yourself:

I remember my grandpa,
when I was a little boy.
I used to walk to their place
and he’d be chopping wood.
Grandma was inside,
cooking, doing chores.
When grandma was in a bad mood,
grandpa would stop us –
and ask us:
“Is it still stormy in the South?”
He meant:
“Is your grandmother still angry?”
I asked grandpa how old
the oldest logs were in the shed.
He thought about it
and then said: “11 years.”
Time passed.
Grandpa chopped wood –
and grandma was either
in a good or a bad mood.
Then grandpa got dementia
and had to go to a nursing home.
When we visited him,
we told him everyday news –
but he wasn’t interested.
When we spent quiet time with him,
he would then ask –
where the end of the wood pile was, –
had it reached
the wall on the river side?
After four years grandpa found out
that his woodpile was running low.
He cried and apologized –
for not having chopped enough wood.
Afterwards, when I’ve thought about it, –
I realized –
that he wanted to chop enough wood –
to last until the end of grandmother’s life.
That’s when I realized –
how manifold love can be.