From Ashes We Rise
May 03rd, 2010
by Anja Snellman (Stilton author)

Despite pervasive technology and scientific leaps, life is essentially about waiting. This we tend to forget in the hurry and flurry of everyday life—and we should, for evolutionary reasons alone: Let poets and philosophers pause and ponder the deep questions and slow undercurrents of life. The rest of us have hectic workweek agendas to attend to.

I am one of those stragglers whose hearts fill with delight when nature reminds us of its ultimate power—when natural phenomena rule supreme over congresses and seminars on the other side of the world or “downloadable mobile entertainment content” and what have you. I find it hilarious when pinstriped young businessmen pace back and forth in the airport with cell phones on their ears and when first-class air passengers are befuddled by the tourist-class railroad trip across Europe that looms ahead.

Stateswomen and statesmen wait with ordinary mortals on wharves and railroad platforms. An aggressive television reporter asks a scientist when the volcanic eruption will end, so that air traffic can resume. The scientist answers unhurriedly, with a smile, that it is impossible to tell—sometimes it takes as long as two years. Then we can see how the intrusive microphone under the scientist’s nose slowly descends in despair.

From time to time, we need to be reminded of higher powers in ways more startling and impressive than blood-weeping Madonna paintings or miracle cures at evangelical meetings. In our era of illusions, where faking is everything, such miracles do not count for much. The stigmata on our minds are ones of indifference, numbness and boredom.

But when the Earth’s crust breaks and volcanoes erupt, no one can claim that the television images have been manipulated or that the ash plume is actually created by a wind machine in Hollywood. This is real, and we cannot help the situation—not even if we press all available buttons and controls and touch pads or call important people and offer them money.

At first our indifference is replaced by agitation, then by helplessness. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Suddenly we are no longer in a hurry. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Suddenly we become human again. The ashes cleanse us; nomadic tribes in deserts have known this for thousands of years.

Recently, when watching and listening to people’s reactions at airports, I have noticed that surprisingly few have seemed enraged or even annoyed after learning that their business trips or vacations were canceled. Quite the contrary: many have said, as though secretly content, that we simply must adapt. After all, what can you do? Who can you blame? The volcano at Eyjafjallajokull makes no apologies and will consider no applications for compensation.

Of course, we need scapegoats. Some blame tour operators, airlines, insurance companies, consulates, embassies, and so on and so forth for leaving stranded travelers to their own devices.

This all reminds me of the poet Helena Anhava. Astounded by the amount of belongings we feel compelled to amass, she said something along these lines: “When we are deeply sad or profoundly happy, we need nothing.”

Published with permission from Iltalehti. Translated by Timo Luhtanen.