On Being Here

On Being Here

Is this world not enough?

We sat across the kitchen table, Annika and I.

Ja, Geliebte, said Anni.

Ja, Geliebter, I replied.

We had sort of fought in the morning. And the practicalities of having a young child and needing to work meant that this was the first time since then that we had the time to speak about it.

We talked a little of the day. We exchanged stories of Rahi, of little things he had done and said through the day. We imitated his voice, the sounds he makes. We laughed together, one recollection inspiring the next.

Annika had ridden with him past a kindergarten and there were children playing outside. He said, Kinder! Spielen! Rari! (Children! Playing! Rahi!) Annika said she felt bad about not stopping and letting him play.

I had found a doll in the living room. Rahi named her Pippi. And when he saw Pippi he smiled, a soft smile, gentle and happy. He leaned closer to Pippi and said, very quietly, hullo! Then he stroked her hair and said haar.

I spend a lot of time thinking about “big” things. I think about where we want to live. I think about what we want to do. I think about how to make my business succeed. I think about writing, about the meaning of life, about love, about work, about the future, about family, about Camus, about nihilism, about the empty centre of modern stoicism, about the absence at the heart of the mindfulness movement.

And life happens in the cracks between those big things. Rahi strokes Pippi’s hair and says hullo. Annika and I half-fight and then later that evening she pushes her finger out against my outstretched foot and gently touches it. I push my foot back against her finger. Our eyes soften. Ja, Geliebte, we say again.

A man knocks on the door. He’s holding a big box. It’s a toaster that has been delivered to our neighbours for us. My Christmas present, because Anni knows I like toast. Thank you, we say. Rahi runs up behind us. This is Rahi, I say. The man smiles, tells us they have a little one at home too. 8 months old, he says. Not mine! I’m the grandfather. We shut the door and go back to our warm kitchen.

The next day, when we’re in the woods with Rahi and his aunt Lulu and his cousin Japkop, a man says hello. I blink. Hartmut, I guess, on the basis that I only know one man in this neighbourhood. Yes, he says, and smiles, and we walk side-by-side for 10 minutes, chatting of this and that.

What does all this mean? Nothing, as far as I can tell. There are no grand revelations. The moments are undramatic. There’s nothing big about any of them.

It’s just life. My life, Anni’s life, Rahi’s life. Hartmut, the kids playing outside the kindergarten, the photos I send on the WhatsApp group to my mum and my sister and to Kikki and Maya … all of this is nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

I have lived most of my life somewhere else. I have lived with one foot in the future, waiting for the time when my life could really begin. I have striven for enlightenment, I have yearned for a world other than the one in which I live.

What, in fact, is "heaven" but the name we give our yearning to be elsewhere?

But is this world not enough?

The sky is multiple shades of grey. The trees are bare and shrivelled. Outside, the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. Old ladies pull shopping-suitcases behind them. A young girl pushes her bike. An old man, his mouth hanging open, walks past the window, breathing hard. Inside, a woman curls long fingers around her mug of coffee.

None of this is special. I feel no unusual feelings - no love for the trees, no melting sympathy for the people around me. I do not feel at one with the world. I do not feel my sense of identify dissolving. I do not feel especially happy and I do not feel especially sad.

Inside me, something quietly beats. Something very, very quiet, something like Rahi’s whispered hullo. It makes no claims. It doesn’t ask for attention. It’s just there, quietly beating.

This world is there. This table, this chair. These people. Those trees. My wife, my son. The wisps of smoke rising from buildings.

I would like to try to live here.