The Third Way

by | May 25, 2023 | Mysterious Musings

Digital collage consisting of photographs: ballerina dancers standing in a row, mannequins displaying male clothing, a palm tree at night, lit up from below, and light flares in white and in the colors of the rainbow.

I was born in a tension between two opposites. At least that’s how it feels, sometimes, to be born into two different countries and two different citizenships.

Not that the countries I am a citizen of are that different – they are both nordic countries located in Europe, and neighboring countries at that. Only a sea lies between them, and in the north, not even a sea, but a river.

Divided by waters. There is something poetic about that.

Sweden was the country that I was born into, and when I was one years old, my family moved to Finland where I then spent my childhood and teenage years. My parents had read in a book on bilingualism that it would be smart to split the languages between the parents so that the child can more easily distinguish between the two languages. So I spoke Swedish with my father and Finnish with my mother. And due to this, my parents came to inhabit the roles of being the main representatives for those two nationalities, at least in the beginning.

I have been contemplating the effects of choosing to write in English, and by carrying out most of my online networking in English. Is it causing me to fall out of touch with my mother and father tongues? Is it a loss? Am I just another person taking part in the process of anglicisation that is happening in many areas of the world? Maybe.

But writing in English also feels like stepping into neutral territory. It gives me a certain distance, that helps me to look even deeper into my own life. But the drawback is of course the loss of closeness, and the sense of intimacy that using any of those other languages could bring. And lately I have started to suspect that choosing English serves a further function: it allows me to override the issue of the tension between the two “opposites” of Finland versus Sweden.

By choosing English, I do not need to choose between Finnish or Swedish. I am choosing The Third Way.

As I write this, a little voice inside of me is whispering traitor. There is a side of me that is feeling guilty about the way that the role of the English language has grown in my life, while my Finnish and Swedish contexts are becoming more limited in scope. But another side of me has come to accept that my life has developed into a more internationally focused one, and this is the place I also have to write from. Starting a family with an Estonian person didn’t exactly simplify matters either: we are now trying to juggle teaching three languages to our child, while it is still easiest to communicate amongst ourselves in the fourth language – you guessed it – English.

So, in the matter of languages I have to say that I am experiencing lots of tensions, and feel like I am being torn in different directions. I love all these languages, for different reasons. I love the poetic heritage I have from my Finnish side. And I love the play with words that I have grown up with from the Swedish side. And what I most appreciate about the English language is how it has opened up my world into interacting with people from completely different cultures, made possible through sharing this additional language.

Digital collage consisting of photographs: a cathedral window and ceiling, a seagull flying towards the sun, three pairs of staircases leading down, and light flares in red, blue and purple.

There were times when I felt out of place amongst classmates who seemed to have a more clear-cut sense of identity. I speculated on the notion of growing up as either “fully finnish” or “fully swedish”, whatever that actually means. At times, I thought that might be easier. Maybe I would feel more rooted or at home, having just one country to focus on. But regardless of all the tensions I grew up with when it comes to the “battle” between Finland and Sweden, I see the richness that it has brought my life. And I actually believe that tensions are exactly where the deepest richness can be found. Challenges should be celebrated, since they add further, interesting dimensions to life. (Yes I know, this is much easier said than done, and I know that striving for a comfortable and tension-free life comes quite naturally. I guess I am also trying to convince myself by writing this… to teach myself to appreciate the tensions I was born with.)

Even though it brings its own challenges, it is also its own kind of a blessing to grow up with a dual perspective and a dual identity. Since I grew up with the experience of being split between two (and actually more) countries, all the discussions that center on nationalistic trains of thought seem like madness to me, and I find it bizarre that a person would choose to limit their world in such a way. These “clear-cut identities” are often built on stereotypes, anyway. If you look deeper, all people carry some kind of tension in them, even though they might not carry different nationalities on the surface. Regardless of the number of nationalities or the cultural heritage a person connects to, I believe they are also carrying multitides within them, and so many further dimensions in their soul. And I wish we could recognize that this similarity exists between all of us, regardless of our outer characteristics.

This is an excerpt of a post published on Minnamari’s newsletter/ publication Mysterious Musings on the Substack-platform. If you want to read the post in its entirety, visit Mysterious Musings on Substack.