The Forum is where it is

Harry Drabik


Laskianinen is held at Palo’s Loon Lake Community Center (near Aurora) the fi rst weekend of February.
Laskianinen is held at Palo’s Loon Lake Community Center (near Aurora) the first weekend of February.

I enjoy Laskianen. The food is reliably good and plentiful; Finns aren’t known for hospitality of meagre portion. Metro people might nose turn at such narrow culturalism. Fine, they can have their celebration in a cities’ park. A picnic would be nice. So OK, before I toddle down that path I’ll turn away because this Laskianen I had a few long-time friends (there are such unfortunates) visiting. Earlyish (we were hungry) to arrive one of the first things pointed out to me was a car with a Warren sticker next to a Trump/Pence. Little did I realize this was to be a small portent to the day.  

Bumper stickers aren’t my thing. I usually ignore them because little surprises me about people. I know folks with good reasons for bad ideas and others with fine ideas for poor reasons. People are nimbly good about such things. The thing bothering me more is a too-often lack of curiosity that another point of view might have something useful to contribute. A bumper sticker tells me the one who stuck it there is a preacher. Preach away, I’ll listen if I must. But proselytizing about the purity of one versus the corruption of another will lose me every time. I’m not drawn toward moral perfection. Let angels and theologians dispute that. I’d like to see practical plans. Oh to be sure, when people balance Trump with Sanders it’s going to be interesting. But on the other hand have you ever seen two more identical “types” than those two. Similar personas with divergent views. With human politics I’m never too sure if I’m in for a good laugh or am going to have the pants scared off me. I guess both might be funny.  

Long ago before new think took the position that the ancient past was a horrible pox on all the non-Western world, the Forum was a place went to for an exchange of ideas. When your own mind is set on there being only one true and correct view, then an exchange and interplay of ideas is a nasty and upsetting possibility to ponder. It’s also less work to push understanding aside in favor of a neatly utopian possibility. Notice how some people will do that? They give a glorious vision as if nothing could possibly go wrong. Does happiness and fulfillment hang on an amount of stuff or benefits? Visionary types too often see us as so many eggs needing to be put in comfortable crates of dozens – not very diverse, that.  

But after you’re nicely crated up, are you happy then? Or the better question, are the crater-uppers now satisfied or will they have to fuss, crate, and re-crate until the best would take you as far from them as possible? Visionaries, well, they can be lots of fun. The last few political weeks saw a lot of visions floating as winged cherubs or satanic fliers, your take depending on your view. The best of that were the visions of what if. If this happens then this can follow, and if this then that is sure to result. Going back a long time the Spartans had a way of knocking visions down to size. Sparta was once faced by a formidable adversary who said “If you reject our plan we will attack your city, destroy your walls, sink your fleet, take over your farms, confiscate all your serfs, turn your wives and daughters to concubines, sell your sons as slaves, and leave nothing left of great Sparta.” To this lengthy declaration Sparta responded with one word. “IF.” All that fine visionary bull twaddle is set into perspective in one word “IF.” Spartan society isn’t my pick for how to live, but they had a knack for being real.  

I wasn’t expecting a Spartan version of Helsinki, in ways as removed from the Greco Roman world as can be found in the west. But there was a Forum of people. I didn’t look for it. The Forum, the exchange, the big table was simply there as much a part of the event as the iced track drawing a steady march of young (mostly) and old (brave ones) to the big slide onto Loon Lake. A kid, clearly exhilarated, turned to tell us “I’m eight. I did it three times.” There was a voice I was glad to hear. But that little one was not alone. I began to notice, not that it should have surprised me, how many styles and takes were to be seen gathered and working together in a common event. There were crafts, foods, causes, and events in enough variety to keep youngsters buys playing ball indoors in the gym and elders nodding in synch with the accordion playing Finnish singer with a deeply profound tone. Amazing!  

It’s worth noting that hours of shuffling in crowds I felt no elbowing or push. Cooperative respect is a real thing in some cultures, despite criticism from outside. In a way the outside was absent. I say that because in circulating I was surprised to bump into the same remark from this vendor to that craft person. “We aren’t connected.” “No TV in our house.” “I don’t watch the news.” Imagine the freedom in not being tied to a buzzing device that says it’s more important than whatever else you’re doing. Kids, conversation, a nice view are all ignorantly interrupted by a gadget. I’m sure most people at Laskianen had gadgets with them, but for the most part they were unseen and unused, saved for later. The Forum is primarily an exchange among people. Things don’t gather in social groups. People do. Whether crafters of cedar furniture or makers of natural soap an essential human nature was a natural ingredient of their product.   It was a good day at the Forum. A seller of woolens announced staunch political affiliation with their hose, as if both feet had to be left or right. Best of show, a boy openly wore his Finn dagger. There was no panic or approbation. Isn’t that a nice change?