THIS IS HOW the film Mary Poppins Returns ends, with its main characters lifted into the pink-blue London skies by colorful balloons, serenading life itself with a sense of euphoria. All of the conflicts have been resolved, all the relationships are balanced, and the nanny’s work is once again done. In the cinema, my youngest daughter climbed into my lap.
“But is it all true, daddy?” she asked.
“Is what true?”
“Is it true that people can fly like that? With balloons?”
I looked at the screen, at the human shapes dangling in the sky, still singing. “Yes, it is true. Actually, it’s all true, everything you saw in the film. It really is.”
She sat back, content with my answer, and I felt my own sense of euphoria wash across my body. A good, warm feeling it was, a bit of sweat on my temples, heat in my limbs, as if I had just shared my deepest secret. It was a relief to tell her the truth that people really could fly if they were permitted to. Of course, few if any of us can grip a balloon in a park and soar off into the clouds singing like that, but spiritually we are built for transcendence. Humanity is born into the greatest calamity, poverty, conflict, despair. Humanity is born into squalor, failure, countries that war, families that break. Yet from all the ghettos and chaos, its spirit emerges whole and intact. We are engineered to survive, to see the world as beauty. We are wingless but made for flight.
Sometimes though it seems that nothing arouses more negativity than personal fulfillment. In Danish literature, this is immortalized as the janteloven, the Law of Jante, named after a fictional Danish village where the locals look down on individuality and the idea that by transcending one’s realities, the person is somehow betraying the village collective. The second you succeed, the moment your feet leave the ground, there are dozens at your heels, struggling to drag you down back to earth. No one can fly, no one can escape, no one can take off and leave the rest behind in flight.
Estonia, being a northern country, is certainly no exception to this mindset. Estonians have their own Jante village mentality — I call it “Jantevere,” for local flavor. The Estonians’ favorite food is, by their own admission, other Estonians. “I hate all of these people here,” a young man told me at a bar recently. “They just want to keep you down.” “But aren’t you one of them?” I asked him. “Yes, but not in my heart,” he said.
If someone sings well, then they are actually quite terrible, or think they are singing better than they are. If someone writes too well, then his work is derivative or nothing compared to the output of some other. To even call oneself a writer is somehow elitist. The politicians are only in it for themselves. The businessmen are all crooked. There is a trick to everything. On the outside, we are shiny and pretty, but inside we have become as hollow as old-fashioned tin toys.
But, you know, I’m tired of it. I am tired of hearing people say that you can’t do this or that, that your feelings are suspect, your love is misplaced, your ambitions will never be achieved, your plans are futile. I’m tired of hearing that everything would have been better if something else had happened at some random moment in time. If only this had happened, then that would have never happened. I’m tired of hearing that life is hard, or about how miserable everyone else is. I am tired of being told that my soul has no currency in a world where happiness is measured by how long your driveway is.
I’m tired of hearing there’s no hope, there’s no future, or that people can’t fly. It’s junk. Of course we can. Give me the biggest, brightest balloon.
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