I always felt like I was at the starting line; the start of life. For the sake of metaphors – at the beginning of the road. Until I saw the leaves change, fall to the ground, and get covered in snow. The cold air bites my nose. Another winter passed. How quickly the seasons started to change. I blew out seventeen candles, what feels like last year. How did a year go by in the length of four? If my road started a long time ago, it seems like I missed the starting pistol. But why does the gunshot ring echo in my ears? Why do I still feel like I’m at the beginning of the road each passing day? I wondered about others and how the concept of walking a road materializes for them. Does it hold meaning, if any? Is there a gunshot ringing in everyone’s ears, has the pistol gone off or is it just being warmed up? The interconnection between time and life as a starting line of a long road, urged me to sit down with women from different generations, to learn more about the universal human experience of walking a life “road”; where has it led and where is it leading? I seek out the person closest to me and I start with my mom Ilma. She is the foundation, I am an extension of her. I am here from the way I talk, the way I view the world and the way I love.
I ask her starts by telling me about where on the road she currently is, ‘’There’s nothing solid or permanent in life, but right now I feel comfortable about my being and existence as a whole.’’ I ask her how different her feelings were at my age, ‘’Truthfully, I am more content right now. Back then I was more focused on some imagined future than living in the moment. I think I now accept my life the way it is. Even with the bad things, I am better at accepting them now. I am also accepting that it’s better to start things late in life than never start them at all.’’ ‘’I do wonder what things would be like if I would’ve done them this or that way, but then I come back to the conclusion that I did what I thought was best at the moment. I think I always emphasized creating and maintaining relationships and spending time with the ones closest, therefore I think I have done everything right.’’ I think this is something I inherited from her. Mom often reminded me to prioritize relationships and connections that are genuine and raw; how we’re not really anything without the people around us; the ones who help us, care for us, and make us better. I see how I carefully choose who I surround myself with, who I let in and to who I dedicate my time, energy and effort.
Further, my mom recalls certain things that deeply impacted her life, ‘’My mother, the way she raised me, and the conversations she had with me. She was accepting and open about things, so I got that from her. And two books: Jane Eyre and Lady Chatterley’s lover. Jane Eyre, I read when I was 12, and I remember how it turned me from a girl to a woman. It made me long for love and romantic relationships. Something that did not cross my mind before.’’ Ironically enough my mom gave me Jane Eyre at the same age, ‘’ Lady Chatterley was the first book where I read about intimate relationships. During Soviet times no one talked about it, so this book was the first one that closely described their feelings and their intentions. Somehow it made me feel confident about these things, it nourished my views and beliefs on romantic relationships.’’ I ask her where she sees herself in the foreseeable future, ‘’I have realized that I will not change that much mentally. When I look back, there are a few things that I did not achieve, and I don’t think I will gain the characteristics needed to achieve them. Rather, I accept myself without these traits. Maybe I would like to gain more inner peace, however, I do think that I am quite content. Perhaps I have lost some delusions, or gained inner self-assurance that I am good the way I am.’’ Continuing, I ask more about the past: sometimes I wonder about her in the past. The version of who she was at my age. Would we be friends? I ask her the same: could she understand and befriend the 20-year-old version of herself, ‘’I would understand her. But with the knowledge I have now, would I be friends with her? I don’t think it would be interesting. I think I was a bit childish, not really self-assured, and quite scared. And you know how there’s a saying that you are annoyed by things in others that you actually cannot accept in yourself? Since I have not dealt with everything I was struggling with back then, perhaps I would be pretty annoyed by myself.’’
Lastly, I ask her: Where does the road lead? ‘’I am completely sure that life is a lesson and we all have something that we need to learn. The one field through which we improve ourselves is through the connections we have with others. Of course, it is also important to learn how to be on your own, but we grow and develop specifically through relationships. You can notice how when you don’t really sort something out, but rather run away from the problem, it has a way of coming back. You’re back at square one, and it’s a cycle until you learn how to deal with the problem. Therefore, I think, because of reasons individual to each, life gives everyone lessons that need to be solved and figured out. There is no quick escape. It is even worse, for instance, ending your life, because then, I believe, you’re stuck in this grey lonely nothingness, while when you’re here, on earth, you have options, you can try to find a way. That is the mission – to find the way and to move forward.’’
I get to talk on the phone with a friend of my mom’s Aija. So far I have only heard stories, compliments, if you may. Now finally speaking to her I so surely see these compliments manifesting. She radiates such calmness and boldness in the way she approaches life. Moreover, I vision the confidence with which she walks her road. ‘’In short, I always like to study something; learn something new.’’ Aija studied English language and literature, occasionally taking up language courses, like French, and Spanish, all throughout her life, later continuing studies in an applied science university: ‘’I could say that at the core it was feminist beliefs. Men kept telling me that women don’t understand the technical side of things. It vexed me, so I applied for a school which focuses on building and construction.’’ Aija has devoted all of her life not only to learning but also teaching. ‘’If you can teach someone something that is pretty good itself, isn’t it?’’, ‘’Now, as we’re talking, I might be realizing that teaching is the thing that makes me whole,’’ Aija warmly laughs: ‘’finally, at the end of my life.’’ ‘’Lately, I am focusing on friends and creating connections. I think life is interesting in this regard: while some relationships end, others start. Even with your mom. We worked together 20 years ago, and we reconnected only now.’’ Throughout the talk, I really notice the simple and real way she approaches life: simply letting things happen rather than trying to control every outcome. ‘’You can never predict where life is going to take you. However, I was never the type who would complain or whine. I believe I am self-content’’, ‘’When talking about love; if I met a guy, even if we would date for a long time if I started to feel like the person was pulling away – I never fought for him to stay. If he wanted to leave, he could.’’
I ask her if it was possible for her to change anything in her life would she, ‘’I try to look at it like this: everything is how it is. I don’t really look back and think I should’ve done it this or that way. No, I don’t really regret anything. I did what felt right at the moment.’’ Aija reminds me of the Latvian saying ‘’live a lifetime, learn a lifetime’’, meaning that you spend all of your life always learning, growing and developing as a person, which is what she has done all throughout her life. She finds a way to make life interesting; to make the ordinary extraordinary. She tells me about hosting thematic parties. ‘’I dressed up as a Christmas tree.’’, or returning from her travels: ‘’I came back from Spain. I put Spanish word notes on every piece of furniture in my room. I always did what I wanted to do at the moment.’’ Aija has spent her life taking in all she can, found peace within herself, and focused on finding self-contentment: ‘’I like aloneness, not loneliness. I am never bored by myself. I always find things to do.’’ I end the conversation by asking her Where does the road lead? ‘’Technically, we live here and now, but a small part of us does wonder what tomorrow is going to be like. Occasionally I think: how am I going to meet tomorrow both myself, at work, with others, how is it going to be?
Another brilliant and dear woman I get to have a chat with is my former teacher Ligita. I went in by asking Ligita about the things that make her happy, ‘’As of now, I am happy that I have added another year to my life. Perhaps this year has been very different because of the pandemic, but it really made me reevaluate my beliefs.’’ The answer took a turn and we got to talk about the importance, of values that sometimes get swiped under the carpet, treated as common sense, ‘’because of growing up in the early ’90s, I have a better understanding of what a ‘value’ even is. Even though I was not into politics, my parents did not raise me to follow them, I could sense that changes were in the air. (referring to the fall of U.S.S.R., and experiencing it by growing up in a post-U.S.S.R. country) Only now do I realize that I have lived through something historically monumental? And so you really see the value freedom has.’’, ‘’Now looking back, maybe it’s not even bad that my parents were neutral. They allowed me to see things from my own perspective, without any demagogues. Even if sometimes it felt like there was a lack of conversations, they allowed me freedom.’’
Ligita says she regrets not learning a musical instrument, ‘’A voice – that I have. But learning an instrument – growing up the circumstances didn’t let me. Yes, that I do regret. Maybe when I get older I’ll learn something, like a ukulele.’’ She laughs and tells me that there’s nothing else regretful. I ask if she always knew that she would be where she is today, ‘’Yes. The school has followed me ever since childhood; my mom worked at the school. I could say that I even got to know the school from behind the scenes. From this perspective – when the school is empty of kids. So, somewhat, automatically, I knew that my road will be intertwined with school and that I will be a teacher. I just didn’t know what kind yet.’’ There is something about Ligits that I cannot quite grasp: a deep sense of wisdom and understanding of the world. Further, she shares these words that I take as advice, ‘’I was not born to change anyone. I am the one who needs to change; how I react to things, and my attitude. Otherwise, it is not right. I just have to work by myself. Only then can I expect a change?’’ Again I ask Where does the road lead? ‘’It is a spiral, definitely upwards, with stepbacks, fallbacks. However, it leads to completeness.’’ For Ligita the concept of road has not only a figurative but a literal meaning, ‘’when I notice myself feeling down I go on a walk. And surely, the journey is what heals. I get on the tram and take a route I usually don’t. I just take a loop. Once, when I felt on the brink, I saw that there was a concert in another city. So, I got on the bus and went. When you are on the road, it is when you reflect, you step out of the situation and look at it objectively. You heal.
I wanted to linger on my own perspective. Besides, by sharing my thoughts, I feel the circle of generations is somewhat completed. I feel like I always have some sort of disagreement with time. The passing of time always puzzles my mind and concerns me. It makes me anxious and doomed, the same as it makes me hopeful and grateful. I look forward to things, I try to run away from the haunting ghosts of the past, and I persistently try to stay in the “now.” I get to thinking, if time is linear and I exist during this specific period on the axis, I must certainly have some sort of road that leads somewhere. To answer the question “Where does the road lead to?” I truly cannot. I feel like one day I am doing a sprint and a marathon the next. Some months are slow, and I do not feel like I’ve gotten anywhere, while others pass quicker than I can comprehend. I remember what my mom said, that when she was my age the imagined future concerned her more than the present moment did. Maybe it is something that I ought to learn from. The journey, the road, the walk, and life should not be about where it leads, but how I lead it.
A thank you note to the lovely women who devoted their time to answering these questions about topics that cannot be explained in a hurry. Thanks for sitting down, being honest and digging deep.
Written by: Liga Lagzdina
Editor: Nimrat Kaur
Visuals by: Aniela Jewtuch