A few nights ago I watched a documentary about a 94-year-old gentleman who grew up in the Emmental, a valley in west central Switzerland. Hans Ulrich Schwaar spent the first 60 years of his life mainly there, working as a teacher. His first love ended in a disappointment and – as he described it himself – afterwards he was never able to feel the same, deep love again so he remained single. He developed many interests in sports, arts, music and languages, which he followed with passion.
Photo Credit: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen
His entire life was dedicated to continuous learning and passing the knowledge and the experiences he gained topeople around him. He started collecting music instruments and art pieces, which he both made available to the public at the school he taught and later in a museum in Langnau near Berne. He wanted to be surrounded by elements he treasured but simultaneously it was important to him to share them with a wider audience.
After retiring in 1982 he commuted between Langnau in the Emmental in Switzerland and Näkkälä in Finish Lapland for 25 years. He was fascinated by the nature and made friends with Iisakki-Matias Syväjärvi, a deeply rooted Sami – the original inhabitants of Lapland.
Schwaar and Syväsjärvi lived together in a cabin, bonded by a deep friendship. They didn’t share many words but even when silent they communicated. In Lapland’s secludedness Schwaar found the peace to think about his life and the meaning of life in general. The answers he found for himself:
“What is the most precious thing in life? – Life!”
“What is the highest in life? – Everything you experience and do with love.”
“What is the deepest in life? Feelings!”
He learnt Finish and wrote over a dozen books and poems both in Finish, High German and Swiss German (in his native dialect “Bärndüütsch”). His work was recognized both in Switzerland where he became honorary citizen of Langnau and in Finland where he received an order of knighthood from the Finish president.
After his friend Iisakki-Matias died, Schwaar came back to Switzerland and tried to settle in an old pension home. He appreciated the care he received there, but he felt too young being there (even though he was the oldest patient) and didn’t like the fact that everyone just seemed to wait for death. Nearly blind and fragile, he was still motivated by an overwhelming desire of freedom to leave the old pension home and travel again to his beloved Lapland, where he passed away in February 2014.
It was a touching documentary about a calm, sharp man who always knew what he wanted. His former pupils and teacher colleagues described him as a very strict teacher with firm principles but with a deep interest in the personality, background and capabilities of people around him, being it his friends, his pupils or random people he met during his rich life.
I wish I had a change to meet this extraordinary gentleman who was driven by his curiousness and desire of freedom. His fine humor, the finesse with which he used different languages and the fire his eyes expressed even when blind, deeply touched me. The pictures reminded me of the time I spent in Finland with my parents as a child and on my own as a young exchange student.
When Schwaar reads his poems in Finish, which sounds like music in my ears, I realize how long it has been since my last visit to Finland! My desire is to show this beautiful country to my husband and our child (or children?) and to hopefully be as enthusiastic, open and curious my entire life!
Have you ever been to Lapland? How did you like it?