I couldn’t sleep. I went outside and sat in a garden chair. It was September, a mild night with no wind. A few minutes passed and I began to wonder how I must look sitting there at 12:30 at night. Did I perhaps seem strange? What if someone passed by now? Would this passerby wonder what kind of guy was sitting alone in the yard in the middle of the night? I sat up straighter. When that felt stiff, I leaned back and sought a natural position. I tried to find an expression with which I could meet the night passerby.
This nocturnal preparation continued for a number of minutes. Then a new thought occurred to me, different and relaxing. It made me laugh out loud.
Since the conception of this new thought required not only the night’s silence but also a longer, decades-long exhausting silence, I need to go farther back in my story.
You see it in my first class picture. You see it in the day-care picture. You see it in my one-year-old picture. There is no age or moment at which time shyness became part of me; it has always been there.
There’s a trace of fear in the eyes. The gaze avoids the camera, studies the others. These others wear bright, open, innocent expressions, the kind children do: “Here we come! I exist!” Or wait . . . some do. Shy people tend to notice only the liveliest in the crowd and contrast themselves with them.
The pictures prove what I remember anyway: I was born to be afraid. The shy child’s shy doings; the story is so ordinary that it can be captured in one line. This was spoken by a friend who coaxed me to the movies to see the ragamuffin clown Uuno Turhapuro. When the theater lights dimmed, he leaned over to me: “Don’t be scared of Uuno, since I know you’re kind of like that.”
American shyness clinics proclaim that “shyness is not your character trait, it is just one of those difficult feelings we have when we do things.” I don’t know what else I am other than shy, if I can’t get myself to go where I want to go or be where I’d like to be or say what I’d like to say. That is shyness, and shyness does indeed appear to be a character trait of mine—just as are impatience and an astonishing talent for polka.
From “Yksi Noista Hankalista Tunteista Joita Koemme,” in Muita hyviä ominaisuuksia (Helsinki: Otava, 2010). By arrangement with the publisher. Translation © 2014 by Jill Timbers. All rights reserved.