‘Lagom’: It’s a Swedish word that is all about balance. It’s about taking the middle path, having enough, and being satisfied with a degree of moderation. Not over-doing how much we buy, or eat, or party, or sleep. Not to be too rushed, living by the clock, but taking your time and getting there. Apparently, in Sweden, the answer to, ‘How much coffee do you want?’ should be, ‘Lagom’, meaning – just enough, an ample sufficiency. It’s really not a concept one wants to live out in one’s youth – that’s a time for self-expression, stepping out of line, and pushing the boundaries of balance into excess. A time for bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, staying up all night, joining radical groups for change, following crazy exercise regimes.
But these days, I see the attraction in a bit of balance. And one of the roads to achieving balance is by taking it slowly, adopting and maintaining life’s little rituals. Making coffee, is one of E.’s rituals. He boils the kettle, then springs open the lid to let it cool a little. After a minute in goes the thermometer. I watched in disbelief the first time I saw him do it. He tells me he never makes his coffee unless the water is precisely 80 degrees – no more, no less. Once the correct temperature is achieved, he pours just a little water onto the coffee grinds and stirs. Then he adds the rest of the water, leaves for one minute and plunges. For a short coffee (whatever that is), he says Ethiopian is best. For a long coffee (presumably the opposite of short) he prefers Columbian. There you go, one person’s little ritual bringing balance to their life is another person’s waste of time!
I consider what little rituals make me feel balanced and together: setting the table to eat, even if it just me; putting on a slick of lipstick to go out, even if I’m just posting a letter; lighting a scented candle before I sit down to phone a friend for a long catch up. For J. it is the joy that’s to be had pegging out on a day when the drying is good. For S. it’s watching ‘Bake Off’ with her 12 year-old son, learning the names of all the contestants, and placing moneyless bets on who is going to win. For B. it’s coming home to the mid-week veg box and seeing if there are any surprises – a bag of black string beans, the first of the Brussels sprouts, a peculiar squash with blue looking skin. As far as I understand, Lagom shouldn’t suggest any degree of abstinence, scarcity, or failure; rather, it carries the connotation of appropriateness, and certainly not perfection. So if there are some bruises on the apples in the veg box (maybe because of this week’s wind fall), well that fits fine with living Lagom.
Today I write from Belfast where I am staying with T. to celebrate her birthday. She brings me a cup of tea. “What are you writing about this morning?” Balance – I tell her – or something along those lines, I tell her I’m working it out as I go along. “Ah, put in something about Libra!” “Oh, Happy Birthday! I nearly forgot!” She tells me Librans are all about balance. We both raise an eyebrow as we think that one over, considering the fit. There are nine of us are going out for dinner tonight, all women. I wonder how much balance and moderation we will have arrived at by the end of the night? Maybe Lagom is not achievable all of the time.