Two years ago, I was leaving my job in Sweden. The harsh winter was slowly going away. Three months before I quit my job, the office next door started to have paintings piling up. My boss told me an artist is moving into the building. It is probably not entirely correct to call it an office. The building I worked at had an interesting structure. It was literally a huge house divided into different spaces, so the so-called office-next-door was really just the room next door.
My Escape Room
The door to his art studio was always open. It was a spacious room with the typical Scandinavian wooden floor, a large window that allows the sun to penetrate. Coincidentally, his windows faced West. When the sun struck, it had a romantic sensation. I could not help but to stare at his paintings every time I passed by. All his paintings were portraits of different people and they all seemed very calm. It was still mid-winter so the sun was setting at around 3 pm. My colleagues would take their dogs out for a walk in the afternoon. I was the only one without a pet, so I would go to his studio for a break. I wanted to ask for permission from him, but since I never met him and the door was always open, I welcomed myself in.
The warm, peachy ray of sunlight would penetrate the large white windows facing the hill, casting a peaceful, yet mysterious shade of orange on the wooden floor and his paintings. Right below the biggest window was the heater, making the windowsill the warmest place to sit in in the whole room. It became my favourite resting spot. His paintings would come and go, but there was always a new one to replace it. Every time I slipped in a break, I enjoyed his new art. His art became my comfort in the cold Swedish winter. Only one painting was there the whole time. It was a man in his 30s in a white doctor’s robe, smiling. I assumed it was supposed to be a gift for the guy in the picture. He just never picked it up.
Meeting The One Who Created My Escape Place
A whole month flew by and my boss started telling me she ran into the nice painter next door several times. Apparently, he would only come after 6 pm twice a week. My curiosity about this talented painter grew. One day, work stalled me for a solid 3 hours towards the end of the day. When I was finishing up, it was already 7 pm. I heard noises coming from the next room, so I knew the painter was here. Finally, I got the chance to meet the guy whose office I had been borrowing as a meditation room.
His door was still open. I took a little peak inside and I saw a man in his 60s unpacking his tools. He saw me and immediately showed a friendly smile. He said something in Swedish, something about seeing someone in the office so late. After I told him I did not speak Swedish, he said, with the most adorable Swedish accent, “Do you want to come in?”
He had the happy grandpa vibe about him, eagerly asking different things about me. To my surprise, he was not a full-time painter. He was a full-time doctor. I was a bit blown away by his answers. Without thinking, I just said, “What a waste! You could’ve easily been the best painter.”
Immediately I realised I probably should not have said that. It was not a waste to be a doctor. But, he was just laughing about it and said, “Everyone else told me the exact opposite.”
Do What You Love Or Do What You Are Good At
I got to listen to his story.
Growing up, he had always been a painter by heart. Still, he excelled at studying and always had a gift in medicines. In college, his grades were way above average that got accepted into both art and medical schools. At the time, he was not sure what to do. Art was something he loved by heart, medicine was something he was good at. Family and friends told him it would be a waste to go to an art school when he could attend the best medical school. So, he attended medical school and became a doctor. He did not hate it, but, he did not love it either.
All these years, he dreamt about being a painter and all the arts he could have created. However, he also remembered all the efforts he put in to be a doctor. It would have been a waste to throw all those years in medical school under the carpet. He could not bring himself to quit his well-paying and stable job.
The Old Building I Worked In
In 2018, he was retiring, after being in the medical field for nearly four decades. When he pictured retirement, he had a vision of him creating arts in an old brick house with wooden floors and lots of natural light. He began sourcing the place of his dreams, and our building was just what he envisioned. Eager to kickstart his dream, he began coming in here after work and paint for his friends. Every single one of the paintings in the room had been people in his life.
The sparkles in his eyes were inspiring. You never know how precious it is to live in your dream until you live away from it. The funny thing about this story is that, unlike most other stories, he was not unhappy to live his life. He was perfectly satisfied with his life as a doctor, he just pictured he might be happier being a painter. But as he said, he would only have been happy about being a painter if he had been successful and could provide for his family. Being a doctor was just the safer choice that he was also fine with.
A Pair Of Magical Hands
Looking at his paintings, I was in awe of what a person can do with their hands. I could not paint myself as an art critic, but I could tell when a painting was done only out of techniques or out of love. His was all created with love. Every painting has a story behind it. He painted all these for his friends and not for money. Perhaps that is the best way for him to achieve his dream. He was in a place where he could be financially stable enough to create the arts he wanted without concerns while having the time to do so. If he was to turn his painter dream into reality years earlier, his dream could have been a real struggle. His paintings will come with dollar signs. As he said, he wanted his paintings to reflect love, not monetary signs.
There are different ways to chase your dream. Some people are determined to reach new heights from the start. They leave themselves with no backup routes. Failure is not an option. Either they make it or do not. Some people like to play it safe, a dream should be something you look forward to, not stress about. Everyone works towards their dream differently. For my old office neighbour next door, he was working towards his dream by working his day job well. Life happens. You do not always have to reach your dream like other people. Chasing your dream in a later stage does not make your dream any less. Maybe you will end up cherishing it even more.
The Painting I Never Got
Talking to him was really satisfying. Finally, I met the person whose studio I had been stealing as my favourite hiding spot from work stress. I told him I had been sitting on his windowsill every day in my afternoon break. He again laughed and was appreciative of how much I adored his artwork. Seeing that he was about to prepare his work, I humbly bid goodbye. When I was turning away and walking towards to door, he called my name and said,
“Come again. Next time, I will draw you a painting to bring home. You are my friend now.”
That brought the happiest smile to my face. I had never a painting of myself. Seeing how talented he was, it was a tempting invitation. it was an honour. I said yes and that I would love to meet him again.
I never saw him again since. Since we shared the same office, I always had the feeling that I would see him again and I never asked for his contact that time we met. After that evening, I was working late several times and hoping I would run into him. But he never came. I heard from my boss that he would only come twice a week since he still had a day job. It was just bad timing.
Till Next Time
Two months later, on my last day at work, I also sat on the windowsill that afternoon, thinking about my time studying and working in Sweden. It had been magical. I thought about leaving him a letter. But I was also worried that it might be too much for someone you just met once. Indeed, for me, I felt like I had met him more than once.
Through his paintings, I felt like I got to know him. I did not have a dog. So when my colleagues were all taking their dogs out for a walk at 3 pm, I was alone in the office. His art audio was my solitude. I peacefully tuned myself into his art world and felt the love in all his paintings.
I sat in his room one last time that afternoon. The sun was already setting a lot later than in winter. It was warm and nice. I never got to see him again, or have my portrait painted. But I still remember his cheery personality, his smile and his lovely Swedish accent.
Maybe next time we meet, I will get painting.