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Eulogy

*******On May 15, my mother passed away. Two days later, I wrote her eulogy, and delivered it at her memorial service the following Sunday. Some of you who were at the service expressed interest in reading it again, so I am posting it here for you. The thoughts are worth sharing anyway, even if you weren’t there, or didn’t know that she had passed. She was an incredible lady, and I wish you could’ve known her.*******

Hello, everyone. In case you don’t know me, my name is Melissa. I am Candy’s daughter. I wanted to share some things about my mom with you. We have had such an incredible journey together, so much so that I scarcely know where to begin. She was a kindred spirit; a woman of immense strength and passion. She cared about people with every fiber of her being. If someone she loved needed a table or chairs — or anything up to and including the shirt on her back — whatever she had was theirs. My mom poured out her life for everyone she loved, and she loved no one more than me. Sorry, everyone, if you thought you were a contender for that top spot, but it’s been filled since the ’80s, which truly says more about her than it does about me. She was special because of how she loved, not because of who she loved.

When I tried to pull together my thoughts this past Tuesday as I was writing this, the overall word that described my mother’s life was love. Closely related to that is the word sacrifice. She somehow possessed the knowledge innately of how to live a life of sacrifice and love. I don’t think she realized this, as she was consistently giving and self-effacing, but she lived out the words of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself, and I hope He is as proud of her life as I am.

She made great sacrifices for me, and did everything she could to give me a good life. She was my mother, my father, my sister, my friend, and often, my accompanist. She was also my disciplinarian, my lecturer from time to time, my teacher, my hero. She was the water in my hands, chasing me out of my shadowlands. She was a wildflower, a deep sea. She was strong yet vulnerable, independent, sharp, witty, musical, and possessed a deep-seated love of her Norwegian heritage, as well as a deep hatred for blueberries. You’ll have to ask my Aunt Cherie about that one.

Her greatest wish would be for all of us to live well. She tried to live as best as she knew how, whatever she felt that entailed. She did what she could to care for herself, though she was always far better at taking care of others. Care for others does not come as innately to me as it did for her, and I wish I had done more to show her my care. Why is it that mothers especially are appreciated so little until they are gone?

The tapestry of beautiful memories that have built up so steadily over the past 31 years that I have known her will be treasured forever. In 2011, she took me on a European cruise as a present for graduating college and beginning my graduate school journey. We were both so excited to see Norway, the mother country, and she was happier than I’d seen her when she was there. We both were. On our first night, I remember standing with her on the deck of the ship, steaming full blast into the most beautiful sun I had ever seen. She was a few paces away, having her own moment of enjoyment in the cool evening glow. I remember singing a Beatles song with her at the airport in Copenhagen on our way back. People were looking at us like we belonged in an asylum, but we didn’t care. We just laughed and sang and had a grand old time.

I remember when I was little, I had my tonsils out the same week she had foot surgery. We spent the whole time in her room, sitting on her bed and playing board games. I would write her notes because I couldn’t talk, and she would have me do all the running around the house collecting stuff and (heaven help us) cooking, since she couldn’t walk. I remember a lot of microwaveable pancakes with bananas and chocolate sauce. I didn’t have any complaints.

A few years ago, I was in the hospital and had just had a spinal tap, which is about as fun as it sounds. The doctors had told me to stay perfectly flat on the gurney or I would have a terrible headache. When I got back to my hospital room, my mom was there, along with lunch. She actually had to spoon feed me while I was flat on the bed, and I started laughing at the ridiculous picture it was creating. I felt like a baby bird, or perhaps a toddler who hadn’t quite learned to feed herself — not exactly the most flattering picture for a then-27-year-old. Then she started laughing, and I started shaking my whole body as I do when I’m laughing hard. She tried to calm us down but it was too ridiculous and funny, and we couldn’t stop for what felt like ages. Had I ever gotten that headache I’d been warned about, it would’ve been worth it for the laughs. We had so many moments in which we lost ourselves in laughter.

There was a lot of laughter because we shared a similarly random, quirky humor. There were some hard memories too, but even when we went through hell, we bore the pain together, just as we soared together on the wings of the joys of life. I know my mom is soaring now, and I’m so glad to have such assurance that she has found the purest happiness and bliss — and rest — in the arms of God. Nobody is more deserving of that than she is.

Whatever life brought, we went through it together. I wish more people had that. I wish more people had the family that I have, because my mother’s spirit of care lives in all of my family members, those that are here with me today. God created us for relationship. The truest happinesses in life are only real when they are shared, and I hope that if nothing else, you come away from today with a real desire to invest the precious and short time you’ve been given into the people God has placed around you. Of all the things to do in this wild world, nothing you do will be more important than loving others well. My mom would want nothing more than to leave behind a legacy of love and caring. She would’ve made the world brighter for everyone, if she could have. All of us together can make that light just a little bit brighter. We are all promises. We are all possibilities. What we do and how we live matter immensely. As we remember her life, may we all remember to live and love well. Thank you all so much for being here to celebrate my wonderful mother today. May God’s love be with you all.

“A job at the end of the world. A salary killer for a big petroleum company. I don’t know why I did half the things I’ve done, but I know this is where I belong. Surrounded by ex cons, fugitives, drifters, assholes. Men unfit for mankind.

“There’s not a second goes by when I’m not thinking of you in some way. I want to see your face, feel your hands in mine, feel you against me. But I know that will never be. You left me and I can’t get you back. I move like I imagine the damned do, cursed. And I feel like it’s only a matter of time. I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know what can come of it. I know I can’t get you back.

“I don’t know why this has happened to us. I feel like it’s me, bad luck, poison. And I’ve stopped doing this world any real good.”

Thus begins the movie, “The Grey,” one of my absolute favorite films. Admittedly, my cinematic tastes often tend to run a bit dark, and this movie is no exception. In it (and I recommend reading this with caution, as I am about to spoil the entire plot), Liam Neeson plays John Ottway, a man who loses his wife to an illness and goes to Alaska to hunt wolves for a petroleum company. As he is making his way out of the snowy Alaskan wilderness, his plane crashes in a vast wasteland, leaving a handful of survivors to fight for life in the midst of an intense blizzard. To make matters worse, a pack of enormous wolves begins to pick them off one by one, forcing them to move into a nearby forest.

Ottway believes the wolves are threatened because the humans are close to their den, so Ottway tries to steer the group away from where he thinks the den might be. The wolves follow and continue to kill off the men, until Ottway is the only one left. In a fit of desperation, he raises a rough, honest prayer into the sky:

“Do something. Do something. You phony prick. Fraudulent motherfucker. Do something! Come on! Prove it! Fuck faith! Earn it! Show me something real! I need it now. Not later. Now! Show me and I’ll believe in you until the day I die. I swear. I’m calling on you. I’m calling on you!”

Ottway looks to the sky in a nearly frantic search for some sign of acknowledgment, a miracle, a helicopter, a person, a divine hand to reach into the stark barrenness and save him. His face wears the stern look of a man whose heart is afraid.

But the sky remains replete with soggy, ashen clouds. There is no hand, no helicopter, no sign of a miracle.

“Fuck it, I’ll do it myself. I’ll do it myself.”

Ottway continues on, but it isn’t long until he finds himself in the very place he was trying to avoid all along: the wolves’ den. Ultimately, it is suggested that Ottway dies in the den, but manages to take the alpha wolf with him.

So, yes, it’s a dark film. Everybody dies.

Which isn’t exactly unfamiliar in the human condition. Many people I know said this movie was very anti-Christian, sinful in its depiction of death, suicidal tendencies, and faith. I found it rough, but also honest in many ways.

Sometimes, that miracle never comes. A long wait may never have a culmination. It would be quite naive of me to think that every prayer I pray will have an affirmative answer. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say most of the important prayers I’ve prayed have not been answered affirmatively. There are many that remain as-yet unanswered.

And that’s okay. Every time I think I have God figured out, He does something (even if doing something can sometimes mean doing nothing) to prove me wrong. He is, as ever, enigmatic and inscrutable. Realizing this has added some realistic perspective to my idealistic nature. For a long time, this disappointed me and even made me wonder if God was truly involved in the day-to-day affairs of His creations. Now, if I’m honest, it doesn’t faze me.

Perhaps this is a bit cynical, but it seems to me to have some healthful benefits. I’m no longer expectant of the miraculous. I have experienced the death of expectation, which has led to greater life satisfaction in many ways. I am happy when goodness comes; I’ve learned that disappointment and hardship are inevitable, but so is happiness, and one will just as surely follow the other just as spring follows winter, as surely as death follows life.

Ottway seems to accept this in the end, but he doesn’t allow the alpha wolf to take him without a fight. To me, that’s the encouraging part of the movie: in the face of certain, inevitable, imminent death, you still push on. When the miracle doesn’t come, when the answer you so desperately hoped for doesn’t pan out, you continue living the life you have left.

Ultimately, Ottway decides that the little bit of life he has left doesn’t need God, and I know that many people choose this. I’ve chosen it before and I can respect why people might choose not to believe. God doesn’t work like we think He should. The world doesn’t look the way we think it should look. Realism and cynicism mess with our idealism, our grand visions of all the utopian possibilities that could be, if only the world could just cooperate with itself.

I can’t give a pat answer as to why you should believe that God is involved and He cares. On bad days, even I don’t know why I believe it. Even the answers I’ve learned over the years can be downright unsatisfactory. But maybe I believe because it’s still possible to see goodness even while surrounded by such profuse evils. Maybe I believe because I look around into the wild world and still see immeasurable beauty. Maybe I believe because I continue to fight to believe. Sometimes the fight is all there is.

No matter what comes (or doesn’t come), we can at least press on, plucky and mettlesome, knowing that somewhere along the way we will encounter a surprising thing: the pleasant knowledge that we fought well. When I look back at the end of my life and see that I lived with fire and spirit and fought for goodness, I will see that I lived a good life, even if many important prayers were denied or unanswered.

And maybe that’s the biggest miracle, the greatest answered prayer of all.

Blessings

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted poetry, so here’s a sad something: 

 

Although the sun is up and running

Little of life appears to be stunning

and real faith is truly rewarding

as I’m told by the gospel of saint someone

the name keeps fading

as I’m bugged by the incessant grating of the ceiling fan that clicks all summer

like a tachycardic jazzy drummer that tries my patience

and loosens my concentration

ah but God — take pity on me

though my Deity might be a simple somebody

carrying a light bulb

is there a silver lining?

somewhere is the sun shining?

Somewhere, is someone jamming to Barbra Streisand and the way we were

All failures and connoisseurs of ill-fated love?

no, there’s a heavy heart that gets no lighter

a low in life you won’t get over

there’s a spell of sorrow I’m under

like I’m filled with the hopes and tomorrows

of a blind woman who lives in doubt

and wonders if the sun went out

if it’s just a midnight that never passes

In a black scene wearing black sunglasses

Maybe someday spring will call

things will change, oppressors will fall

And while I wait for joyous laughter

while I wait for death’s disaster and a sweet hereafter

while I wait for a midlife crisis

where death dons cheap disguises

I’ll count my blessings in the shadows

this is the last song I can sing

and will it put you to sleep tonight?

like when the humans play with muppets

guest-starring in a world of puppets

I’m the odd one out but fit right in where all the wicked cool dreams begin

in which I’m cast as the American president

your friend and personal spokesman

an apprentice of idiocy and heartlessness

but my heart is really digging this

and I’m blessed with a silly stupid smile of great empower

like if Macbeth had a Disney hour

I’m God’s downtrodden distant cousin

with a history that taught me little if nothing

I’m difficult to tell the truth to

all soft winds that whistle through

inoculated to the criticisms

I’m all giant ears that cannot listen

All the satire and dark sarcasm can’t deter my enthusiasm

I won’t miss the hate

instead I’d like to do the right thing but not at this minute

You’ll have to study and know me before

and look into my eyes

straight into my eyes

they’re soft and green

with the mellow sheen of moss

And obscene in dealing with a loss

this is the last song I can sing

and will it put you to sleep tonight?

I know the score like Annie Oakley from the Wild West

and maybe I’ll sing a dirge as the sun sets

because the sun sets on all that we know

sets on all that we love

sets on all that knits the world together

All the stillness, all the wild weather

A face, bare with sweetness

All lovely things that make life worthwhile

a touch, perhaps the scope of a smile

I’m home, oh home where the heart is

Arrhythmic in a beauty sleep

there’s no fragile beauty we can keep

only a swan song that sings on and on

this is the last song I can sing

will it put you to sleep tonight?

 

 

 

 

 

Humidity has never been very kind to me, but the type I experienced upon waking in Warnemünde was not as bad as I was expecting.  It was rainy, though not a drop of rain ever hit me on the entire trip (unheard of, for the Baltic region). The only precipitation we had was early in the morning, as we stood on the deck and gazed at the city.  We didn’t see much of it–a few quaint houses, a large building that looked like the firehouse at Disneyland, and the train station, where we would be heading momentarily.

We had breakfast and our morning coffee ritual at the International Cafe. Apparently it doesn’t take very long at all to develop habits. I developed a nasty addiction to coffee on this particular trip, which was promptly replaced by an addiction to tea once I returned to my sweltering habitat.  At any rate, coffee that morning was delicious, and even though I still felt sick, I didn’t feel as bad as I had the previous day.  Later on that day, that changed.

But for the moment I was at peace, enjoying the idea of seeing clouds in the sky, a foreign sight to an Arizonan.  We grabbed our tour tickets and waited in the Weelhouse Bar for our tour to begin.  The Weelhouse Bar was one of my most favorite places on the ship.  They served excellent martinis (I myself partook of a 007 Classic Martini and quite enjoyed it) and played classic Rat Pack music while patrons sat in over-sized leather chairs, looking out the windows framed by dark mahogany.

The cruise staff called our tour group number and we walked off the ship towards the train station.  My mom and I were a bit nervous because our tour was “Berlin On Your Own,” which is exactly as it sounds: going to Berlin and making your way through the city by yourself.  It was a nervous excitement, really, since from what we understood, we would be given a car to drive around the city in (this turned out to be untrue).  A couple of people overheard us talking about about this while we were walking to the train and introduced themselves as Raj and Bohovina, two East Indian physicians from Toledo.  They told us they were just as nervous because they were on the same tour, and we made a pact early on to stick together.

We hopped on the train and met our guide, Timo.  He was probably about 29 or 30, not much older than me, and very friendly. He spoke English very well and I spoke German very poorly.  When I used my limited German that day, most people appeared to appreciate the attempt, so I was glad of the one class I took.  Raj and Bohovina sat across from my mother and myself for the train ride that would last for a few hours.  It was very comfortable, and on the table between the four of us was a liter of water, several cups, and packets of tea and instant coffee for those in our car.  Bohovina and I took the opportunity to sleep while Raj and my mother talked medicine (all four of us are in the health profession, incidentally-My mom is a nurse, I’m a behavioral health tech and soon-to-be psychologist, Raj is a cardiologist, and Bohovina is a pediatrician).

When I woke up, we were just reaching the train station in Berlin.  Timo came for us and we were herded out of the train and onto a bus that would take us to the Hilton in Berlin.  Timo mentioned a few places along the way that we passed and said that the Berlin Hilton would be the rendezvous point at 4:45PM.  He made some suggestions for where we should go and turned us loose.  Our little band decided to get on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city before going to see the popular landmarks.  As it turns out, we saw many of them on the tour and got to stop for a little while at each place.  We saw the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, Unter den Linden Strasse (one of Berlin’s finest shopping venues), several pieces of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, a kiosk dedicated entirely to the sale and consumption of wurst (You know you’re in Germany when…) and crossed between East and West numerous times, mentally chronicling the architectural differences between the two parts of the city and silently mourning the detestable nature of Communism.

We made stops to look up close at the Berlin Wall Monument and the Holocaust Memorial, and then we were taken back to where we started: the Berlin Hilton. The four of us decided to stay fairly close to the hotel, so we walked around the square for a little while before deciding to get some lunch.  We ended up at a small cafe called Quchna, where we all ate quiche (mine was green bean quiche, and it was delicious! It was all served cold, which was different from what I’m used to, and highly enjoyable).

It was around that time that I started getting very sick.  It wasn’t from the food, because it had started almost as soon as I got the food in front of me.  My vision was starting to blur and I knew that if I didn’t rest for a while, I would faint (I’ve done it many times and unfortunately have grown used to the feeling immediately preceding the syncope).  Everyone had finished their meals and I was still feeling lousy, so not wanting to hold up Raj and Bohovina (how fortuitous that I so frequently find myself surrounded by medical professionals when I’m feeling ill!), they departed from us to look around the city.  My mom and I sat at the table for a little while longer until I was feeling well enough to walk across the street to the hotel and sit in the lobby.

Timo was there in the lobby when we arrived and I plopped down on a chaise lounge.  He stood over me and asked my mom what was wrong and she told him.  I was beginning to feel a bit better and Timo could see that, so he gave me his best look of playful, almost mock concern and told me to take it easy for a while.  He went to sit down with one of the other tour guides and I told my mom to leave me in the hotel for a while and go off to see the city.  We had only a couple of hours left in Berlin, after all.  And so she went while I slowly but surely recovered there in the lobby.  By the time she returned I was feeling almost normal again (but really, am I ever normal?), so we decided to take a stroll.  Timo was pleased that I was feeling better and offered up some suggestions of places to go while we had some time left.  We went next door to a souvenir shop and spent some time there before walking down the street to the chocolate museum, one of the places Timo suggested.  There they had multiple sculptures made entirely of chocolate. They had a replica of the Titanic that was about 1 meter in length, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Reichstag, and several other popular landmarks from across the world.  It was pure, unadulterated artwork, and in a very tasty medium.

We left the chocolate museum and walked around a bit further before sitting down on a bench in the square.  Several people passed by, including a man who looked like Charles Manson and kept looking back at me like I was the Ghost of Christmas Past. We drank water and noticed that there were no pigeons or birdie excrement on the sidewalk.  There were wrens, however, that seemed to be taking over the nefarious duties of their pigeon counterparts, hunting for whatever crumbs were left by the passers-by. We watched the goings on with a sort of languid fascination.

Our bus eventually arrived and we made our way across the street to meet up with Timo and the rest of our party, including Raj and Bohovina, who clued us in on their little adventure as we made our way through the city once again.  Timo told us stories of the city as we went and pointed out further landmarks as we made our way to the train station again. Once we got off the bus we wound our way through the station to our landing platform, where the Sun was shining vivid and hot overhead.  We grew warm quickly as it was likely a bit over 80 degrees and we were in the Sun for a 20-minute wait for the train.  We amused ourselves with taking pictures and talking to Timo, Raj, and Bohovina.

The time passed quickly and our train came.  We boarded and took our same seats, as Timo had instructed us to do so as to avoid any conflict with fellow passengers.  This time, Bohovina was the only one who slept.  We were served a light dinner: BiFi sticks,a  tiny yogurt, salted peanuts, half a sandwich, and a cheesecake bar.  A young, friendly gentleman came around to offer us spirits and I had a Felsgold beer (that’s what you’re supposed to do in Germany, right?)…or rather, part of a Felsgold beer, as I didn’t finish it.

We got into a lengthy conversation with Raj, who is genuinely one of the kindest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  He discussed his patients and how, if a patient can’t pay him, he simply lets it go.  He said he would never be responsible for hurting his patients in any way, including financially.  He literally cried as he told us how much he cared for his patients, and if you don’t know, doctors like that are exceedingly rare.  In simply talking with him and discovering his history and his faith in the Hindu religion, I learned a great deal.  He showed care for everyone he came into contact with.  I wish we could all learn that.

We arrived back in Warnemünde, which was still blanketed by clouds, and we made our way off the train to the platform, where I promptly fell off the train steps.  Timo helped me and laughed as we said our goodbyes.  He was one of my most favorite tour guides and I believe my mom fancied him on my behalf, which I found funny, of course. We walked back to the ship and deposited our things in the stateroom once again.

We had arrived late, far after dinner was over, so we wandered around on the deck as we embarked once again.  I went back to the room to shower and see if I could get myself feeling better, as I was still having health difficulties.  I went to the launderette to clean some clothes, wandered around the ship, drank coffee, and watched SALT while eating room service in the stateroom until my clothes were clean.  I fell asleep somewhere after midnight or one, hoping madly that the rest of the days would be far better for me, health-wise.

As it turned out (to my happiness), I did not hope in vain.

Aarhus (or  Århus…either way, it’s pronounced “R-Hoose”)  greeted us the following morning. It was the second time we had been to Denmark in less than a week, and it was a lovely, warm day.  I was still not feeling well so getting up was a bit of a problem.  Thankfully, our tour was only about 5 hours that day.

We ate breakfast and had coffee before getting out our tour tickets and waiting in the Princess Theatre for our tour to begin. I was having a tough time of things that day, health-wise, and going on a tour merely complicated matters.  We got on our bus and headed out to a train station not too far outside of Aarhus.  The drive started well enough, all things considered, but then it became apparent that the heater was on full blast on the bus, and we were starting to get much more uncomfortable.  As it turns out, it couldn’t be fixed, so we drove in the heat the whole way (It was slightly overcast and probably about 75 degrees outside).

When we got to the train station, we boarded a vintage train that took us to a town called Silkeborg.  The countryside was green, quite lush really, and with the windows open on the very spacious train, it was truly lovely.  When we arrived in Silkeborg, we got off the train for a little bit to peruse the train station.  Part of the station was a kiosk selling water, ice cream, and light sandwiches. In another part of the station was a small restaurant that had been turned into a museum. We toured through it for a little bit and then walked outside to look around at the scenery.  I noticed a small dog walking around, as there was a house just a few meters away.  It looked like no breed I had ever seen before, and the same could be said of every dog I noticed.  Apparently Europe does everything differently.

We hopped on the train again and were taken back to where we started.  It was a short ride but very pleasant, and by the time we arrived back, another bus had been commissioned for us.  The bus didn’t disappoint, either, and was very cool.

We then commenced a bus tour of the Old Town of Aarhus, Den Gamle By.  Aarhus is the 2nd largest city in Denmark after Copenhagen, and the country’s largest port.  It’s also the home of Hans Christian Anderson. Many buildings were centuries old and, like many of the places we visited, the city looked like a storybook picture.  Europe is incredible in the fact that everywhere we went, it felt like stepping into another world, possibly even a fantasy.  I’ve actually been wondering since I returned to Phoenix if I was ever there, or if it was something I concocted in my own imagination.

Along the way, we were taken to a large park surrounding one of the tallest mountains in Denmark (it can hardly be called a mountain, though, as it was only about 170 meters).  Many of our touring party climbed to the top with the tour guide (which took approximately 15 minutes) but my mom was not doing well from the heat, and I was just not doing well, so we sat outside a charming hotel and souvenir kiosk, simply enjoying the scenery from the shade.  My mom promptly sat down in one of the plastic chairs outside and soaked her pants through from the standing water inside the chair.  Everyone around got quite a laugh out of that, especially when another lady did the exact same thing.

When the rest of our party finished their very truncated “hike,” we piled on the bus once again and headed back to the ship.  Along the way we passed through the university area of Aarhus.  Aarhus is inhabited mostly by university students, who seem quite as interested in upholding tradition as their older counterparts, judging by the look and feel of the city that has clearly maintained its ties to the past.  I genuinely liked the place.

After boarding the ship once again we went back to the room to check out the Princess Patter, the daily newsletter detailing the goings on of the ship.  We had coffee at the International Cafe again and moseyed around the ship before commencing the Agatha Christie-like search for our dining room once again, trying to find an acceptable route.  We found it a bit quicker than we had previously but it still took a ridiculous amount of time. We ate happily with Brian and Thelma once again, and watched out one of the dining room windows as our ship took to the sea.

I confess that by this point I was slacking terribly in my daily journaling  to recall what we did everyday, and so I don’t quite remember what we did that evening.  I am sure that it wasn’t much, considering how bad I was feeling and how tired we still were from losing 9 hours on the flight.  I remember that we watched a cute movie in the stateroom called “Flipped,” and that I fell asleep early.  I was frustrated with myself for doing that and took great pains to make sure I stayed up as much as possible for the rest of the trip.  For the most part, I believe I succeeded.

I fell asleep thinking about our next port.

I woke up to a strong, cold wind coming off the water.  We were still sailing but we had reached the Oslofjord and were passing along all sorts of charming little coastal towns.  One thing I seem to recall is that everywhere it went, it was bright outside for at least part of the day.  Everyone we talked to in the cities we visited said the same thing: they were shocked at having a day of Sun when it had previously been so dreary.  I’ve been watching the bridge camera on the Emerald Princess ever since I returned to Phoenix and they’ve had rain everywhere they’ve gone since we left. It seems we brought the Sun with us to Europe and then brought it back with us to the United States again.  The brightness of the Sun in the Oslofjord was far different than the brightness in Arizona.  The Sun seemed to shine more intensely (most likely because the skies over there are far less polluted), yet there was little heat.  In my book, that spells perfection.

The chilliness didn’t last for more than a few hours.  We didn’t experience it for long, anyway, as we went up to Lido Deck 15 for breakfast. I generally had bangers (sausage for you Americans), some sort of egg sandwich or omelette, fruit, coffee, and possibly a fruit tart (I had those frequently…amazing things, there).  It was way more than I ever eat at one sitting, and I actually got used to having breakfast there (a feat, indeed, as I rarely used to eat breakfast).

Once we finished breakfast, we went downstairs to hand over our tour tickets and board a bus bound for Oslo.  We scanned our cruise cards and walked along the pier to the bus and had a grand old ride through the city.  I was quite surprised by the number of things they had in Oslo that were also in the United States.  I was also impressed by the sheer level of education the natives displayed. Most of them knew multiple languages fluently and had begun learning them before the age of 8. The Norwegians are a beautiful people, very tall and fair, though many didn’t have the prototypical blonde hair that one so often imagines them having.  This makes sense to me, considering the fact that my family is Norwegian, and nobody is blonde in my family.

At any rate, our tour was very short, as we were only sightseeing en route to the Fram Viking Museum.  Inside the museum is the very first ship that ever made it to the North Pole.  It was very cool, and we got to board the ship and explore.  It was relatively small, and the living quarters inside were even smaller.  It was furnished with all sorts of things from the period, and with little artifacts that had been left behind.  There were also news clippings and poetry written about the ship emblazoned on the walls, memories etched into wood for the sake of posterity.

It got warm in there fast, and I was not feeling too grand that day anyway.  I’d been dealing with a particular health issue off and on since February or so, and it decided to aggravate me with a vengeance that day and the following two days.  I left the museum and sat outside for a while, nursing a water bottle and trying to cool off.  The morning’s coldness had worn off and been replaced by a very mild coolness, perhaps 75 degrees, so I didn’t cool off quite as much as I would’ve liked, but I was fine.  Our group finished at the museum and joined me outside, where we walked about 100 meters to the neighboring museum of Viking ships.  We looked around a bit at all the ships (including one of the first Viking ships ever found…it was over 2000 years old, and was basically a hollowed-out tree trunk) and accoutrements.

After that, we were ushered into a room to watch a video about the Norwegian fjords, the prelude to our next activity: a fjord cruise on a ship built in 1892!  I ended up dozing through the video a little bit, sadly, as I was still not feeling incredibly well, but I made it through the cruise just fine.  We boarded the old ship and took a seat at one of the picnic tables setup on the main deck. The sun was warm overhead but there was a good breeze across the water.  We made our way around various islands and our tour guide explained everything along the way.  I don’t recall the name of our tour guide, but she was fascinating.  She had such a quirky sense of humor that would’ve fit well in my family (maybe it’s a Norwegian thing), and always had a funny anecdote to mention about the sights we were seeing.  We caught a glimpse of the Oslo Opera House, which was designed to look like a giant iceberg.  Apparently, it looks incredible in the winter when the fjord freezes up.  We passed several quaint houses on the various islands and it was explained to us that the houses on the islands were not allowed to have running water (though I cannot recall why that was the case), and they were only allowed to be painted blue, yellow, green, or red.  The islands themselves had rich histories, as well.  One of them had been used as a place to exile women who had had children out of wedlock, and it had been known as the “Island of Unwed Mothers.”

There were thousands of boats on the docks and in the water, and our tour guide said that there were 4.8 million people in Norway, and over 1 million boats in Norway.  Apparently boating is the preferred way to travel in the Nordic states!   We passed by a small converted church and our tour guide said it was a good thing we weren’t there the day before because there had been several Swedish nude sunbathers there.  Nobody in any of the countries we visited really liked the Swedes.  I was surprised because I hadn’t heard much of the animosity between Swedes, Danes, and Finns, but it’s there, and even the Estonians don’t like them.  I had thought it was just a Norwegian thing, but apparently not!

We got near the city center again and saw the old Viking fortress right next to our ship, and got a good look at downtown Oslo, which was covered in cranes.  Our tour guide said they were building an entirely new section to Oslo and that it had been and would be under construction for quite some time.  In the middle of the water, near the Opera House, was a sculpture made of glass and metal that looked like an ice sculpture of sorts.  It was designed for aesthetics, of course, and when the fjord freezes in winter, it’s apparently quite a sight to behold!  The ship docked and we stepped out onto the pier.  My mom and I decided to go into the souvenir shops along the pier, as we had plenty of Norwegians to buy for.  I got a pair of slippers for my best friend, coasters and a potholder for the apartment I share with my roommate, a Viking figurine, a Norway hoodie with the Norwegian flag printed on the inside of the hood, a keychain, and the shopkeeper gave me a couple free decks of Norway playing cards for being a good customer.  There were so many friendly people in the shops there, and I had more than one good conversation. I met a British man who had moved to Norway in years past and he was there to supervise the shop activity, and we had a wonderful conversation and parted as friends.

Once my mom and I left (with 3 bags of goodies between us), we boarded the Emerald Princess once again, dropped our stuff off at the stateroom, and took in panoramic views of Oslo from the top deck, where it had become incredibly windy.  We walked around for a while before deciding to see if we could finally find out where our dining room was.  It was on the 6th floor aft, and we wound through the decks and up and down floors before finding it after probably walking for a good half hour.  By then we had built up an appetite, and were pleased to sit down at our table.

I had been expecting a large table that sat maybe 8-10 people, but ours was a smaller one that sat only 4.  We were the first ones there but it didn’t take long for our table mates to arrive.  They sat down and introduced themselves as Brian and Thelma from Tampa, Florida.  They were very pleasant people, and very smart.  Thelma worked for the city’s transportation office and Brian worked with computers.  They both were of Russian descent, but Brian was also British and German, and had an accent that slightly melded the British and German aspects with the American background.  We all enjoyed terrific conversation and an exceedingly large 4-course meal before parting ways.  My mother and I were both very tired from a combination of losing 9 hours on the plane and from the day’s activities, so we adjourned to the stateroom and watched TV for a little while before crashing.  I had wanted to do more but was still not feeling pleasant, so I slept, eagerly awaiting what would come for us the next day as we arrived in Aarhus, Denmark.

Welcome to Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, Arizona.  An Orwellian amusement park with a bright side: the promise of a new and different horizon on the other end of a massively long plane ride.  I woke up in Phoenix on 3 June, and by that afternoon I saw the Sun from the Washington Dulles Airport, however briefly.  Dulles is a labyrinthine structure replete with secret tunnels, dungeons, and corridors, all of which had to be navigated properly in order to reach the final destination: the plane to Copenhagen.  We flew Scandinavian Airlines, and my mother and I were separated by one seat, which eventually came to be filled by a somewhat cantankerous Dane that looked a bit like Bilbo Baggins.  Crossing time zones, we lost nine hours. But there was some gain: temporary weight. Our legs resembled the pillars of the Parthenon by the time all was said and done after sitting in the same position for 14 hours. The Sun never set that night. I tried to dream for a while but I didn’t get much sleep at all, due to extreme chair discomfort and the lack of black in the sky at 35,000 feet.  We passed over Greenland, Scotland, Iceland, and England, and saw plenty of glaciers and green, and lots of mighty Atlantic underneath. Toward morning (though it had never really been night) the landscape changed into a lush, fertile valley, replete with tiny houses and millions of tiny little train tracks zigzagging through the countryside. We had reached Denmark–Copenhagen specifically, the Land of Enchantment. Paragon of the Green Movement, Copenhagen was the embarkation point for my European Odyssey. We exited the plane and went through passport control without a hitch before stepping outside to the buses that would take us to the ship. Copenhagen Airport was very modern: Sterile, bright white in color, with lots of glass and metal features; also very labyrinthine, just like in D.C.  It was bright outside, cool in the shade and warm in the sun, with a very light humidity. On the bus, they showed us a few sights in Copenhagen on the way to the ship, the Emerald Princess.  What a hulk it was upon first sight!  I couldn’t believe the size of it.  We walked into the check-in area and were given our cruise cards (the Emerald is a cashless society so the cruise card is connected to the credit card used to book the vacation and is used for the casino, drinks, boutiques, etc.) and signed a form saying we were in good health. Then we had about five hours to kill before boarding, so we took a taxi down to a canal in Copenhagen.  There, we boarded a small watercraft and took a DFDS Canal Tour through the city, seeing the sights and experiencing the breeze.  There were many seagulls, but they don’t act like they do in the United States. Instead of constantly being on a mission to find food, they sailed in slow arcs across the sky as though they hadn’t a care in the world, purely out of enjoyment.  I was fascinated, of course.  The city itself was lovely: a regular Venice in Scandinavia (as were a couple of the other places we visited).  The tour lasted about an hour and then we walked through the city, trying to absorb as much Danish as we could.  We found a restaurant along the canal called “Restaurant La Sirène” and had some pizza (I know, pizza? In Denmark? What can I say, fish just didn’t sound appealing after all that travel).  We ran to find a taxi and took off back to the ship.  We saw our room which was small but very comfortable, and walked through the ship a little bit before heading out onto the highest deck, where we drank cocktails and watched our ship embark, waving out to people as we left to the open sea.

We signed up for traditional dining at 6PM, meaning we had to be in the Botticelli Dining Room at 6PM every night for dinner. For other meals we could visit anywhere else (buffets, pizza bar, etc.).  Our dining room was on the 6th floor Aft (the rear of the ship) and it was the only thing on that particular floor at that point, and we never found it that night.  In fact, it took us 8 days to figure out the best way to get there, but more on that later.  We missed it that night and ended up eating at the International Cafe, where we met Gina, a waitress and new friend on the ship.  I had probably the smallest dinner I had on the entire trip: A mozzarella and prosciuto sandwich, shrimp salad, a pomegranate and blueberry smoothie, and a small tiramisu for dessert, which was delicious. We said goodbye to Gina and I followed my mom to the casino.  On the way, we walked through the main area, called The Piazza. It was incredible! All the lights twinkling, 2 grand staircases, marble floors, and a string quartet playing at the base of everything (which reminded me of Titanic, which I thought was cool).

Now, normally I’m not a fan of gambling, and I told my mom as much, but she is every bit as stubborn as me and went ahead anyway. She won over $200, and at that point I decided to join in.  I won $40 and quit.  That was the last time I ever won at the casino on the ship and rarely did it again after that, as I’ve discovered I’m “unlucky.”  Around 9:45PM we walked up on the deck to discover that the sun was still up!  It was very windy and cold on the water, and the water was a scaly, inky black.  It looked sort of like we had been riding on a gigantic writhing sea creature, carrying us off on its back to magical destinations.  The sun finally sank into the icy waters after 10:30PM but it remained light outside until we went to bed for the night.

Oslo was to greet us in the morning.

Object Permanence

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” ~John 20:29

In the earliest cognitive stage of human development, there is something that occurs in a child at around 6 months of age: They develop object permanence. The basic premise is that a child under 6 months will see an object, but once that object is taken out of their sight, they believe it no longer exists. Once a child has obtained object permanence, they still believe that something exists even if they can no longer see it.

I wonder if, as Christians, we always exhibit object permanence. When things go wrong in our lives, we so quickly wonder if God is really there, present in all of our circumstances. Of course, He is. He is there in the same way gravity is: We feel its effects, yet cannot see it physically.

Thomas demanded a touch. Will we demand the same in an effort to convince ourselves that He is really there with us? Or will we exhibit faith in the promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us? He has given His Holy Spirit, His love, and His faithfulness, all to prove to us that He is truly present in everything. Object Permanence: He is there, regardless of our sight.

On Sunrises

Sunrises are amazing. You’d think with that much beauty, there’d be some epic music playing every time the sun peeked over the horizon. But of course, the sun rises with no pomp and circumstance; it doesn’t draw undue attention to itself, but rises humbly, in a way that reminds you of God’s humility. And, like all of His creations, it can only be appreciated fully if you take the time to notice it.

Sometimes we don’t want to get in trouble; we want to play it safe and try to not make any mistakes.  It usually doesn’t work very well because we’re in the wrong species.  My dog has much better luck with that.  I look at the things I possess and I see status quo.  I have a DVD collection, CD’s galore, a place to live in, a will of my own. I have the capability of making my risks very calculated, to the point of not being risks at all. Some of us have lives with little to regret as a result, but little to be proud of.  We have no desire to become cautionary tales of potential gone to waste, so we stay in the background and don’t make waves.  Stagnation is fear, which so often plays into memory.  Our memories are brilliant poets but their poetry isn’t always true.  We learn lessons not meant for us and it causes fear of the future.  I have an aspiration, a dream, things, ideals, but a thousand things, dreams, aspirations, and ideals have gone unexplored.  We are full of ourselves and empty as a result, pools of quiet water, unspoiled by human touch and excitement.  But if I’m a quiet pond, Jesus is one who skips stones.  There is much I have yet to make.  And in this moment of realization, I find freedom, a sweeter taste of reality.  We have the changes in our pocket, the future in our hands.  What we choose is how to wield it.  We could dance with freedom in our veins, the birth of a new day on our lips, or we can stand still in a life of deja vu and be right in our constant sense that somehow, we’ve done this all before.  We can be stagnant, or we can live. We can remember the times before our childlike spirit and sense of wonder became ensnared in webs of obligation and doubt; we can learn to escape our bonds without destroying them.  We can live.

Our only other option isn’t worth it.