Moving Time (here we go again)
Six weeks. That’s how much time we have left until we move. I know the drill. I know.
I’ve been here before, but it still doesn’t seem real. And it won’t. I know.
Not until I get on the plane and look down over Stockholm, to where I lived for the last three years, and listen to the flight attendant instruct us on where to find the exits and how to put on the oxygen masks in case of an emergency. Everything will look calm, but my heart will be in a state of emergency. If someone could just please put on my oxygen mask, I’ll be looking out my window, hands pressed to the plexiglass, wondering how it all happened, how three years came and went so fast.
Deep breath. I knew it would go fast. I knew.
The moment I said “Hello” for the first time and told them where I was from and asked if they spoke English (they all spoke English), I knew one day I’d say good-bye. I knew it way back then, that all those hellos would turn into good-byes. But I let my heart take hold anyway, because friendship is what sustains us.
Even if that friendship lasts three years or three days or three minutes, I’m grateful because every person that walks with me on my journey has something to teach me. (To the friend that sat with me on the plane and told me about the layout of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, thank you, thank YOU, I made my connection.)
C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
When we leave Sweden there will be five of us, and ten suitcases. One family member short of when we arrived. Malachi left for his mission to Indiana in November. He already said his good-byes. He writes home every week. Stories that make me so proud I could burst and stories that cause my hand to occasionally fly up over my mouth…robbed on Easter Sunday, bike stolen, camera taken, apartment ransacked, a man tried to run us over with his car, an episode that ended with police arresting the man at gunpoint…a crazy world, a crazy world. That is where I’ve sent my son, into a crazy world.
But he has friends. “Mom,” he writes, “I love being here. I love helping people. This is so much fun. God is great. God loves everyone. I meet so many good people” He’s going to be fine, I remind myself, he has friends.
Woodrow T. Wilson said, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” The ONLY cement. And he meant it. As the 28th President of the United States Wilson won the Nobel Peace Price for his sponsorship of the League of Nations following WWI. It was intended to build friendships, prevent war and make sure everyone played nice in the sandbox. But it didn’t last. It was a nice start though.
We’re still working at it, this friend thing. The United Nations is trying to ensure we share and take turns and don’t point nuclear weapons at each another. That’s good. I sat next to an Iranian woman on my flight from Amsterdam to New York a couple weeks ago. She grew up in The Netherlands but most of her family still lives in Iran. We shared the exit row and discussed how we would go about working things out in the event of an emergency. I would pull open the door and she would usher people out. Thankfully there were no emergencies, except for the overcooked tortellini, and we both had a restful flight. When we reached New York I gave her some tips for navigating the city and she thanked me. “If only,” we joked, “our countries could get along so well.”
Despite countries being at odds, people aren’t so different.
Confucius said, “All people are the same; only their habits differ.”
Living outside of America I’ve come to recognize my American “habits.” We wear sneakers and jeans, act friendly and smile a lot, generally speaking. We say hello to strangers. We don’t crowd into elevators. And we do open doors for other people—a dead giveaway.
My American self has loved meeting the more reserved, thoughtful, unassuming, beautiful, nature loving, green-living Swedish people. Three years immersed in this culture and my habits are changing.
My American fit-bit-wearing-on-the-go self has s l o w e d down. I spend more time in nature. I go for long walks through the forest and don’t count my steps (anymore). What I am counting is how lucky I’ve been to be where I’m at, in Sweden.
Sweden has taught me to do less and experience more. It’s a state of flow I would not have found, if not for this country. Shops close at 6:00, the shopping mall closes at 4:00 on Saturdays. The Swedes have six weeks of vacation in the summer and work-a-day life comes to an abrupt halt. Need a plumber in July? Ain’t going to happen (we’ve tried). The Swedes have the “live to work” thing all backward—and it’s pretty amazing.
Swedes have taught me the habit of ritual. They light candles in winter. They celebrate holidays with same traditional foods. They only sell olive cheesy bread on Fridays—because. They like things a certain way and that’s how they like them. There’s comfort in predictability and routine, knowing that whatever bakery you walk in, whatever grocery store you shop in, they’re all going to have the same kanelbullar (cinnamon roll). That’s not the American way. We like different and if something’s popular, we’ll sell it 7 days a week. Here, tradition trumps capitalism and that’s well…frankly unbelievable!
Swedes have taught me a more minimalistic approach to life. Admittedly, I was frustrated at first, wishing I had more closet space (or even a closet), but now I love the feeling of having what I need and using what I have. It’s simple. And living simple means more time for those walks in nature. No wonder everyone’s in the forest.
As much as I love Sweden, I have this other habit, one I can’t seem to break, of moving every couple of years. It’s what we do. But Sweden will always be home and so will Vienna and so will Greece and so will all the other places we’ve lived. Because home is where the people I love reside. It’s memory and experience. It’s a place that can survive any natural disaster if built on strong relationships and love, mostly love. My next home will be in St. George Utah. I’ll put out the “Welcome,” mat. Friends you know you have a home. And Swedes, if you come to America, we’ll eat cheesy olive bread on Tuesdays and shop at Target after midnight…just for kicks.