Saturday, May 29, 2010


My family and I are on the verge of doing something very important.

I know some folks might think of a vacation as less important in the scale of things. But anything you've planned for ten years, and then had your plans ruined, and then had to strategize and rebuild your plans for; anything that you've worked for and yearned for, thinking -- being certain even -- that your yearning is in vain; anything that you've finally achieved after overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle... That's important.

I could also tell it is very important if only because our son was in tears last night about leaving his friends for so long this summer. For the last five months, I've heard nothing from him but intense excitement about the whole idea of spending almost a full month in Scandinavia. But last night, he almost sounded like he wanted to get out of it. He's worried that being gone so long, all his friends would forget all about him and move on with their lives without him. Of course they won't. But that's how big this trip feels.

I've been starting to feel emotionally edgy about it too, but for a whole different set of reasons. The last time I was in Finland was 1986. And that was the summer I almost committed suicide. And it was Finland where I realized that God knew my name, that he knew who I was -- all of me, homosexuality and all -- and that he loved me deeply and wanted me to survive and thrive and someday tell my story. And it was Finland where I realized -- where the Spirit whispered to my heart and the Lord showed me in vision -- that I needed to leave the LDS Church for a time, and that I would be OK and my family would be OK and everything would work out OK. All of this happened in a little student apartment in Korso, just a few miles north of Helsinki.

My parents are coming with us on this trip, and so is my sister's oldest son. So in total, it will be me, my husband, our son, mom and dad, and my nephew Christian -- six of us all together. The last time I went to Finland, 24 years ago, I was alone. I had written my parents a letter to tell them I was leaving the Church. And the moment they received the letter, they called me long distance. That was one of the most painful phone conversations I've ever had. So now we three are going back there together, united somehow in faith, even if I am not yet united with them in the Church. I suspect there's a potential for this to be difficult emotionally for them too. But maybe there will be more healing than pain for all three of us.

My family in Finland -- my uncles, aunts and cousins -- all still live in the same part of Finland where they've always lived, near the town of Outokumpu (literally "Strange Hill"), not far from the Russian border. I was afraid somehow I'd discover that they had scattered all over the country. (One of my cousins now lives in Canada.) But almost everybody still lives within a few miles of each other. When I was growing up, we visited as often as we could, every two or three years or so. I'm so excited to see them again.

On my last visit in 1986 they had all been worried about me. I had visited them briefly, but then departed Finland without saying any last goodbyes, under seemingly mysterious circumstances. I've been teaching myself some new vocabulary, in order to try to explain to them exactly what happened:

to be attracted to men --- houkutusta miehille
homosexual --- homoseksuaalinen
depression --- masennus
to commit suicide --- tehdä itsemurhan
struggle --- kamppailu
self acceptance --- itse hyväksyminen

Some of the more important words, I already know: usko, rakkaus and elämä (faith, love and life). And I'm wondering how this phrase will go over: samaa sukupuolta olevien avioliitto (same-sex marriage). Finland currently allows civil unions to same-sex couples, but stops short of granting full same-sex marriage as do its neighbors to the west, Sweden and Norway. A narrow majority of Finns still oppose same-sex marriage. I mean to ask my mom what's the best way for me to introduce Göran to everybody. Should I introduce him as minun kumppani (my partner) or mieheni (my husband)?

This journey is emotionally fraught, of course, for Göran too. He legally adopted a Swedish name in 1992, even though he has no Swedish ancestry, has never been to Sweden, has never even really been out of the U.S.! People are often confused about that. But he changed his name partly because he was so angry about the lies his mother had told him about who he was and where he came from; and partly because he had lost everything and been homeless for a year; and he needed a new life, and with it a new name. And what he knew about Swedish culture was that Swedes can be stoic. And he needed a name that could help him transcend. So he adopted Sweden as his spiritual homeland. He's taken classes at the nearby American Swedish Institute, and studied Swedish language and culture. And it was his desire to make a pilgrimage there that started us on this journey over ten years ago -- and his inability to get a passport for nine years that was our greatest obstacle to accomplishing this goal.

In many ways, this journey will be for Göran like the journey a prisoner takes from his cell for the first time. I know America isn't a prison. But ask yourself how you would feel if someone -- in this case the U.S. government -- told you for ten years that you were not allowed to leave some place.

I can't express what a beautiful thing it is to see his child-like excitement about going new places. And to be able to experience that with him. To see places I've already been, but to see them through his eyes. That will be his greatest gift to me, and my greatest souvenir from this trip. And that joy will be doubled with our foster son.

Every part of our trip there carries some spiritual resonance for us. The time we spend in Helsinki, where my life changed irrevocably; our week in Stockholm, where Göran can finally commune with his personal Mecca; our time in eastern Finland introducing my husband and son to my family and celebrating Juhannus (Midsummer's Eve) all together with them; and finally driving northward, through Lapland, above the Arctic Circle, to the antipodes of human civilization, so that Glen can touch his Norwegian roots, and I can show my family the magic and beauty of a place in a time where the sun never sets.

Mennään! (Let's go!)


Anonymous said...


J G-W said...

Thanks, Santorio!

Silus Grok said...

Have you written previously about what kept Gøren from getting his passport? That sounds like a fascinating story!

At any rate, enjoy the trip — enjoy the memories! Take a lot of pictures, and write a lot.

God speed your journey.

MoHoHawaii said...

This is so exciting! This is something you guys will never forget. Your son will never forget it, either. What are his goals for the trip other than Norway? Will you generally have Internet access for him to use? (There are applications like Skype that let you send phone text messages without a cell phone, but I'm sure he'd even appreciate Facebook access from time to time.) I wonder if his worry about his friends would be mitigated by Internet contact during the trip.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful, wonderful trip. Life's peak experiences are to be savored.

(Your loyal readers expect a full report!)

J G-W said...

Silus -- Thank you! Yes, here is a fuller account/explanation of why Göran couldn't get a passport, and how all of that changed.

Mohohawaii -- Thanks for the well wishes. It's a while till we leave, and I may even post once in a while when we're on the road. For Glen, those are some good ideas. Finland is a highly "wired" nation, so I'm sure some kind of Internet based contact with friends will be possible...

Silus Grok said...

Thanks! Wow. What a heartbreaking story! Glad it ended well.

M said...

I so excited for all of you. So many, many possibilities! I pray it all goes well.

J G-W said...

Thanks, M! I will report more as our journey progresses, maybe post some pictures.

GeckoMan said...

All the best to you guys. Have a great time with your parents and family, and "be flexible."

Beck said...

Our memories made on just such occasions is what we take with us forever. Granted, we can make memories in our own backyards, but there is something amazing that sticks with us on such journeys you are embarking on. May this journey bring you healing, connection, hope and peace.

J G-W said...

Geckoman, Beck - thanks! I'm sure I'll have lots to report aftewards...