Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back in the Land of Midnight Dark (and Showers)

The most palpable reminder that we are not in Finland any more is that it was dark out when we left the airport in Minneapolis last night, around 9:30 p.m. For the last month, we simply haven't experienced night-time darkness. Even when we were in central Sweden and southern and eastern Finland, it simply never stopped being light out. The closest we ever got was a dark blue sky with sunset colors splashed all over the southern horizon. Even the few cloudy days we experienced never got darker than a steely gray. We spent a week north of Arctic Circle, driving through Lapland and up to Tromsø, "the Paris of the North." Two nights there I took the opportunity to stay up with my family until two or three A.M., just so we could watch the sun reach its lowest point a few degrees above the horizon before starting its ascent again. The quality of light then is strange and magical. Something you just don't experience anywhere else. I took some really cool pictures.

I thought about posting a couple of times while we were on vacation. I might have succumbed to the temptation, had it not been for the fact that during the last two weeks of our trip visiting my relatives in North Karelia and driving to and from the Arctic Ocean we had virtually no Internet access. Somehow we survived.

But in the end, I realized it was a good thing to have our time away be an intensely personal time. I had a lot of time to think and reflect and even write. The high point of our time there was the time spent in Varislahti visiting my uncles, aunts and cousins. As a kid and youth I spent six summers (and one winter) in Finland, hanging out with them. They've all known me well since I was about 4 years old, so I have many close relationships there, and it was painful to be away from them for over 23 years -- for much of that time because of my husband's goofy passport problem. From the moment we stepped off the plane in Helsinki I wanted to be there, with them. I just wanted to scrap all our travel plans, and get on the next train to Joensuu.

But I didn't. We stuck with our original plan of first spending a few days in southern Finland, and then Stockholm, Sweden, where Göran has always wanted to go. I put that time to good use by writing -- first in English and then in Finnish -- an account of my life from the last time I saw my relatives until this visit. I had to wrestle with the problem of how to tell my relatives what it has meant to come to terms with being gay, and how to describe the spiritual aspects of it as well, knowing that they might have no context at all for understanding it. There isn't even a word in the Finnish language that I like -- not one that can be used in polite company anyway -- to say "gay." The closest word is homo or homoseksuaalinen, which I despise and makes no sense to me. I struggled a lot to put my thoughts and feelings to words. I finally put the finishing touches on it as the Helsinki-Joensuu train was pulling into the station.

Of course I never actually told that story to any of my relatives -- not all in one piece any way. There were stitches of it that came out in various different conversations. It was a good exercise because it gave me vocabulary to tell my relatives about all the significant events in my life -- including finishing grad school, buying a house, and our recent experience as foster parents -- the same kinds of life events everyone tells long lost loved ones about. Mostly my family came to appreciate what I've gone through in the last twenty years or so non-verbally, by seeing me with my family and by interacting with Göran and Glen -- sometimes with the assistance of my linguistic and interpretive skills and sometimes without.

Mostly it was a good exercise because I needed to reflect anew on my life and its meanings, from the perspective of Finnish relatives who love me very much, but who never fully understood a lot about America, or about the life choices my mother made to convert to Mormonism and move to America -- choices that brought me into being.

I'm glad to be back in the US of A, even though I will very much miss the Finnish food (and chocolate!); and the smell of lakes and forest, and of wood burning in the sauna stove; and of bathing with steam and lake water instead of under a shower. The next time we go back it won't take nearly 23 years again. Likely only one or two.


Beck said...

What a magical adventure! I hope you will share some of those amazing photos of your journey.

There's nothing like a great vacation to another land that brings perspective and appreciation for where you are going in your life.

Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Welcome home! It sounds like you have had a wonderful trip.

Happy day!

J G-W said...

Beck and TBA - Thanks! I have a lot of thoughts (and photos) I want to share from this trip... In due time. It feels really nice though to be back (though we're all going through some reverse culture shock!).

GeckoMan said...

Welcome home, brother. I've missed reading you, but was excited for your grand adventure. I'm glad to be reassured that you had a marvelous time! And I too will look forward to your stories, pictures and reflections on the special events that took place.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Gecko!