The Same in the Rain or Snow (Sisters)

Recently I got to visit my sister, her husband, and many dear friends over in Sweden.  I suppose family ties or an undying passion for winter sports are the only things that would prompt most people to visit Sweden in February.  It is dark, and grey, and cold.  But for me, it is somehow nonetheless an extension of home.

It has been almost a year since I've taken an international trip, and there is a restlessness pent up in my very bones.  I can't wait to be with my sister again, my oldest and best friend.  I also look forward to the challenge, excitement, and lessons inherent in international travel.  They begin long before I even reach my destination.  Days of transit are days of listening; simply waiting to check in for the flight I am surrounded by languages I don't know.  I strain my ears, wishing I understood, but also somehow savoring the fact that there is still so much in the world that is unknown to me.

I land in Copenhagen and am ushered alarmingly quickly through security.  I'm quite happy to not be considered suspicious, but honestly, it makes me wonder if security agents are bringing enough commitment and vigilance to their work... Anyway, I take a train across the bridge to Sweden.  I look out the window and see only an ombre haze: the dark blue-grey of the water melting into paler blue-grey fog and clouds.  Members of an older generation sit around me, politely bickering about the location of some Swedish town and which train routes take you there.

I switch trains in Malmo.  I wonder how much of my life I've spent waiting in stations of one sort or another.  I awkwardly exchange currency, obtain a ticket for the next train, and buy some coffee - then I sit down and am frustrated.  It's humbling and frustrating to be totally unable to communicate unless someone happens to speak English.  In travel I am reacquainted with a timid, subject version of myself. The thrill and the confidence boost come later, I suppose, once the destination has been reached or the information obtained.  But first comes dependence.

While I wait for the train, I take note of the fashions I'm observing.  Cross-body bags; muted colors; almost NO Uggs, thank heaven; Doc Martins or lace-up boots; long hair on young women, short hair on old women; really cool glasses frames on men.
Emily and her sister-in-law Elin meet me in Mjolby and drive me back to Tranas.  The countryside is beautiful (to me -- the endless snow is still a novelty to me); I see a blur similar to the one between Denmark and Sweden, but this time a haze of whites instead of blues.  I start to understand why Swedes paint their houses bright colors and fill their windows with lamps and candles.  They are beacons in the bleakness.
I am here for a week, and it is a perfect blend of action and rest.  We talk and eat and go to second-hand shops and watch movies and sometimes just sit quietly drawing.  We have friends over for dinner, and friends have us over for dinner, and I think how rich I am to have not just one or two, but numerous people to look forward to visiting.  Why do I dwell so much on the transient things I don't have?

We take a bus ride across the country to Gothenburg to visit some of my brother-in-law's family, the Landgrens.  The countryside is amazing.  I grew up in the mid-Atlantic and only knew a handful of cases of extreme winter weather -- so it is almost unreal to me, the perpetual blanket of white, the lakes frozen over, and life going on as usual despite them.  The forests have tall, slim trees absolutely encrusted with snow; this is so far outside my experience that it almost looks fake, like a movie soundstage or a miniature village.

The Landgrens live by the sea.  We take a walk along the shore and take photographs and enjoy the one day of sunshine we will see that week.  I want so much to live by water one day.
Emily impresses me so much.  She was never one to dream of living abroad or seeking fluency in a second language, so it is doubly impressive to see her getting after it.  She holds so many conversations in Swedish while I am there.  I'm so proud of her and wonder if I would respond with the same diligence if my routine was thus interrupted and my life actually did take such a turn.

My brother-in-law talks about the English word "adore."  He loves it.  He has recently discovered it and, like a young boy who has just found a shining dollar coin amid hundreds of tarnished pennies, he is thinking intentionally about incorporating it into his vocabulary specifically to honor his wife.  He looks at her and says, "I adore you," and it holds more meaning than I have ever heard.  I think about the words of my language that I toss around like loose pennies and that have just about as much value -- and how I feel as though I have run out of those words like "adore," the ones that are brand new worlds in themselves ripe for exploring, full of power because they are so new and unattached to anything else.
Everyone is waiting for summer, the memory of which seems packed beneath the snow, pushed deeper and deeper underfoot with every step.  They left their hearts in summer.  Now in the long dark nights they light candles, obstinately pushing back at the encroaching black and reminding themselves that there was light here once – it’s left before but has always returned, so they trust it will return again.

This week I've tried to complain a little less about what is considered "freezing cold" here in the mid-Atlantic.  I've also tried to notice the sunny days, not take them for granted.  I have felt thankful that distance is spanned a little more easily today than it used to be, though sometimes it is still easy to forget that I can't just text my sister a random thought or invite her over for a spontaneous movie night.  Eternity matters a lot more the older you get.

Farewell until summer (hopefully), Sweden!


CFHeidel said…
Bra! I adored this.
Ginny -
Thank you for writing. This was exquisite.

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