Old Friends and Family

Tomorrow my dad and I will be out island hopping, working our way to the outermost islands of the archipelago and won’t be back until late in the evening so I am posting tonight what I would have posted tomorrow.

This is the last time my dad plans to be in Sweden. He has slowed down in this past year, needs more rest and the journey here from Panama is long and arduous. Sweden is horribly expensive–it is not unusual for a hamburger to cost $30.00. He is concerned to make provisions for any medical care he may need further along. So there is an incredible poignancy that colors these days as surely as the beautiful Swedish sunlight.

The visit with my older brother, Hans, and his partner, Anne Marie was just incredibly fun. Hans is mischievous, sarcastic, and funny. Anne Marie has this really down-to-earth wisdom that makes it easy to talk about the hard things and see them in a new way. I could tell how much my dad loved having the three of us together.

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Today, Tante Maj, and her children, Olle, Kerstin and Jurgen came to visit and brought a typical Swedish lunch with them. Tant Maj and Farbror Gunnar are my dad’s oldest, dearest friends. Farbror Gunnar, stricken by Alzheimers could not come but Tante Maj is as sharp and full of life as ever.

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She knows my father well enough to know exactly what meal would make him the happiest. She herself had prepared four different kinds of pickled herring, and served the herring with all the typical accompaniments. We drank aquavit and sang old drinking songs. There was knäckebröd (HARDTACK) and Swedish cheese, new potatoes with dill, and beer.

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Dessert was a “Sommar Torta” (a summer cake) that tasted exactly like our birthday cakes tasted when we were growing up. As soon as I tasted it, I understood where my mom’s birthday cakes came from–very unexpected!

After lunch, Olle, Kerstin and I went up the steep hill behind the cottage we are renting. At the top there are two cannon embankments built during WWII and you also get a gorgeous view of Linanäs.

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My dad and Tante Maj tell vivid, wrenching stories of the war, of how immediate it was, even in Sweden that was neutral. And they complain about how sanitized war has become. I ache at the thought that my dad has begun to tie the loose ends of his life, has begun to say his good byes, like he did with Maj at the end of the visit. I am so glad for him to get to say good farewells, hard though they may be. But my brothers and I still have so much to learn from him and his generation…

Grundvik

This morning I walked to Grundvik, another nearby village

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My eye keeps getting drawn to the bits and pieces of everyday life

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I am enchanted with the thistles

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And I was able to pick blueberries and raspberries for my oatmeal

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But more than anything, what I feast on is the light.

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Footprint

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Yesterday was laundry day around here. My brother and his partner had left, the weather forecast calls for lots of rain starting this evening. Our cottage has a great washing machine but no dryer so after each of the three loads of clothes I washed, I walked down to the umbrella clothes drying contraption and used old-fashioned clothes pins to hang clothes. I could get high smelling the clothes after the fresh breezes of the day had dried them and I took them off the line, still warmed by the sunshine.

We walk or ride bicycles everywhere we go. I have found out that Swedes are fastidious in their recycling. There are 9 separate bins at the recycle center where we take the garbage we don’t compost. There are fewer appliances, spaces more compact–my ecological footprint is so much smaller here.

I find relief and a sense of ‘rightness’ in all this. I’ve said elsewhere that these past few years have been a lot about learning to live in my body. It seems inevitable that being more aware of incarnation requires a different relationship to the Earth. The air is so clean here, there is no litter along the sides of the road, much less noise (though admittedly, we are out in a rural area so that is only normal). I sleep with my window and curtains open so when I wake up at about 4 each morning, I watch the sunlight slowly extend further and further down the trees outside my window as the sun rises. Connection to the rhythms around me is so obvious here.

There is also a growing tension in md that has become more explicit in this space. Having a smaller footprint on this fragile and distressed planet requires time. I was surprised by how long it took to hang clothes (not something I have done a whole lot of in my lifetime!). To get to the nearest shop to buy milk takes 20 minutes each way. Even something as simple as cleaning up and throwing away garbage in the process of preparing a meal takes mindfulness and care to make sure I put recyclables in their proper places so when I get to the recycle center I don’t have to spend a bunch of time sorting through the things I have brought.

I don’t mind that everything takes more time. In fact, it’s the opposite. I find deep satisfaction–something very close to life as prayer is possible here. The tension I am struggling with is this: the work I have been doing at least for the past 6 years is in direct contradiction to these rhythms of life. I discover a new grant our ministry might be eligible for and it happens to have a deadline coming up quickly? I am on it like white on rice–I try but don’t always succeed in holding on to my walking at night (all the time, though, I know it is crazy to cut back on something so essential to my wellbeing). I let the housework go, I cut corners on the cooking, I race through everything else I have to do. I am driven and disconnected and, quite frankly, not a very nice person to be around.

There is, of course, a sense of accomplishment when I meet a deadline. All the hours I spent preparing the United Way grant bought us some more time and ability to build the programs we’ve all dreamed of in the ministry I am a part of. But there is also what I can only describe as a sense of emptiness that follows each deadline. Even worse is the time I spend on efforts that are truly ridiculous. A fridge needs repair — making sure I follow the approval process for getting it repaired, finding a repair person, getting him or her to do the work right or getting another person in when the first one does a really crappy job–I do so much of this now. And the most disturbing of all–the amount of time it takes to navigate the minefields of a denominational system in crisis, where anxiety and reactiveness permeate everything, where the impulse to preserve and protect are making us more the Walking Dead than joyful, vibrant communities that don’t fear death because they live in the promise of resurrection.

My desire to have the time to leave a smaller footprint behind can become one more expression of the self-absorption of a first-world, spoiled princess–how much easier it is to wash my family’s clothes and prepare nice healthy dinners than engage the issues of justice and mercy faced by the community I serve in Ft Lauderdale. But something is not working about the way we are going about doing ministry. To find a more faithful, more meaningful way to be a priest and resident of Earth is part of the work ahead, especially now that Sherod has announced his retirement and such huge decisions lie ahead about what I will do in the 15 or so years I have left for active ministry.

Still Learning

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It was five days before my 41st birthday when we found out that Sherod had cancer. I got home from work on my birthday to find a shiny green bicycle waiting for me. Sherod’s comment was, “if I am going to be this scared, you are too”. I knew immediately what he meant. I grew up hearing a lot more about what I couldn’t do than most people. “Rosita, don’t do that, it’s bad for your hip.” “That is simply too dangerous.” “Surely, you don’t want to jeopardize your chance to have children, do you?” Some of it got absurd. I was clumsier than most kids because I had not had as much of a chance to develop all kinds of motor skills, and that got turned into a conviction that I would probably never be capable of learning how to drive a car. I had to sneak around my parents to take driving classes one summer when I was in college. Even now, I can’t think about that too much without getting very angry.

The combination of projected fears and my own clumsiness meant I had never learned to ride a bicycle. And now, here sat this rather lovely bicycle in my house. I have wondered since if part of Sherod’s decision to give me that birthday present wasn’t a small but definite push towards self-sufficiency, pushing me to push myself a little harder in case he didn’t make it. I was terrified as I started learning and being terrified of riding a bike distracted me from the far greater fears in front of me. Once I got good at it, my friend Carol and I went for bike rides at night frequently and that too got me through that time. I have a nice Trek bicycle at home now, one I ride occasionally, and am always glad to know isin my garage.

This morning, Hans and I rode bikes over to the small grocery shop in Linanäs Very quickly after we got started I realized what a limited experience of bike riding I actually have–all of it in the ever so flat world of Southeast Florida. Ljusterö is quite hilly and almost immediately after we got started, my legs were madly churning and I was huffing and puffing my way up a slope. Pitiful! But then, we hit a long stretch that was downhill all the way. Absolutely amazing!!! The feel of the breeze on my face as the bike picked up speed, the sense of freedom that came with the pull of gravity. My legs still feel a little rubbery and I imagine it will take my whole time here to get any mastery of the hills. Another small gift of discovery on another gorgeous Swedish summer day.

Stillness

I woke up a little after four this morning; the sun was already shining out my window.

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I got dressed and walked to town, about 1 1/2 miles away from our cottage.

The stillness. The anticipation of a new summer day that had not really begun. And especially, the silence.

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Deep Breath

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It was really hard leaving today-Maria with her Strep Throat, Sherod with his pain and all the work at work pulled at me. Then coming into Newark we flew into really big turbulence–the kind that makes you feel like your stomach will come out through your nose because the plane just hit a ginormous air pocket. These are the effects of a nor’easter that’s still blowing out there. When I checked in at SAS, I got a nasty little surprise. I had upgraded to something called SAS Plus mainly because it allowed me to use the lounge for this long layover. Since NO ONE had anything better to recommend for my 5 hours here, I had decided at least to make the time productive.

Turns out the Lufthansa lounge is being remodeled and for now, only SAS Business Class folks get to use the lounge. I am getting more assertive in my old age so I pulled out my iPad, showed the lady how explicitly SAS touts the use of the lounges as one of the perks of my upgrade and asked to see her manager when she kept insisting I couldn’t go in. Long and short of it? I was allowed in.
That has made it possible for me to peck out the essentials of the bulletin I will need for the funeral I have to do the day after I get back from Sweden. I also got to write some overdue thank you notes.

Now, I am sitting in a comfortable chair, drinking a decent cappuccino and eavesdropping shamelessly, thoroughly enjoying all the Swedish being spoken all around me. All these tall, blond, blue eyed Swedes! Except that the family I am sitting next to is Norwegian. Two of the daughters, young women in their early twenties, are obviously of African (I would guess Ethiopian) origin and their Norwegian is pretty accented. They I can’t understand so well. The dad and mom–quite a lot.

So I have taken a deep breath. I am making another of one of my world shifts and all of a sudden, it feels really good. Heja Sverige!

and here I go!

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