Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

These dark dark days

And, just like that, the dark dark days are here. It doesn't get "light" until 8 in the morning and it's completely dark again by 4 pm (at the latest). But even more than that, the sun has left us. We've only had mere hours (4-5) of sun this whole month! They are predicting this November to be the darkest November on record (Darkest November). At the height of the day there still isn't enough light outside to light a room so the inside lights remain on all day. Everyone is donning their reflector vests again and bike lights are perpetually turned on.

So, what do we do with all these gray short days? We take advantage of every opportunity to push ourselves to go out and interact with others. This week is an anti-racism film festival and has free showings all around the city. I went to "Days of Hope" made by a Danish film maker early this week. It's about different Africans who come/want to come to Europe. There are a few scenes in Copenhagen and Malmö which is nice to see places you know. From the title, you'd think the film had happy elements but let me tell you, I left feeling very hopeless. I realize immigration/emigration is complex but what about the simple humanity of it all?

You'd think I'd learn after the first film that the anti-racism film festival shows terribly sad movies to raise awareness and create understandings, not to make people feel good. But, I didn't catch on too deeply and went to another showing. This film was fictional but based on true events in Hungry with a Roma family. Again, I left feeling very depressed and that there may not be any hope for us.

I wonder if I would feel so down after watching these movies if they were played on summer solstice. I think the organizers should have considered the time of year a little more. It's a fine balance of exposing ourselves and learning, and protecting our tender hearts and minds when the weather adds to our potential demise of spirit.

It's been interesting to talk through the movies and see the different responses my friends and I have had. I so easily fall into this, "white guilt," and then feel a responsibility to be the one to fight and change it all while my friends comment that the State should step in more and another friend thinks more focused NGO's should be established. Our choice of words show such a stark difference in our personal understandings. One of the things I love about Northern Europe is its belief in doing things for the collective good. But I also see the limitation when you don't see the personal need to be the one person to step out and make a difference. I think it must be so much easier to get out of bed everyday if you think of yourself as part of a collective, or that it's someone else's job.

While the days are short and dark and my social calendar has been filled with heart wrenching portrayals of reality, I still look at the candles flickering in windows, Christmas lights hanging across the city streets and lit stars shining bright to believe in my own fight for humanity. And I am thankful for my friends who see the world differently than I do and who make me pause and try to understand their way of fighting too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The psychologic effects

Yesterday, when browsing the news I saw headlines for snow storms across the Midwest. I facetimed my family and was taken to the windows where I was shown the swirling snow as it blazed in every direction.  I could feel the chill creep into my bones through our technology. So, this morning when I awoke and saw it was 42 degrees out, I panicked. Winter must have come here too! Never mind it was going to be 55 in an hour. As I got ready to go out for the day I pulled my thick Swedish winter coat from the back of my closet to wear for the first time this season. I wore wool mittens, a hat and boots. And by the time I got to my destination I thought I was going to pass out from being overheated. It's amazing the tricks your fears can play on you. When I biked home, I just strapped my coat to my bike and was much more comfortable simply wearing my sweater.

It's not winter here! The leaves are still changing. We just officially entered fall according to Swedish definition. You must have 5 consecutive days below 10C (50F) to be in fall. The newspaper printed yesterday that we've entered fall. This year was unseasonably warm with 201-days-of-summer! I've been spoiled, I know. And I know I said I was about ready for it to be colder. But I might have lied. Not intentionally. It really wasn't until I saw the snow those many miles away through my computer that I realized how much I really don't want to be in winter yet.

I went to the symphony tonight. Last year I received a, "Welcome to Malmö," packet with coupons ranging from concert tickets to swim lessons to a free tote bag from the library. I have slowly been using them and just recently realized they will expire at the end of December and I only have a few short weeks to take advantage of the treasures they provide to Malmö.  I took my friend (because it was a 2 for 1 coupon) and we were the youngest attendees by about 40 years. The music was beautiful with special pieces featuring the oboe and then the clarinet. I've never been a big clarinet fan but this feature was powerful. It all was such a meditative retreat. I forgot all my worries: the weather, figuring out my thesis, packing in a few weeks... I just surrounded myself with the beautiful music and practiced, "be here now."

As I continue using my coupons this fall I am reminded to be thankful for these "warm," colorful remaining days and when I do eventually face winter, it will be with many good memories from this fall to keep me warm. But let's worry about that another day.

Until then, I will keep that big warm Swedish coat in the back of my closet.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Christmas is coming

A Christmas tree was put up in the square across from my apartment the other day. The trees are still changing their colors. The leaves are still clinging to the trees! How can we have a Christmas tree up already? I say this every year, but Christmas came so fast! Especially being in Sweden I feel cheated with not having had Halloween decorations in October or Thanksgiving decorations in November. We just went straight to Christmas.

Even the grocery stores have put up Christmas displays.

While I'm not quite ready for the Christmas season to be here, I am starting to be ok with the temperatures being a little bit chillier (55 instead of 60) giving me every excuse to eat soup and warm foods. I went to a great little restaurant for lunch with friends the other day. It's called the Spoonery. Isn't that a great name for a place that serves soups and stews?

And so life continues on as the seasons merge from one to the next. Stay warm friends!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

All Saints Day

Last Saturday was All Saints Day. It's a national holiday in Sweden. This year I wanted to participate by going to the cemetery. Swedes go to the cemetery on this day and light candles for family and friends who have died. It's a time of dignity and remembrance. People were all around: strolling, sitting on benches, chatting in small circles. The whole picture was a beautiful scene. I also felt this sense of camaraderie. Everyone has been touched by death. It's what makes us human. It was nice to look around and know I share this with all around me. While we've come to remember death and its impact on us, we've also come to celebrate life. I appreciated having a space to do that. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The heat is on...and it's dark

I live in a large apartment building. The heat is turned on for the whole building after there has been 5 consecutive days below 50 or it's October 20th. As this year has been unseasonably warm, never even reaching 50 for more than a few minutes here and there, the heat did not start coming through my radiators until recently. It was early one morning when I was drinking my coffee staring out the window when I felt the warmth from the radiator and realized my warm fall days will give way to winter sooner than later.

We also set out clocks back last Sunday (a week before the US). The evidence of dark winter is making its appearance by later afternoon now. It's so depressing to feel the sun begin to make its dramatic exit at 3:30. And within a little less than an hour, the sun has officially set.

But it's not winter yet so I will give each remaining leaf changing day the largest embrace I can offer. Each moment of sunshine is celebrated. Each leaf littered path is exclaimed over. And each invitation for a walk, fika or a party is taken.

As Swedes tend to favor simple and mild foods, there is a yearning from those who come from cultures with spicy foods, (or those of us who appreciate spicy even without the culture) to test their stamina every now and then to make sure they can go back to their respective countries with their dignity still in tact. So a spicy food cook off was organized. Spicy foods from Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Bangladesh were made. The Scandinavians were crying the whole time but the rest of us ate with relish and utter happiness.

And it wouldn't be a good party without karaoke. With so many different cultures converged it was hard to find songs we all had in common. Our most successful songs were Disney, Christmas or Whitney Houston. Who would have thought Whitney Houston was known by more people than Beyonce? Maybe it's a generational thing too...

As I walked to the bus with some friends feeling so content and happy to be living this life, I also felt this tightening around my heart that it's not going to stay like this for much longer. Time is ticking away and I will leave this life. It's amazing how we can hold such contrasting feelings within us.