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My time is taken up with hikes to a lake to remember relatives who have passed to the next world, visiting churches and memorials of the past while meeting current citizens and discussing the future. Through it all, we are guided to see Sweden and to understand its people through the eyes of those who live here, through priceless experiences, many planned “surprises” by my brother and our hosts, some spontaneous moments of connection, laughter, and deep reflection. I see a Norwegian Elkhound and think of my own dog at home briefly, for I am transported back to lupine-lined lakes, lovely meals, the gentle lilting sounds of words I have recently begun to learn, seeing gentle smiles as well as thought-filled stares on crevassed faces who have survived great challenges, finding deeper connections to people faced with embracing the conflicts of past, present and future.
I reflect on the question of someone in America, who travels the world on multiple cruises, as she had asked me: “What are you planning on seeing when you are in Sweden?” I had felt somewhat empty, having left planning details in the hands of my capable brother. My heart is now filled with memories of communicating with various levels of success in the native tongue of gracious people, walking streets cobbled in history as well as through the underground tunnels of the Parliament building up to its very doors, being told by a sentry firmly “Stand behind the line” having unknowingly crossed too close to his post yet apologizing to him in his native language, walking in the footsteps of kings and queens, gazing upon a watery tomb, eating a meal in a cobblestone square with faint echoes of anguish overshadowed now by a building dedicated to peace, sharing meals of foods yielded by the land and sea, speaking with a man who holds a similar occupation to my husband’s, guided through the countryside of lakes and mostly red homes, comparing notes of health care in Sweden and America with medical professionals, riding in a hot rod driven by a distant cousin in a vintage car parade while waving the American flag, sharing afternoon “fika” with the Swedish author of a book my brother has in his library in Oregon, dancing and creating sounds with an organ in an old factory now housing artistic expressions, shopping in countryside grocery stores and nurseries elbow to elbow with those familiar with their contents, sitting astride a near life-size Dala horse which my father and mother (both now gone) had looked upon, and gazing into the gentle eyes of a moose as it munched the birch leaves I held in my hand.
I think back of the people lining the decks of the cruise ship in Stockholm after a 20 minute ride as they turned and rode back out to the sea happily waving, perhaps crossing off Sweden on a list. And this time I am overcome with heart-felt gratitude to those who have shared priceless memories with me, for I think I have truly begun to see Sweden.