The Gravity of a Place and a Time
“We don’t stand on ceremony ’cause life is phony in spite of it.” That song sends my mind immediately back to the early 1980s and in particular a wintertime exploration with cousin Paula along the stream at her farm. It just does. So often songs pop into your head for seemingly inexplicable reasons. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton reuniting in my head was unexpected but understandable.
The sentiment of simple authenticity from that song is something I can appreciate. I know the Baptist, and Puritan traditions of America and those legacies we live, even if you’re a midwestern Lutheran. Anti-Catholic Know Nothings, rebellion against royalties and all those ancient tradtions…Americans have congenital incompatibility to ceremony – as if we have a level of gluten intolerance. Sure, a little pomp and circumstance now and then is manageable but in contrast to most things American, less is more.
Yesterday we gathered at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. The dignified building was in that particular Scandinavian yellowed tangerine color. The location was kitty-corner from the US Embassy and across the street from the palace grounds. Power, influence, history, and the future coalesces on the geography there. The US Norway Fulbright Foundation put on a ceremony in the Nobel building, in the very hall where soon the world will learn the winner of the peace prize.
The grantees, academic mentors, family, Foundation members, key Embassy staff, and Ministry representatives attended. Foundation director, and fellow Badger, Petter Næss was the adept master of ceremonies, smoothly flowing between english and Norwegian. After the obligatory speeches we got to talk. Each grantee got to speak at the Nobel podium: a brief introduction, scope of project, and “why Norway?”
I was one of the last grantees to speak. My moment at the podium was moving. I expected to be nervous about speaking into such an impressive audience. Instead, I felt a heavy sense of meaning and weight in this opportunity. For over 100 years some of the world’s most notable humanitarians had their names immortalized from this stage. Now my small thread is woven into the great tapestry of Nobel history.
The other Fulbrighters commented on how impressive and important an occasion this was. This ceremony reinforced the magnitude of the Fulbright program. We needed that.
We use ceremonies in life to pronounce to our community and sometimes all of society that this is important. Things like baptisms, weddings, graduations, inaugurations, and funerals are about impressing upon the individual and larger community that what is going on is important and to be remembered.
Physics dictate that to make an impression, you need weight; the pull of the earth’s mass leveraged to leave a mark. Is it possible that some places have more weight than others? I like to think so. Through ceremony and symbols we can invent greater meaning. We can craft an experience that transcends ourselves and Newton’s laws. From time to time, we can create more gravity.
PS: i’ve been delaying posting this blog posting because i have been trying to create a gif of laureate photos i took in the diliberation room of the fulbright committee. i finally made the gif but i cannot download it as a file to then attach to this blog. looking for comments of advice. jlh