And I was called John the Lucky
Eiríks saga rauða
Leifur svarar: “Það ætla eg ef sá er yðvar vilji.”
Konungur svarar: “Eg get að svo muni vel vera. Skaltu fara með erindum mínum að boða kristni á Grænlandi.”
Leifur kvað hann ráða mundu en kveðst hyggja að það erindi mundi torflutt á Grænlandi en konungur kveðst eigi þann mann sjá er betur væri til þess fallinn en hann “og muntu giftu til bera.”
“Það mun því að eins,” kvað Leifur, “að eg njóti yðvar við.”
Leifur lét í haf þegar hann var búinn. Leif velkti lengi úti og hitti hann á lönd þau er hann vissi áður öngva von í. Voru þar hveitiakrar sjálfsánir og vínviður vaxinn. Þar voru og þau tré er mösur hétu og höfðu þeir af öllu þessu nokkur merki, sum tré svo mikil að í hús voru lögð.
Leifur fann menn á skipflaki og flutti heim með sér og fékk öllum vist um veturinn. Sýndi hann svo mikla stórmennsku og gæsku af sér. Hann kom kristni á landið og hann bjargaði mönnunum. Var hann kallaður Leifur hinn heppni.
My brother has a favored quip, “it’s better to be lucky than good.” Apropos to that. Good is a pretty high standard to cross, but just about anybody can trip forward over a low bar. In a perfect world I would be lucky and good, in the real world I ought to be satisfied with the former rather than the latter.
The Roving is over. The wool is packed away. My bug bites have bug bites, sweat is no repellent. I guess now is the time to think, to reflect. Perhaps, yet the time to savor will come later. It’s too hot to savor anything now.
Did I learn anything Roving over Norway? You bet! But the problem is to articulate it in a way that dignifies the magnitude of the experience for me and my family without bloviating. Last night I heard Terry Tempest Williams speak, I know she could do it. My self confidence isn’t quite there yet.
So many of the lessons from Norway are already in this blog, I would rather re-read than re-write. The contrasts are what’s new now that I am in Iowa. To be knee deep in a Middle Border summer from a year in Norway is to crave a respite from the worst of America and revel in its best.
I have been driving a lot and I don’t like it. I don’t like it how the default is to drive. I don’t like it that our collective memory has been erased; roads were once the kingdom of walkers and bicyclists. The cars drove us to the ditches where we remain. The cult of cars is unsustainable, understandable, and unavoidable until the next crisis. Father Time is undefeated.
Where are the people? The heat keeps us in, the cars keep us apart. I have felt quite isolated in the short time we’ve been back even though I’m in my home culture with my home people. Summer break exacerbates this problem, but the remedy approaches.
I had fast food for lunch, it was glorious. I have had a lot of fast food lately. America is food. Food in giant portions. Food in cosmic variety. Food in endless quantity. The thing I most craved was food. Now that I’m in the breadbasket all I want to do is eat. Food is America.
The presidential race will start in earnest Friday. The battles between the champions, the skirmishes amongst the auxiliaries, the participation in the world’s greatest ongoing political experiment, it is a spectacle and a thrill.
Fulbright challenged me to travel to Norway and teach about America. The journey was long. There was wind and rain. Snow and ice both stimied my plans and stimulated my body. Dark days and then light-filled nights confused my mind. It was an adventure. The new birds and new people captivated me. My crew survived with nary a scratch. I taught my lessons and took in some too. I don’t know if the natives will say that I was good, but I sure was lucky.
Saga of Erik the Red
Chapter 5, an excerpt (http://sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda.en)
Leif answered, “I should wish so to do, if it is your will.” The king replied, “I think it may well be so; thou shalt go my errand, and preach Christianity in Greenland.”
Leif said that he was willing to undertake it, but that, for himself, he considered that message a difficult one to proclaim in Greenland. But the king said that he knew no man who was better fitted for the work than he. “And thou shalt carry,” said he, “good luck with thee in it.” “That can only be,” said Leif, “if I carry yours with me.”
Leif set sail as soon as he was ready. He was tossed about a long time out at sea, and lighted upon lands of which before he had no expectation. There were fields of wild wheat, and the vine-tree in full growth. There were also the trees which were called maples; and they gathered of all this certain tokens; some trunks so large that they were used in house-building. Leif came upon men who had been shipwrecked, and took them home with him, and gave them sustenance during the winter. Thus did he show his great munificence and his graciousness when he brought Christianity to the land, and saved the shipwrecked crew. He was called Leif the Lucky.
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