megan.

gracie.

It’s just after 10 AM as I watch another tram approach the city center, wondering if this is the one that holds the little sister I haven’t hugged in two months. It stops about 15 meters (meters!) from where I’m standing, and even though I can’t see her face, she’s easy to spot through the window: the navy blue hat with the ear flaps and the pom-pom on top, a bold, yellow AMSTERDAM printed all the way around it. Our Dutchie friends mailed it to Topeka, Kansas four years ago, in another life. Her head swivels abruptly, and suddenly I’m looking at her face: eyebrows raised, jaw slack, eyes wide, that classic and comical expression indicating total lack of comprehension. I’ll learn later that she’s slept for most of the two-hour bus ride, only waking because of an exodus of passengers at her stop. For now, though, I’m laughing, because the whole combination – that look, the little pom-pom, the spastic head turn – makes her look like an excitable, confused six-year-old; she has no idea what’s going on and is utterly surprised by her surroundings. She doesn’t see me, so I wave and try not to laugh too hard. Her head whips around again and she’s on her feet, disappearing from view. She looks calm when I see her next, sauntering around the back of the tram and down the median, clearly trying to be nonchalant but not quite suppressing a mischievous grin. “Look at us in Europe together,” she says, shaking her head as she throws her arms around me. I haven’t stopped laughing since I saw the hat.

Her face is perfect.

Helsinki.

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megan.

across the atlantic.

New York

As we fly across the Atlantic, our progress is mapped on a giant screen mounted in the center aisle, high enough that I can see it from the penultimate row of the aircraft. Seat 63K.

Greenland
Reykjavik
Akureyri

It’s unreal to watch the names flash across the screen every ten seconds, the map’s frame of reference shifting from broad to narrow, but always showing the location of our little plane. The stats it displays are also pretty unbelievable.

Ground speed: 596 mph
-79° F
Tempo de chegada: 2:14

My clock, still on Eastern time, reads 3:27. The lights are off. The blinds are closed. The plane is dark. The flight attendants are whispering to each other in French behind the curtain. I open the blind next to my seat just as we’re clearing Iceland, and bright sunlight pours in. I see that we’re flying into a sunrise well on its way through the sky. Their time is not our time.

Glasgow
Dublin
Norwegian Sea
Munich

I’ve been on this plane for nearly five hours, but I continue to watch the screen, transfixed. What strikes me is the apparent ordinariness of so many moments that my mind knows to be of such personal significance. These names and locations are busy going from places on a map to places on *my* map.

Lisbon
Las Palmas
Algiers
Karistad

I believed it would never happen. That exploring places far from home could never be for me. I explained the situation ardently to anyone who asked — mostly reporters, but classmates, too, and teachers — that I could never risk it. That it was too dangerous. That I could be arrested and locked away forever in other countries for my beliefs and religious practices. The U.S. was the only place I was safe. God hates America, but I’ll never leave it.

Altitude: 11572 m
Velocidade de solo: 927 km/h
-36° C

And I was *just fine* with that. These are “the bounds of my habitation.” I accept these limits. In my life, they are the truth, and there is no questioning the truth.

Oslo
Cairo
St. Petersburg

I know this present reality to be impossible, and yet it doesn’t feel impossible. It feels Same. Like every other late night flight I’ve ever taken. Everyone is sleeping through this wonderful insanity, their heads resting undisturbed in their silly neck pillows (I want a neck pillow).

Casablanca
Luxor
Istanbul

But I’m scared. That’s how I know this is important (that, plus the fact that beautiful Norwegian mountains, covered in white from peak to base, the valleys between them filled with enormous snow drifts that are now drifting by outside my window). I’ve been flying for the past two decades; it’s not the plane that scares me, though it does rattle with heavy turbulence from time to time. It’s something else. Not the normal fears, either, though they’re certainly there, percolating: being robbed or roofied, losing my bank cards, getting lost myself. But there’s something new, too. A world full of people I don’t know, speaking languages I don’t understand, whose stories I can’t comprehend in any meaningful way – not even on a national level, because I know so little about these countries.

Hamburg
Tehran
Dubai

I wanted to know what it’s like to be in that position. Everyone should know, or at least contemplate, what it’s like. To be an outsider – not just ideologically, but by way of language, of customs, of national identity. And not just an outsider, but a minority, outnumbered, reliant on the kindness of strangers to help you on your way. We’d all tend to be more kind, gentle, gracious if we knew what that felt like, wouldn’t we? We’d do better about seeing the world through others’ eyes. We’d see ourselves through their eyes, too, our good and our bad. And it would make us think, and be proud, and be ashamed, and be inspired to get better, to do better, to be better.

Vasteras
Uppsala
Nykoping

At least, that’s what I think sitting here. I’m tired of sitting, though, and my legs are aching to move, so I might not be thinking clearly.

I just don’t want to be asleep.

Stockholm

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megan.

items in my purse on my trip to finland.

* 2 bags Sunsweet pitted dates
* 1 bag “Fun Size” Nestle Crunch bars
* 2 bags individually-wrapped-but-full-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
* 1 “Jumbo Bag” individually-wrapped-but-full-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
* 2 bags Grandpa Ed’s homemade beef jerky (there are two more in my backpack)
* 1 small Primal Pac from Melissa Joulwan’s first Quarterly box
* 3 small packages Biscoff cookies I got on a flight (Minneapolis to JFK, on Delta, of course), the second of thirteen that I’ll be taking over the next sixteen days. Biscoff is my favorite, but I’m saving them for Gracie, because in her world, sugar is a legitimate expression of love, and I love her an awful lot (907 grams worth or so, if we’re limiting it to what I’m dragging halfway across the United States and all the way across the ocean for her).
* 1 quart-sized bag macademia nuts
* 1 quart-sized bag almonds
* 1 snack-sized bag pecans (don’t let the diminutive size fool you; these are my favorite, which is why the stash was nearly depleted by the time I had to pack)
* 1 Key Lime Pie Lärabar
* 5 assorted acorn- and leaf-shaped chocolate bars from the famous Chubby Chipmunk chocolatier (there were six, but I ate a whole one as soon as I got home yesterday to stop myself from crying because Chad had to go to work and I wouldn’t see him for 3.5 weeks after today [Note: it didn’t work; I cried till my eyes were swollen anyway and had to carry the additional shame of having desperately shoveled it into my mouth, hunched over the sink, in the dark, as if I could hide this pitiful abuse of food even from *myself*]), acquired at Anne and Jamie’s beautiful autumn-themed wedding in Spearfish two days ago

**********

Yes, the contents of my considerable purse, normally stocked with keys and creams and nail clippers and all the trappings of a woman well-prepared for every everyday calamity, have been entirely supplanted by easily mobile food items that Grace and I could survive on in the unlikely (but still plausible) event that we are unable to successfully navigate Finnish Lapland and get stuck on the side of the road for hours in our rental car in the dead of night in a sparsely-populated area somewhere north of the Arctic Circle.

I’m a planner. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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