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Standing on the Edge: Travels in Norway

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As I senior in high school, I was drawn to Norway. Most people would probably prefer Hawaii. Who actually goes to Norway for vacation? Not too many. But Norway is unique. Norway has snow, mountains, fjords, and women more beautiful than the country they inhabit. I heard a Norwegian man say the Vikings stole all the beautiful women when they went on raids to England, so that’s why Scandinavians have godlike good looks while the British, not so much.

For some reason, all those things seemed cool to me. I was very lucky, because my dad agreed to take me to Norway. He travels often, mostly to China for business, and has thousands upon thousands of frequent flier miles. Since he has so much, I was even able to convince him to allow my best friend at the time, Steven, to come along.

For two weeks we toured the country. We stayed in Oslo, Bergen, and Jotenheimen National Park further inland. But the most exotic place we went was the North Cape, the farthest north point in Europe. I wanted to see the midnight sun, reindeer, expanses of tundra, and craggy cliffs meeting the frigid Arctic.

The trek up to the North Cape was long. We cheated—we flew to Alta and saved most of the distance. Driving by car would be something akin to driving from the lower 48 to Alaska. But getting to Alta got us within two hundred miles. We then made half that distance by renting a car there and driving to Hammerfest to stay the night, the northernmost town in the world. The next day, we drove the rest of the way to the North Cape.

After three hours or so, we arrived. It was early August and the temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit, barring wind chill. Being from south Texas, that was colder than most winter days I’d seen. But I managed to stay outside and trudge up the slope, to the very edge of Europe, where the land fell over one thousand feet to the Arctic below.

Everything was gray: the ocean, the clouded sky, and the rocks. They reflected how I felt. At the time, there was a lot that was gray inside me.

I was about to go to the University of Oklahoma. I didn’t know anyone there. I was leaving everyone I knew, starting something new. I didn’t know how it would turn out. The answers weren’t clear—it was murky. It was gray.

My family had moved to Oklahoma City literally three days after I graduated from my high school in Clute, Texas. I would most likely not see most of the people I grew up with again. This included Steven, who was now standing beside me as we looked north, farther north than either of us would likely see again. We had had many adventures, and this, standing here above the Arctic waves eroding the North Cape, felt like our last hurrah.

Certainly there was some sadness about leaving home, mixed in with all that excitement. This trip to Norway was more than just a neat idea. It was my transition between my two worlds.

Even today, I sometimes catch the feeling I had then, like a fragrance across time. I did not know what to expect. I still don’t know today, writing this. As I much as I’d like to change things, I know the uncertainty of change is something that cannot be changed (or something equally corny).

It’s hard to think that in less than two years I will graduate. I don’t have any plans yet. But I feel like with my history, it’s unlikely I would stay in Oklahoma for too long. Some in my family have the itch to travel. My father does with his business, my grandfather does with his trucking, and my great-grandfather did when he came to America from Greece. I see no reason why I shouldn’t have the itch either. After all, I’ve scratched it a few times already.

That’s why I don’t expect to stick around Norman, or even Oklahoma, for too long after graduation. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere else, somewhere that’s not here. I went to Oklahoma because it was not Texas. I went to Iowa because it was not Oklahoma. I came back to Oklahoma because it was not Iowa. And I went to Norway because it wasn’t Hawaii.

My whole life, it seems, is just wanting to live somewhere different, but being unsure where to find that difference. But still, I look.

In a way, I’ve never felt home anywhere, never felt satisfied anywhere. And it has always taken leaving home to realize that I had always had a home in the place I’d just left. I think that’s why I came back to Oklahoma after only a semester at Iowa. And now that I’m here again, I’m feeling that familiar restlessness.

Just as the ocean below the cape never seemed to sit still, neither could I at the time. And just as the clouds covered the midnight sun, so I felt all my answers were covered. Everything was gray. I knew that behind those clouds, a sun shone. I was just waiting for it to come out.

It decided not to, and we turned from the ocean and headed to the visitors’ center, where we ate lunch. After looking at the exhibits in the small museum for about an hour, we went back out to a monument we had noticed earlier: statues of children holding hands in a circle.

I read the inscription and discovered the significance of the monument, which had been built in the early 1900s. A child from almost every country in the world had sailed aboard a ship together to the North Cape, as part of some kind of world tour. In a symbol of international peace, the children had held hands at the spot the statue was built, forming a circle.

In a way, the fact that it was children made sense. World peace is a child’s dream. Nonetheless, many of us still dream of it, myself included. Despite the improbability of that defiance making any difference, despite the cold Arctic wind, it still feels a little warmer by the statue.

We made one last trip to the North Cape’s precipice. Standing on the edge, we gazed across still gray ocean that met still gray sky. The sun would not be coming out this day. In fact, it did not come out for the rest of our trip to the Arctic.

Looking back, that seems fitting.

Over two years later, I can’t say my life has gotten much clearer, and I don’t think it ever will. That just seems to be the nature of life. What I’ve learned, though, is that all of us are in the same “not knowing” category. If we were all to be honest, no one knows anything about anything. I certainly don’t. All of us are lost; all of us wander this earth.

But all the same, all of us are connected like that circle of children, refusing to be taken under in our lostness. And we are not like that only at one point or another, but always and eternally, like a circle’s circumference.

I now know, though I didn’t at the time, that I am not alone. Perhaps the children in the statue were naïve to believe in change. But that’s not the point. The point is they stood together for change. Maybe that’s enough.

If only for a moment in time, the world was beautiful and warm again in the Arctic. And through them, I think maybe I’ve learned a little bit more on how to believe again.

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