20 March 2013

in the wind

My father died a few weeks ago. In the surreal few days that followed his passing, I kept myself busy with the many logistical details that had to be handled, threw myself into cleaning and helping my family. In the back of my mind, the winds of Iceland swept through my head, holding me together until I could return to the solace of the wild winter nature.

Two nights before he died, I saw some of the most powerful northern lights I've ever witnessed from Reykjavik. The house opposite looked to be inhabited by aliens, alit with green fire from behind, and as the night progressed, the show spread across the sky with the leaping fingers of light reaching high above the city, the ribbons waving horizontally, the pulsing glow pulling energy skywards, celestial fireworks for my father. He passed less than 48 hours later. After I returned to the country, it was ten straight days of rain, the relentlessly gray skies matching my sorrow.

I knew I had to be strong for my family, for my mother in her shock at the sudden new circumstances she found herself, living alone for the first time in her life. There was no time for solace or sorrow when I was there; I had to save it for later.

When I returned to Iceland, walking from the bus in the dim morning light, I already felt readjusted as the wind sloughed off my grief and blew life into my nostrils. That weekend S took me all the way to Jökulsárlón, a 750 kilometer round trip through the rainstorm. We stopped to record videos of the wind blowing the streams of waterfalls off into mist, we paused to eat the essential road-trip-in-Iceland hamburger, we made bets over whether or not we'd be alone at the lagoon or not (I won a cake out of this bet).

At the lagoon, we paused on the glacier side briefly to inspect the floes there, then crossed quickly to the other side, where the real magic happens. The tide was coming in rapidly, furious roaring waves crashing around the crackling chunks of ice, turning Land Cruiser sized ice blocks on their side. Along the high tide mark, a neat trail of herring lay, a reminder of the recent and mysterious mass herring death. We walked out towards a long finger of sand that stretched back towards the channel, rapidly being consumed by furious tides from both sides. S braved the water to go to the end while I stayed and simply absorbed it all- the wetness of the rain, the surge of wind gusts, the sizz of sand grains rushing across the beach. I built a small cairn from the black stones that lay scattered on the beach, a beacon for my father's soul, all the while knowing that it would be soon consumed by the encroaching waters that came from both sides.

Iceland may not be where I was born or where I grew up, but it is certainly a place of healing, of cleansing, of sorrow and redemption, a place where my soul finds its center amid the chaos it may find elsewhere. In these times where my thoughts travel their darkest paths, knowing there is this place where the sea is a never ending palette of blue, where the wind is spiked with scents of lava, moss and promise has made all the difference.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your father. I can imagine the power of Icelandic nature makes us humans and our problems seem not so important sometimes, in a good way.

tsduff said...

Thank you E, for your post. My Icelandic partner Georg Bjarni lost his Mom (both were born in Hafnarfjordur) Feb 1. She lived in Florida, but we just got back from burying her ashes in the small cemetery in Hafnarfjordur, surrounded by her Icelandic family. Now we find we must journey right back as his (G's) boyhood friend/brother has lost his Mom Erla last night. She died in Iceland, having traveled there just a few weeks ago from her home in southern California riddled with cancer, to attend the service of her childhood friend G's mom. Too much grief. But as you so eloquently put it, Iceland heals. I'm glad to be coming back.

Bevans said...

I've been following your blog since 2006...actually a month or two after my dad died. I was in a dark place in my life. I had no place to escape, and no way to find solace. A big part of me wanted to get as far away from where I lived (the DC area) as possible. I was enamored by your having moved to Iceland and the way you described your newly found life and home. Seven months after my dad died, I quit my job and found myself looking for jobs overseas which landed me in Antarctica in the following year. It was there where I managed to heal my wounds and think uninhibited. Losing a parent is surreal. The pain and the utter shock can't be described...whether it was expected or not. You are very lucky and I'm extremely happy for you that you have a special place such as Iceland in your life in which you can retreat to feel whole again. It's a shame that you're not able to live there any more. Are you able to apply for another visa in the future? Are there any stipulations to you visiting the country as a non-resident?