Fellow Hodgkin’s survivor Roger Lumpp posed a question to the Hodgkin’s support forum I am a member of earlier today: what is your latitude? Where is the place you escape to when things get tough and you have to dig in your heels to get through one more scan or treatment? He is encouraging survivors to write essays as part of a project as an exercise in positivity and meditation through medical crises.
For me, it’s Iceland. My 3 months living there were clearly a big turning point in my life and prepared me emotionally and professionally for the challenges I would face in the years to come – including the challenges of cancer. It also gives me something to look forward to. Reykjavik is a short 5 hour flight from Boston and I have several couches to crash on. I simply cannot wait to go back. Going back as a post-cancer gift to myself will be a new challenge: traveling alone. And I can’t wait to push myself.
My essay is as follows:
“She’s like a beautiful woman, nude but knows how to coyishly cover up in all the right places”. 4AM on the road back to Akureyri, the town I called home nestled in a fjord on the norther coast of Iceland, is always a bit of a gamble. That night, coming home from a combination concert, protest, and nationwide celebration of the environment in Reykjavik with 75% of the country’s population, was no different. A heavy fog settled on the bare slopes and jagged mountains surrounding the road. It was summer in Iceland. Time makes you question your sanity in a constant, blinding 24 hours of sunlight, but the fog and intermittent summer snow shot a rush of melatonin through my blood to let me settle into a calm sleep for the rest of the drive.
Iceland is a place of contradictions. How can people not only live, but thrive in a place that looks so hostile to the eye?
My favorite game was to relate the spots I saw from the bus we traveled in to locations in Middle Earth. Solheimar, an ecovillage meaning “greeting the sun”, reminded me of the Shire. You could walk for miles in the treeless, rolling landscape, unhindered by fences or my conventional idea of property ownership. In late July where the sun was trying so hard to set, the sky would light on fire and the craigy mountain tops looked eerily like my mental picture of Mordor. Iceland and New Zealand are not all that different geographically. They both have more sheep than people – a fact that is more calming to me now than the humor it held then.
When I am stuck on the lazy boy at chemo for 5 hours, I let my mind wander away to the glaciers, fjords, fields, and cities that I adore.
When steroids keep me up at night, I think about my nights in Cafe Amor – the coffeehouse turned bar at night where I spent so many hours (and krona) enjoying the simple pleasures of meeting new people. Ok, maybe occasionally a few too many simple pleasures.
The bath used to to ease my aching joints is suddenly one of the many thermal springs that are scattered across the landscape. I might not be covering myself from head to toe in mud with a mountain range as a background, but my bathtub becomes the canvas for my wanderlust. If I stick my head under the water, I can almost hear the rivers I could drink out of or the many waterfalls I saw.
Iceland is a place of all of the elements. Perhaps there’s something philosophical to be said about the balance
of the elements. There is water piped directly from rivers into peoples’ home- no need for sanitation. The ocean is everything, from the food that Icelanders eat to the climate. With their dedication to renewable energy, you would be hardpressed to find a developed part of the world with as clean of air. Volcanoes form new mountains, islands off the coast come and go. The interplay is so obvious. Outside of Iceland, it is easy for me to forget that there are forces so much bigger than me in the world. The millenia have been a cruel mistress to this little island in the north Atlantic but the violent past (and at times, present) burst way for a place more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.
Places are like soul mates. There may be dozens, hundreds of places where you feel comfortable and safe- but there are precious few where you feel centered and at peace with yourself. Find those places. Let them take you in. Even if you are apart, keep them a part of you. Those places are your strength as much as the soul mates in your life are your rocks.
You can think of me — being there with you — when you drift off into those dreams on snow covered peaks.