Min Otroliga Svenska Resa: Öde

AKA My Incredible Swedish Journey: Destiny

1962, Richfield, Minnesota (photo by Dad)

I walked the mile from the trendy boutique hotel where I’d had my Allt för Sverige casting interview to a casually cool restaurant to meet my LA-based son for lunch. Settled at a small bar table, only a wall of glass stood between me and the street corner, a heady mix of SoCal action with the gleaming white stucco of the Beverly Center a few dozen steps away.

Before planting myself at the restaurant, I was ferried up by four flights of escalators that toted me past parking garage levels and into the first mall I had stepped into for over two years. I had sworn off them after Daddy died. The first breath of trapped, perfumed air took me on a direct flight to Rosedale Mall north of St. Paul for one of our last meals together at the always-bustling sandwich shop where Daddy ordered his predictable chili. He had driven us that freezing November night, his car keys warmed by his gloves. Thank God we hadn’t yet reached the point of refusing his right to drive as the cognitive decline worsened. That would have taken him even faster than the brain cancer discovered two weeks later did.

I wandered the glistening mecca of the Beverly Center, hearing the clomp of my clogs on the sparkling floors. There was nothing there for me except for a glitzy restroom with toilet paper, warm water, and soap. The mirrored elevator shuttled me back to sidewalk level, and I walked away from the massive market with thoughts of the father I couldn’t release.

I didn’t want to let him go. My resistance held me together like the safety pins that I used to hem the arms on his flannel shirt, the one that I stole from his closet the day after the funeral. That same day, I had stuffed my grief deep into donation bags of short sleeve shirts perfect for walks around the lake in July and turtlenecks ready for January and extra long blue jeans and an old Avon aftershave bottle shaped like a vintage convertible and a watch that looked like it had never been worn. Every detail figured into the sum of my loss.

As I waited for my son’s arrival, I pulled a book out of my bag. On the flight down, I had begun The Star by My Head: Poets from Sweden and read the poetry of Gunnar Ekelöf, a surrealist from Stockholm who, according to the brief biographical note, had “caused both scandal and sensation.” Mesmerized, I dove in.

Milkweed Editions, 2013

Soon, I dog-eared the English translation of Ekelöf’s poem “Euphoria” and added a note in the margins: Traveling to LA, Allt for Sverige interview. I also bracketed a central stanza and returned to it, reading it over and over in the buzz of the restaurant.

“As if it were the evening before a long journey:

You have your ticket and everything is finally packed.

And you sit here almost feeling the presence of distant countries,

Feeling how everything is in everything, at once its end and its beginning,

Feeling that here and now is both your departure and your return,

Feeling that life and death are strong like wine inside you.”

In those moments of convergence with Ekelöf, I claimed my destiny to travel to Sweden, certain that Allt for Sverige was the vehicle by which I would learn of my ancestors, those who connected me, through my father and my mother, my grandmothers and grandfathers, to a faraway past. The adventure had begun when my sister sent me the invitation to the Jul dinner two months before. And continue it must.

“Hi, Mom!” my eldest greeted me as I rose to hug him. “How’d the interview go?”

I looked at my son, his Swedish features, and felt again my confidence in miracles. I reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “I gave it my best. We’ll see!”

Some time later, the official news arrived. “You’re going to Sweden!” Sofia announced as my soul’s deep knowing spilled into my face as laughter, a chorus of spirits lifting my hands in hallelujah.

Video frame from Episode 1, Season 10, Allt för Sverige

February 2020 promised a May departure, but March had other plans. COVID-19 put the future of the tenth season in a limbo that would become a feature of my life and the lives of the other nine cast members, still strangers, who were also living with the mystery of what might or might not be. I started studying the Swedish language, watching Swedish films, exploring Swedish art and history, teaching myself the runes, dreaming about my great-grandmothers, writing about them, and plotting a life that would always leave room for news that the show would go on. Fifteen months later, it did.

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