Min Otroliga Svenska Resa: Nyckelfrågan

AKA My Incredible Swedish Journey: The Key Question

(untitled encaustic on wood by friend and artist Regis Scott)

Timestamp: December 2019

“What are the best and worst things that have happened to you?” Sofia asked. She hovered on the screen before me, waiting, her Nordic goddessness all angles and uplift.

From what I could see, she sat on a vintage sofa embroidered with swirls of gold, her camera angled so that she looked down at me, only her swan’s neck and face in view. She wore no earrings and her smooth, light hair, which I imagined to be long, was tied back. A cross between a young Kate Hepburn and Candice Bergen, she appeared austere and noble. That made sense. She was a Swedish casting agent, for goodness sake!

The interview had not been at all what I had expected. We talked about many things and in no particular order: the geographical map of my life and how it came to be, my father’s job as an F.B.I. agent and the Civil Rights Movement, the successes of actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers of color. We discussed recently released films, Harriet and Just Mercy. Her social justice bent came through early and that pleased and relaxed me. We talked about my sexual orientation and my preference against labels. We talked about family history, which is what had brought us together in the first place. I answered a handful of questions, but mostly, we carried on like songbirds happy to share the air.

Of all the things that I had supposed she might ask, I had never considered her final question. I usually welcomed random inquiry with a pen in hand and a journal in my lap. Writing prompts worked like that. But to respond here and now, off the cuff? on the record? That was a twist! Her eyes gently prodded me forward: “What are the best and worst things that have ever happened to you?”

Before I knew it, my video thumbnail exposed me cupping the sides of my face in surprise as I heard myself saying, “You may not believe this, but they’re one and the same!”

I was on the cusp of making a full confession, hoping that I would be able to explain myself in a way that was not elusive, confusing, or cliche. “My religious upbringing…,” the words hung there as I waited for a verb I couldn’t seem to capture, “….planted me on solid ground and then turned into — quicksand.”

I went on to describe the rigors of my Baptist youth. Yes, there was safety, assurance, and kindness. But rarely did a child have the option to seek clarification about what might be confusing or incomplete or unclear. Believe! That was the magic medicine. Believe! I could be assured a forever home in heaven or I could be a worldly sinner on her way to eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire. I could choose what to believe. But choose I must.

As I entered my teens, the impervious doctrine proclaiming eternal damnation for unbelievers scooted me to the ranks of those weary at the thought of a God bent on sending souls to hell. What had forced my departure from the familial attachment to an eternity of bliss or misery? Simply put, I’d reached the age of reason, and I didn’t like what it implied. I was 13 when I reached the epilogue of Anne Frank’s diary and saw the doctrinal writing on the wall. In Baptist logic, Anne was a candidate for hell not heaven. Unthinkable!

After decades, I re-friended Jesus and sat him at the table of my inner wisdom council, finally able to reintegrate the stories, scriptures, and songs of my youth into narratives of belonging and mercy not punitive punishment. I found breadcrumbs of truth that didn’t end in damnation but brought me to a vibrant crossroads where all are received, just as we are. Bumps and bruises, decades of doubt, and dark nights of the soul were also part of my journey. I had traveled to the edge of grace and back again.

Sofia called four days after the video interview, late on a Friday night. Shaking myself from sleep, I read the text she sent after my phone went unanswered. Quick question, it read. I’m here now. I replied. I turned on the light and propped myself on the pillow as my phone brightened with her call. We exchanged pleasantries and settled back into each other’s voices, and she asked the question on her mind. “Would you be available to fly to LA for the final casting call?”

“I’m IN!” I said with a certainty I hadn’t heard in my voice for a while. I had no inclination to check my calendar for conflicts. “Sofia, thank you! I’ll see you soon!” A girlish squeal followed. Trish squeezed me tight, and Mocha bounced on the bed for a tummy rub. My glee was exceeded only by my wonder. Had my answer to her final question sealed my chances? Was my spiritual struggle a key that could unlock the door to my past? I succumbed to mystery, ready to jump with the only word that made sense: BELIEVE!

“My Incredible Swedish Journey” posts will appear in a limited series on Medium and IG and will parallel the showing of Allt for Sverige, Season 10, which premiered in Sweden on January 16, 2022.

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