Bookends: Norway & Austria
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
We are back in Oslo, Norway, where this whole venture began 10 weeks ago. My sabbatical "officially" was to begin after Christmas in Spain and end in Italy two months later, but since our eldest son lives in Norway, we started here, not coincidentally in time to celebrate my wife Lois' birthday as a whole family in Oslo. Our other son & daughter-in-law, finally getting a honeymoon three years late in Paris, arranged to meet us here and spend a week. As we walked through Oslo on that initial clear, cold day together, my wife admitted that "she couldn't imagine a better birthday." Ah, what our kids mean to us.
After a week as a whole family, our youngest son and his bride had to return home, but we were able to stay with our eldest son at his ministry home near Stavanger through Christmas. Spending time with him, in his "natural habitat," was a treasured gift, as it was our first time seeing where he lives and works. We did some hiking, exploring and played games. We also had the honor of sharing meals with some of the other staff, including on Christmas with a generous Norwegian family.
At the other end of my sabbatical, we added a short trip to Vienna, this time for MY birthday. Though slowed by our post-COVID respiratory struggles (my wife has asthma and it flared up), we still soaked in one of my "bucket list" cities, taking in the rich art, culture and music there. In both cases, these bookend trips allowed us to celebrate one another in special ways.
Now, back in Oslo for one night before flying home tomorrow, I begin to reflect on how I have grown through this great experience. It will take time to digest what I have seen and learned, but what immediately comes to mind is that for me, the world just became larger and smaller, simultaneously. What makes each of us unique, especially across cultures, is complex and multifaceted. What makes us the same, across those same cultures, is relatively simple. People are people, everywhere. You see it most in children, but also in the elderly, in the smiles, and on the diverse, beautiful faces. Most people don't live like we see on the news; they simply work, play, argue and laugh. Most people are kind and helpful to strangers like us, often lost and unable to communicate. Those who are not so, thankfully, simply left us alone. Everyone has strife, conflict, hardship and opinions on how problems should be solved and what would make life better. As their guests, though, people rarely troubled us with those.
Perhaps, that is one of the many blessings of hospitality. It gives cause to put out our best for the stranger, because we want to show them what we can be at our best. We want the visitor to think well of our home, our people, and our ways. It may be merely a way to feel better about who we are and where we come from; but also I wonder if it's because we can all empathize with the foreigner, or at least we should. If we don't, it's likely because we have not allowed ourselves or learned to recognize ourselves as such. And that may be the very best reason to risk the dangerous business of going out of our doors.
Dan Oberg, Director