By Joan Larsen
Life comes down to a few great moments. I think I can speak for all women when I say that the intensity, the immensity of those times that we, as women, have had together – has brought to each of us the laughter, the tears, the joy … those precious things that we find remain as memories in our hearts for our lifetimes.
Women. Women coming together, sharing, unloading our hearts as only women can, laughing, “being ourselves” and feeling free to be understood and loved is that gift that stands apart. It makes us one. It makes us come alive.
But I thought that magic could only happen when we were with our women friends who we had shared “everything with” forever.
I was wrong.
I had needed “a getaway”, and one that wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg. I was humming that song “Make the world go away . .” more loudly than I would have liked when I stepped off the plane in Iceland, hoping for miracles. The world I walked into was a magical, awe-inspiring, utterly beautiful island that – for three weeks of walking, hiking, going far off the beaten path – had taken my breath away. My life had come back into focus once again. I discovered I was “me” again.
Our last night was to be spent in its capital, Rejkavik, and it was love at first sight. When our guide suggested that no journey to Iceland should be ended without a final toast with the iconic Icelandic drink called Brennevin (charmingly called the “Black Death” for good reason I only later found out), three of us went downstairs in the hotel to a library, a low-lit bar with flickering fire, small tables all around. Charming.
If we are open to life, all things can happen. And it was here – in Iceland — that in minutes – I was to find out that no matter the nation, no matter the difference in culture, no matter the very different lifestyle and language, all women of our world comprise a private fraternity within that make us one. Down deep we understand each other, love each other, and – in that way we do not understand but somehow know– we stand together.
An open room – large enough for banquets – jutted out from one side of the bar. A long table, filled completely with mostly middle-aged women – women dressed in their very best but with faces used to the outdoors – were laughing more than talking. An energy I don’t seem to see at home almost vibrated. I had never seen women so carefree, so full of life. It was magic. I must have stared. A few glanced over.
And then, the women joined hands and began to sing, moving sideways as they did. One Icelandic song followed another and the room rocked with their voices. When they began to clap, I already felt I was at one with them. At my table, I began to sway and clap, too. There was nudging, smiling, and then several women rose, still singing as I tried to join in, and — red in face – came to me, grabbed my hands and pulled me toward their table. The other women swarmed around me, holding my hand, arm around my shoulders. And a new song began in English. It was “GOD BLESS AMERICA”. As I tried to join in, I cried. I still do when I think of it. American popular songs, mostly sung in Icelandic, but with a few joining me in English, followed – one after another. The cheering, the clapping punctuated the small silence before the next began. I was hugged, hugged some more. More than a few of us laughed and cried at the same time.
I had never had such a good time. But who were these women? Where had they come from? I asked one of my friends (for we WERE friends by this time) what this wonderful occasion was. And the resulting story was one I had never heard.
Iceland is not ice. Iceland is mostly emerald green and gorgeous, rolling, with mountains, volcanoes, breathtaking waterfalls, and isolated churches – remote and tiny, perched on a hill, and requiring a photograph to capture beauty from another century.And the countryside is covered with remote farms, none close to another, some with grass roofs(!), and white with sheep. Sheep everywhere – even in places with no house in sight, a sea of green and white.
The women I now thought of as friends, friends who laughed as I struggled with their Icelandic names, were all farm women in many remote places all over Iceland. Six months a year, Iceland – so close to the Arctic Circle – is heavily night and dark most of the hours of the day. Their children go to boarding schools 5 days a week. The Eddas we had stayed in – very Scandanavian and lovely – were the boarding schools for these women’s children for the school year and open for visitor lodging only in the summer months. Six months a year in winter, the sheep stayed in their barns. The women did not necessarily even have time for getaways or talk.
But just twice a year, the farm women gathered together for a long long weekend in Rejkavik. . . women coming together, sharing their lives, their thoughts, their love, and once again laughing uproariously as only those having the time of their lives can do. It had to be all holidays rolled into one. We are all women. We “get” it. It doesn’t take much description to have us understand this camaraderie.
Long past midnight, they did not let me go. We were singing now – and yes, AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL was known by them all (and I cried again) but the dancing of women began. I have never felt this liberated as they pulled me in to join them. I was holding hands with complete strangers who were now friends. We danced in the moment and we were dancing for joy. No one wanted it to end. I know I didn’t.
Our parting – the emotions of it – are difficult to explain. I was squeezed, I was hugged to death. I saw women with tears rolling down their faces, I saw joy. I heard words in Icelandic and English that told me that we all were one… and always would be.
We are women. We may come from other worlds, other lives and cultures. But when we open our eyes, open our hearts, as the women of Iceland so simply said: we are one – and we always will be… and in these small moments that loom so large, we find that this time will forever be lodged in our hearts.
Could anything be better?
The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.-Helen Keller
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home”.