The second day I was in Stockholm, I had nothing planned. That is a little unusual for me but yet a very welcome break from the intense schedule I had so far on this trip. I ate at the breakfast buffet in my hotel (I love tasting local and traditional foods when I travel). That day I had a few slices of homemade bread with four or five different fruit jams spread on different corners. I really liked them–they were not nearly as sweet as American jam, and had more fruit. I had some type of yogurt as well, and some weak coffee.
I set off into the sunshine (the warmest day yet!) and over to the Vasa Ship museum, which houses a restored ship from 1628. The woodcarvings were amazing on the ship, I just stood and stared at every detail, every angle. I really couldn’t believe that this ship was so old and built by human hands. It looked like something out of a Hollywood movie set. One of my favorite things about traveling is getting to see things like this in real life. It isn’t just a general story of Vikings and their boats made of wood. It’s a work of art. That sailed. And survived for almost 400 years. People made this with their own hands, and while we get to stand on their shoulders of all that they built, every life itself is short. All we have to show for our lives is what we leave behind.
From the museum, I headed back to the open air market near my hotel. There were rows of mushrooms and sweet berries. I could smell them before I saw them. Amazing.
I stopped in at a yoga studio along the way. I decided to join a class, and sat down with a cup of hot ginger tea while I waited. The plaque on the wall read: Stop the glorification of busy. It made me smile. Today was the day for slowness, and the universe was leaving me all kinds of signs.
I picked up a book on the coffee table and started leafing through it. It was a book of philosophy and I stopped at the chapter on forgiveness. Of all things in life, I am aware that I find it hardest to let go of injustice in whatever form it takes. It runs contrary to both my heart and my mind. Even though I realize that life is not fair and events can be completely random, it still makes the world feel out of balance to me. It must be a futile push to try to attain justice when it is really impossible yet most humans will still try to balance the scales toward a cosmic order. I remembered many discussions with my law school professors about the avenues that plaintiffs would take to “seek justice,” when I believed it was far more accurate to discuss “repairing the harm.” In some cases, there simply is no justice–no punishment that can approximate the pain that the injustice has caused.
The book discussed how civilized societies dole out punishment in an effort to equalize the power that any bad actor or criminal takes from their bad actions. That is, we as a society see the bad actor as having gained power over the rest of us in an unjust manner and that is why we organize to punish the bad actor–or remove the ill-gotten gain. Except that does nothing to help repair the victim(s) from a social and psychological standpoint. The book stressed that a civilized society should be upholding the victims of crimes as much as it is punishing the criminals, or the power shift never truly occurs to give society the feeling that order has been returned. It said only if the victim is given validation from society can the victim move to a mindset of forgiveness, which allows the society to function more along the lines of magnanimity, or generosity of spirit. Rather than give as much thought to the criminals in terms of how to punish or how much to punish, society should give more thought to the victims in terms of how to allow the victims to return to wholeness. It was an interesting concept and as I moved into the yoga class, and then into the sauna afterward, I let the thoughts roll around in my head.
After I left the studio, I had largely forgotten about what I read until the recent #metoo campaign popped up on social media in response to the many women’s claims of harassment by powerful men in the media. Of course, powerful men taking advantage of women was happening long before the Viking blades ever touched the first wood to carve. Of course, every woman I’ve ever known has faced threatening situations with men who attacked them physically or emotionally. It is an open secret. And women have had to largely ignore the bad behavior when many times the bad actor may have not been punished at all. As a society, we have been asking them all to move to a place of peace and forgiveness while it has failed to hold them up to regain the power that was taken from them–the dignity that was lost. A very large demographic of the population has been dealt a blow, and the call was to validate the crime. The victims have been empowered by raising their voices rather than each remaining a voice crying out in the wilderness, as it were. As the coffee table book in the little yoga studio in Stockholm said: let us give more energy to the victims and less to the criminals.
From the yoga class, I stopped at a food truck and enjoyed some falafel while sitting on a wide set of wooden steps that overlooked a court yard next to the harbor. It felt good to feel the sunshine and hear people talking around me. I know very little Swedish, and it is always interesting to see people’s emotional reactions to conversations when I don’t understand the words that are being spoken. I stayed until everyone else had moved on, then I moved on, too.
I stopped in at the Klara Church, a quiet sanctuary in a bustling part of Stockholm. I love to feel the quiet sacredness of religious places, and I walked all the way to the front of the church and sat in the first pew. The original church was built at that site in the 1280s. Then in the 1500s the church was torn down by one ruler and rebuilt by another. Dates on the graveyard of the church date back to the 1600s. I sat and watched the sun stream through the stained glass. A family walked in with rosary beads and sat down next to me, whispering their prayers in Spanish. Others walked in to light candles, one woman openly wept as the flame flickered to life. It was an honor to sit in a sacred space with people and see the raw emotion. We didn’t share a language or a home. In another time and place maybe we would have been friends or maybe we would have been enemies, but on that day and in that place we had all come seeking peace from the blows that we had been dealt and it was–for even a few moments–a chance to attain the magnanimity that we all needed.
Leaving the quiet womb of the church, I walked over to the central train station which was across the street from my hotel. I purchased my train ticket for my return trip to Oslo. The agent who helped me wrinkled her brow and said that the earlier train had been canceled, which left only one direct train back to Oslo the next day. There were only two seats remaining in the assigned seating area, “but animals are allowed on this car, so someone might bring a dog. Is that still OK?” she asked. I laughed a little too hard and seemed to confuse her. She could not have possibly known that in my lifetime I have befriended many more dogs than people, and that most days I greatly favored the company of one over the other. Instead, I simply said, “That’s no problem.” A dog on my train would definitely be OK.