Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's a Scandinavian thing ... you might not understand


My oldest daughter has recently been very interested in her Danish heritage. She's recently discovered a series of comics called Scandinavia and the World and they are hilarious ... if you're Scandinavian. If not, they might seem downright weird. Think of it as Japanese Manga art meets lutefisk (and if you have to ask what lutefisk is ... well ... check this description and you'll know what to avoid).

The comic above depicts the Pope discovering Denmark, Sweden and Norway observing Christmas with an array of bizarre traditions. The goat costumes are the Julebukke or Christmas goat which is usually made of straw (like this one here). This is one of those pagan rituals which had a bit of holy water sprinkled on it to legitimize it when Christianity swept through Scandinavia. The candle lit wreaths on their heads depict the St. Lucia tradition which began in Sweden but spread throughout Scandinavia. The Christmas tree (which has pagan roots) is covered with the flags of the Scandinavian countries. This tradition came from the time when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis and it was illegal to display the Danish flag - so putting a string of them on the Christmas tree was a subversive way to show their resistance. The poor Pope has no idea what to make of all this!

If you live in the US, chances are good your ancestors came from somewhere else just like mine did. In coming over, there was a strong desire to assimilate so we could "be American." In that process, we all gave up something which was a part of who we are - language, dress, customs. In a time where the world is getting smaller and we are becoming an ever increasingly pluralistic society, it would do us all well to remember where we came from and what we gave up in that journey ... and even reclaim some of what we lost.

Fortunately for me, my Danish heritage does not include reclaiming lutefisk. Gl├Ždelig jul!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unexpected grace

Every now and then, something just leaps out and surprises me in my work. I had to visit some patients in a local assisted living "memory care" unit. "Memory care" is a gentle way of describing a secure, locked area where people with dementia, Alzheimers or related cognitive disorders live. Admittedly, it's not a place where most of us would like to end our days, but some of us will. This facility (which must remain nameless for confidentiality's sake) has a pretty good memory care unit and their director is very good. I have seven patients in this unit and you never quite know what they will say or do. Working in there definitely sharpens your improvisational skills!

There is one couple in the unit who live together. The husband is forgetful but still conversant. He's always a gentleman and appreciates being able to talk about his faith. His wife has Alzheimers and isn't able to converse anything more than what we call "word salad" - a jumbling of words and sounds which do not make sense to the listener. I visited the gentleman in their shared room and we had a nice visit. They've been married 64 years - I call them the "cute couple on campus" and this usually elicits a chuckle from both of them. His wife was eating her breakfast in the dining room so I joined her there.

She was sitting in her wheelchair and I could tell she didn't recognize me when I first spoke to her. I showed her my badge and introduced myself as the chaplain - she smiled at me and took my hand. She has a far away look in her eyes most of the time. I asked how her breakfast was, she struggled to reply, "I'm not hungry." She tried to say some words but they didn't make much sense so I just held her hand and smiled. Towards the end of the visit, I asked her if I could pray for her. She said, "Yes." So I offered a prayer for her and her husband and a blessing. She said, "Thank you." I told her, "You're welcome - I'll see you soon."

As I gathered my belongings and put on my coat, she watched me intently. As I turned to leave, she reached out for my hand and said, "I love you." I was taken by surprise. I took her hand and she pulled me towards her and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I wished her a Merry Christmas.

Like I said, you never know what will happen!

Sunday, December 12, 2010