Today is my last day of a month in Iceland. What was supposed to be a shorter assignment was doubled when the speaker set to replace me canceled suddenly. The lovely thing about the way I am living now is that I can say yes to so many things without encumbrances, including not going home when scheduled.
I have been puzzling over why I feel so melancholic about leaving. The scenery is magnificent but I have been seeing much of the same kind of beauty in every port. I can’t say Iceland is my favourite place I’ve ever been, or if it would make “best cruises ever” list except for how much time I had to form a feeling of intimacy with it that I can’t get when ports and countries go rushing by. And I certainly don’t want to move here! Puffer jackets, wool sweaters and even long underwear some days in mid-summer? I need shorts, sandals, and t-shirts to feel really at home this time of year.
So why was I tearing up a little today that this is my last waterfall through tundra-covered rocks, my last chance to pick Icelandic thyme and smell its fragrance, to feel the cold mist on my cheeks, to watch the fog brush the tops of jagged volcanic peaks. I have been in this port four times, so why was I taking some of the same pictures, like this one from the deck of the ship? It’s not even as good as some I took on visits one, two, and three.
It hit me just a few moments ago that it is because goodbyes are so much harder than they used to be. Maybe in our seventies we start to grasp that even if we outlive the actuarial charts, we don’t have forever. We may not even have much time at all. I am not feeling morbid about this, just realistic that probably I am seeing this place for the last time. Lucky me to have seen it at all. Luckier me to have seen it so abundantly. But still…
I think my mood today may not be about Iceland at all. It’s all the goodbyes life hits us with. Some are heartbreaking at the time, and others later. We often don’t know we have seen someone for the last time until we learn that we won’t ever be seeing them again. So far I have been lucky, in that my age-mate friends from high school, college, and various jobs are almost all still here, but I recognize that the time is approaching when I will get sad news a lot, if I am among those who live longer. I imagine I have already seen some of my friends for the last time, but I just don’t know it yet.
The Dao teaches that everything contains the seed of its opposite. Maybe that’s part of it too. I often whisper to myself “I am so happy,” while on a bus taking me on a tour through wonderful countryside, or watching beautiful landscapes go by from the windows and decks of the ship. All the sensory, soul pleasure of the moment, however, gets more and more tinged with sadness at this point in my life. Often thoughts of my two lost boys are next, as if the joy isn’t real without the loss. One of my favourite words, which I first heard used to describe Strauss’s “Four Last Songs,” is “autumnal.” The bittersweetness of this stage of life can be felt at any time of year, or perhaps more precisely can never not be felt any more.
I am just leaving Iceland, not losing it. It’s not as complicated as it is with people, because I don’t have an emotional investment. I won’t be leaving a chunk of my heart behind. I think I feel the emotional heaviness today because of all the other times when leaving has become losing. Particularly one time, seven months ago, when I learned that I had had the last earthly contact I would ever have with my beloved son Ivan. My goodbye to him continues every day. A cold, rainy day in Iceland is a good time to grieve all the leavings, all the losses. A good time too to practice gratitude for all the memories and all the time I still have to experience things autumnally. Even if it is for the last, or perhaps the only time, it is good to be here, good to be wherever I am.
My last photo of Iceland leaving the fjord for open sea.