Four and a Half Weeks Beyond the Arctic Circle - At the Edges

My last couple of weeks beyond the Arctic Circle consisted of aggressive report writing, last minute dorm cleaning, and rushed goodbyes. After all, I was there to study.

When I was little, I noticed something about the way my father would stand in a room full of people; or rather where he would stand. Every time I found myself in a public space (a school, an auditorium, you name it), I knew that there was always one place where I could find him: at the edge of the room.

I have heard of ex-convicts that always feel more comfortable sitting or standing at the back of the room, so as to make sure that there is no one to sneak up behind them. For these guys, it's a trust issue. For my father, it's an issue of getting the best vantage point. In the waiting period (waiting for your daughter at the school nurse or at the coffee shop), life is a spectacle; something to be watched. The people are actors, and all of the elements of the environment are props, meticulously placed to aid us in understanding the scene as a whole. My father stands at the back for the same reason that you wouldn't choose the very first row at the movie theater. You cannot get the full perspective.

I'm writing this post from my home in Houston, Texas. Three weeks ago, I was standing at what seemed like the edge of the Earth; the very top of the world. This was my waiting period, the period in between stages. Here is a nowhere place; no trees, no insects, few roads. And still, there is so much here which is intangible; things that you cannot see and cannot touch. You cannot bring many things here (only 23 kg to be exact). There is no time and simply no space to stress over unnecessary things. You to be selective about what tangible things you will use to create the space in which your life will play out for five weeks. Only the things you absolutely need. This time, your scene consists of few props. The rest of the world is far away in space and in importance.

There is not much to do once you arrive; one small grocery store, one university, a small nightclub where geeky outcasts dance embarrassingly and so vulnerably. The plot is simple but it moves fast. After a night of drinking, I sat with a group of classmates on the floor of a dorm room. On this floor, we were philosophers, future masters students, the next generation of scientists. Here, we admitted our lack of knowledge, it's the only way good science can be carried out; the only way to get to the truth. We didn't know all of the answers about climate warming in the Arctic in the same way that we didn't know where in the world we would be a year, two years from now. We did not know everything about sex; about men and women. We did not know everything about nature or death. Questions: if we couldn't answer each other, surely the world would give us the answers at some point in our lives. Until then, we speculate. And during this five week time for speculation, the rest of the world seems to recede into periphery. This is the waiting period.

Here, you realize what really matters. The other stuff, is too minute. At the same time, your suitcase can only hold so much weight. Only the most important things. The desire to change yourself in an effort to be more likeable, less overbearing, more insincere, and less vulnerable because it makes you "stronger" or more "cool"- all of these things are too heavy. There is no choice but to leave them behind. At the edge of the world, I made friendships which relied only on each of us being who we truly are; honest, and proud of where we come from. At the edge, I felt more "American" than I ever have in the United States. No one mistook me for a person I was not. At the top of the world, I realized more of who I am, and what was important to me.

Frantically searching for seat in the theater, I reside at the edge. Here at the top of the world, I realize that I have the best seat in the house; the best vantage point. I have time to look around. After all, this is the waiting period. From here I can see everything, everything that matters at least. The scene is set. I take a seat. And watch.