“Norway in a Nutshell” is one of the most popular scenic trips to experience Norway, be it the fjords, gorgeous steep and dark mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, forests of trees (including birch, my favorite), and it’s waterways. But the fellow travelers on board our “Norway in a Nutshell” which featured stops in places like Flam were as unusual and varied as the landscape we peered at from our comfortable seats. Starting from the capital city of Oslo to Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, nestled in a valley surrounded by seven mountains, traveling through picturesque villages, I found interacting with them was almost as memorable as the scenic trip itself. Maybe that’s a little exaggeration. But see for yourself.
Consider Nick, a young man from Huntsville, Alabama, traveling alone en route to his own kind of adventure far away from city life: camping, kayaking and sky diving. He was truly a world traveler who had spent considerable time in numerous countries, and when not traveling worked in logistics. He really knew how to plan a trip and deal with unexpected snafus. Prior to travel, he had spent twelve years in the military defusing explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent tragic accidents and death in the war zones. Sally, sitting behind Nick on the train, hearing his story, jumped up and asked if she could join in the conversation. She had just returned to the States after spending 14 years in China, along with her (soon-to-be-ex-) husband, raising four children (the youngest, a boy, was eight). She had made some significant changes in her life; she decided to return to teaching high school biology. Remarkably, she was in Norway for only four days, deciding on a whim to visit, stay with a friend, and track down a historical family site. And then there was my wife, Arlyn, who volunteered her story with gusto. How she had attended a boarding school in Massachusetts as a teen, traveled to Israel and fell in love with a Swedish man, got engaged to him, moved to Sweden and lived with his family for 18 months. She had never been to Norway, and having been invited to stay in Sweden with an acquaintance associated with the boarding school, we decided to visit Norway and Sweden back to back last month.
Surprising to me no one asked me for my story; I don’t know why. Do I give off a vibe that discourages inquiry? Was Arlyn’s story considered our story even though it occurred scores of years before I even met her? I was clearly not Swedish! Or maybe it’s got nothing to do with me. Are people only interested in talking about themselves?
No sky diving for me. No extended time in Asia. Back in the 1970’s, I lived in Wales for close to four months, attending college at University College, Cardiff in a program initiative I set up by myself. I roomed with muslims from Saudi Arabia, England, Egypt, Sikhs from India and Spain. I remember breakfasts: we ate a cereal that tasted a lot like how dust and cardboard probably taste, and for variety had a soupy spaghetti that tasted like it came out of a can of SpaghettiOs can of Franco-American on the other breakfast days. Yummy! At our six week break, I traveled with American friends to Madrid, Paris and Brussels, all on a shoestring budget.
But to compare one’s insides with another’s outsides is not intelligent or kind. I was born and raised to work (see first blog post) and ever since February 2 of this year, the day I retired, I have been living a great, exotic adventure. It’s been a joy. Travel through the southeast states, Texas, onto Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee over two months time, escaping a harsh Boston winter. And now after some research, my days are filling up with more activities: volunteering with the local Democratic town committee, at a Cardiac ICU unit, and starting a pen & ink drawing class.
In Sweden, our hostess Karin, a retired nurse of German descent, spoke of someone whose philosophy helped shape hers. Peter Singer, “the world’s most influential living philosopher” wrote “The Most Good You Can Do” (Yale University Press, 2015). He explores the simple but profound idea that living a fully ethical life means restructuring one’s life in accordance with doing the most good for others, and how living altruistically often leads to a greater personal fulfillment than living for oneself alone. He calls this “effective altruism”. Karin has helped build a hospital in Romania, and is helping a Syrian family settle in Sweden, and helping a woman take care of herself while her alcoholic husband does not. Living less selfishly, giving away money and one’s time and resources to strangers, future generations and animals too is a guiding principle that can define one’s life and everyday decisions and behavior. Some people donate a large part of their income – more than the typical amount – to charities that help the most impoverished people. Maybe this is what the Millenials mean when they talk of choosing a career that is “balanced”. It’s giving to those impoverished who need it the most. Acting for the good of others might be the best course of action to follow to save our planet too. Think about it and see if you can put effective altruism it action through your own life!
My decision to give away all my organs, including brain, and tissues to researchers and whomever needs them (after I’m deceased) is an example of effective altruism. The travelers I met and Singer’s writings provide guidance to anyone seeking meaning in this world.