Thursday, July 8, 2010

A new homeland

How often does the temperature go from 60 to 90 degrees in just a couple of days?  A waitress today asked that question as she was wondering how her dog would survive at the groomer while she was working in a restaurant where the air-conditioning hadn't been tested in a year, and somehow seemed a little insufficient to the task.  Her question about the dogs worried me enough that I came home, tackled the dogs and sprayed them down with the hose.  They'll thank me for it later, I know they will.  Along with me kids for all the times I made them finish their food, wear a sweatshirt, brush their teeth, take that shower.  I'm just sure all that gratitude is on its way, from my children, my dogs, my spouse, his parents. 

But probably not when it's this hot.  We got out the fans, and move as quickly as we can from one to the next, and wonder why it is we didn't invest in central air--except that we only need it for about three days a year, and it's a pretty expensive proposition for such a short time.  However, we aren't above finding air-conditioned places to re-locate during the heat of such days, so today we took our Finnish guest down to the Seattle Outlets for what some of my friends call "shopping therapy."  Unfortunately, there aren't many stores at the outlets with large enough clothes for the Finn, who makes Beve look positively tiny.  And let me tell you, my 6'7" husband is anything but small. 

When we walked into Banana Republic this afternoon, I laughingly asked the young woman folding shirts at the first table inside the door if they had any clothes large enough for a man like him (pointing to the Beve, who was steps behind me with his brother).  She said, "You shouldn't talk that way about people."  "Oh," I said. "He's my husband."  Besides, I thought, Beve's a very good-looking man.  I certainly wasn't pointing fingers.  "Well, go ahead then."  Needless to say, nothing at Banana Republic comes close to fitting the Beve, so they stood there like giant mannequins waiting for E to try on the dresses she had no trouble finding in her size (nor buying--and boy, were they cute!).

It wasn't until we got to Adidas, then Nike, that we hit pay dirt for the big boys.  I was reminded of the line Will Smith tells Kevin James in the movie, "Hitch." 'This is where you live."  Don't bother to look in any other shops. Don't try to fit your size 15 feet (or 16, in Uncle R, the Finn's case) into regular shoes. Stay in this zone and no other.  No shirts to fit your frame, no pants long enough for your inseam...

And when you walk through a mall, people will notice.  I'm accustomed to people noticing Beve.  But get Beve with at least one of his brothers, and the looks become stares.  Add the third to them, and the stares don't stop until heads swivel on heads. 

So it's no wonder this young woman thought I was pointing fingers, something equivalent to mocking a disability (which, apart from finding clothes, seats in movie theaters or on airplanes, being tall is NOT!).  Uncle R says that being an American in Finland is to always be a second-class citizen (to which I really want to say, 'But you aren't actually a Finnish citizen at all, are you?' but I've resisted because I don't think he'd take it well). He's learned something something about discrimination in his chosen country that he'd never have learned here, being a tall, white man.  A tall man from a confident family.  But I can see how whatever being a second-class citizen actually means to him has changed him, made him far different from his youngest brother who has always seen the world from a height both physically and emotionally.  There's a hesitancy in Uncle R.  An uncertainty that isn't in the man I live with.  It makes me feel much older than the Finn, though he is 8 years my elder. 

The other odd phenomenon about our Finn is that when he comes 'home', he talks of things that were when he last lived here, about 29 years ago.  He asks about people that pre-date me in Beve's life.  He tells stories that we hear repeatedly from earlier trips, has the same English expressions, the same English jokes.  In a sense, it's like he's 'stuck' exactly where he was when he last lived here.  His life has changed, of course, but that's a Finnish life.  The American life, one on this continent, with this language, has stayed static to him.

The world's psychologists usually think that personality is set by a certain age--definitely long before he picked up his life at 31 and moved it to Finland.  When I'm around this man who was raised with my husband, I can both see how his personality is a set thing: I can see who he must have been in his twenties, because he hasn't changed from that person at all.  NOT AT ALL.  And in another sense, he's an utterly different human being.  It's like he doesn't understand anything about this country at all, because he's Finnish.

Christians know we are not bound by our 'set' personality, not set by who we were in childhood, or even in our youth.  As Christians we are always, always in the process of becoming.  Uncle R is. Maybe his becoming more and more Finnish is exactly the right picture for what happens to us when we become believers.  We leave the land of our childhood to become part of a new country, a new people. Sometimes we go back to our former homeland, and get stuck in former things, things that are no longer good for us.  Like Uncle R. "When I was a child, I spoke like a child,' Paul says.  'But when I became a man, I put away childish things.'  This is what we all must finally do.  Put those former things aside, go on to our new homeland of faith. The Biblical person we most emulate as we do this is Ruth.  "For surely your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God." 

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