Today in Copenhagen, the city was shrouded in a thick and dense fog. The white-charmed snowy blanket of last week has become threadbare and dingy. I knew this was coming. The fog weighed heavy on the landscape, compressing the already small city into tiny vignettes whose borders were obscured, edges dulled. My husband and I, unable to lure any of our littles outside to investigate, took off on our bikes to catch the 1:00 PM tour of Marmorkirken – the Marble Church – downtown. We’d made an attempt last weekend, only to miss it by minutes. The sign posted outside is completely serious about that 13:00 SHARP time. For some reason I was drawn to try again today – despite the fog. Upon arrival, we assessed – plenty of time, but do you think we’ll be able to see anything up there? Don’t know. Should we pay the 35 DKK ($5) each to go up? I don’t know. No risk, no reward – right? Could be amazing. Could be the image of the day waiting to be captured up there. Maybe it’s ABOVE the fog. Maybe. Let’s do it. (As it turns out we make a lot of decisions – good or bad – this way.)
It was a private tour. We were the only two to make the climb to the top of the dome this foggy January day. On an otherwise sunny afternoon, as many as thirty people will commit to traipse up the 140 tight and winding steps. I was actually glad there were only the three of us, including the guide – thinking how claustrophobic it might feel in those tiny spirals with too many more people before or behind me. Amazingly once through the winding mini-stairs, you exit out INSIDE the actual dome. You can see the infrastructure between the outside and the in where construction began in the 1700’s – it was truly awesome. Once you ascend the last section of metal stairway and the hatch has been opened, out you are allowed onto the small wooden pathway ringing the top of the dome. Could we see all the way to SWEDEN like I had read was possible? No of course not. Could you see to the Amalienborg Palace a block away? Not even. Could you see the street below? Just BARELY! Wow. The fog was so dense and thick and slightly intimidating at that height. The wooden floor was slippery and sloped away from the door towards the railing. I briefly attempted to hold onto the railing and look over, one step from the stairs, but my acrophobia instantly took grip and I had to step back down inside the stairwell to view the grey scene. My husband strolled the perimeter unscathed by the crushing fog or slippery side rails. I focused on the patina of the green copper façade that I have always admired from below. It didn’t take long to see what could be seen before we were safely in, around and down, back on the ground.
So was it a failure? A disappointment? No. Truly. Worth every penny. Excuse me – every Danish kroner, every øre. Worth it despite the heart palpitations and the gripping fear. I will admit that I felt much better after the experience was over, but was grateful for just that. The experience. And we consciously chose a different way home. Down a street we hadn’t travelled. And even if we had, it looked intensely different today. Just like how the snowy whiteness of last week’s landscape brought out different details of the same buildings, somehow the fog brought clarity today. Made me see things differently. Not just the everyday streets and same old Copenhagen neighborhood that I have come to know.
In my personal life I have been feeling a little foggy lately. Call it a normal case of the January blues, post Christmas blahs, hibernating emotional introspection, seasonal affective disorder – whatever you want. Just feeling foggy. Questioning lots of things. Not certain of what is next and what to focus on and what to prioritize. Am I the only one? One of the cons of being an expatriate? Or maybe it’s just a con of January in general. All those New Year’s resolutions and fresh blank calendars staring us down? And in this corner weighing in at a ONE MILLION and EIGHTEEN pounds … ALL of LIFE ready to take us to task. And in this corner – weighing in at (you KNOW I’m not telling you that) … some x number of pounds that should really be less than it is… ME. Trying my hardest to figure it all out. Or some of it anyway. All things aren’t in focus at all times. I can’t answer all the questions.
Want to know the questions that I hear the most as an expat living in Denmark? After: “Where are you from?” They are: “How long have you been here?” “How long are you staying?” The former easy to answer as it is quantifiable. 14 months. How long that FEELS like is a completely different story. But: “How long are you staying?” That one is harder to quantify. I hear it from friends and family back in the States. Their questions come across with the not-so-subtle subtext – “When are you coming HOME?” I hear the question from fellow expats here in Denmark. Subtext from that direction is more about street credibility. You earn more stripes for the X number of years you have been away and are committed to staying afield. I hear it from Danes. “How long are you staying?” “Clearly not that long as you still don’t speak Danish.” 😉
I don’t know. That is the answer. It is foggy. My father in law used to ask us the – where do you see yourself in five years question at each visit. He was mostly referring to our careers, but there was never an easy answer. And that is ok. Let me be clear. It is ok to feel clarity from within the fog. Does that make sense? I’m ok with I don’t know. That I can’t know everything. I know it won’t be the answer my father-in-law or my mom or even my friends (here or there) are looking for. I don’t know. And I’m ok with that. It took me climbing to the top of the Marble Church today in the middle of a cloud bank of fog to crystallize that bit of amazingness. Embrace the unknown. Try it. It’s really ok.