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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Sunday, July 01, 2012  

The past month turned out to be one of the most important times of my entire life. As usual for June, I tacked on another year of life, but beyond that I undertook a grand journey, one that would carry me to four U.S. states and two European countries. It was a trip that will stay with me for the rest of my life, one that changed me in vital, yet subtle ways.

Looking back at it now, and trying to absorb everything that happened along the way, I am struck at the range of moments that it contained. There were highs that made me feel as though the spirit of an eagle had entered my body and was carrying me aloft into the clouds. I experienced beauty that at times was beyond my comprehension. For someone who spends his life communicating with words, the number of times that those words failed me was staggering. It was a humbling reminder of how, even though I like to believe otherwise, I don’t always have the answers.

Humility isn’t easy for me. Typically, I believe that humility is the realm of suckers. If you are what you claim to be, then owning it is fine. If you’re faking it, you deserve to eat pavement. The only difference is whether or not you’re a dick about it. For me, it’s the “don’t be a dick about it” that can be kinda difficult.

Anyway, the main part of the trip was a ten day/nine night stop in Norway. A lot of people asked me before, and since, “why Norway?” It isn’t a common destination for American tourists; my research showed that only about a half million of my countrymen head to Norway in a given year. In part, that’s why I went there. Places like Paris and Rome have been done to death by the tourist set. I wanted a different experience for my first trip.
That’s right- my first trip. I didn’t get a passport until January of 2010. I’ve been plotting ever since on how to use it, and after two years of detailed research and planning, I finally did this June.

My Norway visit took me to five different places: Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand, and Lillehammer. Each place had something special to offer, and I had wondrous moments at every turn. I could go on and on about what I did (and I will in the upcoming book I’m writing about the experience and on the website dedicated to it), but it is easiest to give you a small taste of the profound effect I felt, and the changes I went through, by talking about one small moment.

Oslo is home to the Nobel Peace Museum, an amazing facility dedicated to putting the spotlight on those who have won the coveted award, as well as dedicated to the cause of peace itself. The exhibits during my visit were astonishing; one photo exhibit focused on the plight of women in Afghanistan, while another turned the lens on humanizing a platoon of U.S. soldiers and what they really do during their time in-country. Upstairs there was an exhibit called “She-roes” which explored the lives of women who were trying to bring peace to war-torn places like the Sudan. In every room I encountered history, knowledge, compassion. It was awe-inspiring, one of those moments in time where you put your own life in perspective and think about what a whiny jackass you can be over trivial stuff.

However, it was near a stairwell that I discovered the thing that left me the most speechless. There was a long, spiraling gold tube there that extended from the ceiling down to the very bowels of the building. Next to it was a small table that held a box of paper shapes, a pile of small wires, and a box of colored pencils. Clearly, this was something for the kids who visited to do. I approached, though, and read the instructions. They were simple: write your message of peace on one of the papers, and send it into the world by tying it to the gold spiral.

A challenge! Surely I had a message of peace, yes? My brain began spinning, and I found myself thinking about my experience so far in Norway and about how I was feeling. And a few things came to me in rapid succession. One, I hadn’t felt angry- about anything- in days. I also realized, for the first time, that I had barely spoken. Aside from checking into my hotel and buying tickets to enter places, I had been almost mute. My predilection for monologuing out loud was absent. Also, and this really shocked me, I realized I hadn’t worn my headphones in days. Normally, I have my music going constantly.

My face felt warm, and I began to realize that I was smiling almost uncontrollably. I thought then about how screwed up the world can be. I thought about that hate and vitriol spewed in the political arena, a battle to see who can shout the loudest and say the stupidest thing. I thought about “celebrities” who are famous only for being famous and demanding attention. And then I thought about the overwhelming solitude I was feeling at that moment.

I picked up one of the shapes and began to write. My message was short, simple, direct. Done, I used a piece of wire and tied it to the golden spiral, then I watched it flutter away like a leaf on the wind, making its way into the heart of peace. Satisfied, I headed downstairs to retrieve my backpack and walked outside into the midday sun. Walking away, I felt a sense of calm wash over me and I stopped in my tracks. My arms went limp at my sides and the harbor breeze wafted across my skin. Then it started: voices in different languages, a passing trolley, a boat horn in the distance, a baby crying in a nearby stroller. It was - in the words of one my idols, Spalding Gray - a perfect moment, as I lived out the message of peace I had just sent out into the world:

“I’m listening.”

2:33 PM

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