The Meaning of Snow


Standing on top of one of the treeless, snow swept Arctic fells in Urho Kekkonen National Park in Finnish Lapland—only eighty miles south of the Arctic Ocean—reoriented my life in a way I didn’t anticipate.  Maybe it was the extreme cold, or the wind, or the solitude in an empty expanse of white.  Maybe because it was Christmas Day.  What’s significant is that my mind changed; what I had thought mattered in the past no longer did.  What I saw in the snow was a different future.

I’m staying in Saariselka, in the far north of Finland.  It’s the northern-most place in all of Europe where there’s any accommodation for tourists.  The temperatures over Christmas this year are no higher than -45 C.  The wind chill out on the fells drops lower by another 20 to 30 degrees.  All of the sparse pines are encrusted in snow.  On top of the fells there are no trees at all.  Snow covers everything in sight.  It’s so cold the snow doesn’t even squeak under foot.

I rented snowshoes to walk out into the park, intending to take the easy 2.5 km route.  Somehow I went the wrong way and ended up on the 12 km “difficult” route across the Arctic fells.  By the time I discovered this I didn’t want to retrace my steps.  I was still deep in the frozen pine forest enjoying the beauty of the trees and pine-covered hills and heavy snow all around me.  I didn’t know what lay ahead.  I’m glad I didn’t because I may have turned back.


The trail began to ascend the hills, in some places very steeply.  This was my first time on snowshoes and I was surprised how well they gripped the snow as I climbed higher and higher.  The pines began to thin out and wide expanses of empty snow took their place.  I proceeded higher up the fells, one snowshoe step at a time.  I couldn’t have hurried even if I had wanted to. The white vistas spread out in all directions. There were no landmarks but for the trail markers, half hidden in the snow.  There were no other hikers. I began to feel like the Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen setting out to walk across the frozen tundra to the North Pole.

I was alone in this barren winter landscape.  I didn’t know how far I had gone and wasn’t sure where I was going.  The markers spread out ahead of me, curving up and down the fells.  I couldn’t see where they turned to return to Saariselka.  I assumed they did at some point.   I wore a down parka with thermal underwear, a wool turtleneck and a heavy Finnish sweater underneath so except for my cheeks I wasn’t cold.  Still, the thought crossed my mind how much more romantic it would be for my boys to say their father had frozen to death in Finnish Lapland than, say, having a heart attack on a bus.

At this time of year in Lapland the midday light is only half-light, a flat gray sky blending into the flat white snow.  No icy sun sparkles on the snow—no sun at all.  No blue sky.  No clouds.  Only white in every direction, spreading across the fells, the frozen surface hard and packed by the wind.

After following many hills away from where I had begun to climb the empty fells, I began to worry.  The markers still spread out in front of me.  I wished another hiker had appeared.  I didn’t see any other snowshoe tracks in the snow, though the snow was so frozen I wasn’t digging tracks myself.  I had no choice but to keep going.

Out there on this cold, white expanse I understood the allure of the North.  Everything familiar slips away.  No landmarks or signs of man.  All of the 19th century explorers felt this.  I thought about Bowdoin’s Perry and MacMillan determined to be the first to reach the North Pole.  I now knew why.


I stopped worrying and opened my mind to the cold snow and wonder of it all.  Here I was in the far north of Finland, on Christmas Day, alone on snowshoes with no one in sight, far from where I had started out.  Everything unimportant in my life, past and present, fell away.  My perspective changed.  I can’t explain why, just as I can’t explain falling instantly, chemically, in love.  It just happened without willing it.

What I realized was that I had everything I ever needed, or would ever need, in my life, right now.  The purity of the landscape all around me, the cold wind, the snow, the complete whiteness, filled me with peace.  Whatever I had lost in my life became meaningless.  The cycle of heartbreak came to an end, right there, so far north, hundreds of kilometers above the Arctic Circle.  No more expectations or fears.  Nothing she had given me, and she gave me much, could replace what I had within me in that moment.


I had only myself.  I had my endless love for my three sons, and theirs for me; the gratitude of being here on this earth when it might not have been; the calm beauty of being alone and not being unhappy.

I’m in Lapland following my son Sam’s wedding in Turku, Finland.  I’ve never experienced anything as beautiful as Sam and Saga’s wedding in Turku’s eight hundred year old cathedral.  Seeing my handsome boy Sam with his lovely bride looking like a princess, with Sam’s brothers David and Adam to one side and Saga’s sister to the other, filled my heart with joy, and my eyes with tears of happiness.  The setting—the entire wedding—was out of a fairy tale.  What I experienced that day grounded, humbled, me to the realities of my life, as it is, not as how I might want it to be.


Earlier in the day, Sam, Adam, David and I all met in my hotel room, to prepare and dress for the wedding.  First we spent an hour and a half in the hotel’s traditional Finnish sauna, going from the showers, to the sauna, out into the snow, back into the sauna, back to the snow—laughing and having the best time imaginable.  None of us could remember the last time the four of us had spent an entire afternoon, just us together.  Can you imagine how special it was for me to have my son ask to prepare for his wedding with his brothers and me?  Or watching Adam stand behind Sam knotting Sam’s tuxedo bow tie?  Or David dressing up, taking photos, thrilled to be there?  Or all four of us walking to the cathedral?   Nothing ever will equal this day we had being together at such a special time and in such a special place, for such a special occasion.


All of this I saw out in the snow walking across those Arctic fells.  I don’t need anything more.  I don’t need most of what I have other than this.  I don’t need to feel miserable anymore.  Memories remain, but distant and white in their own oblivion.

Tomorrow I leave Saariselka and this cold, half-light sky.  I’ll see the Arctic fells in my mind for as long as I live. It’s not likely I’ll ever return here.  What this journey has meant to me, however, is permanent.  My experience of Sam’s wedding is permanent.  These memories of snow are permanent.  They have changed me.  The snow, the cold, austere and barren snow, has affected me as nothing else ever has.   I may look the same; may live day-to-day as I have.  Yet my dreams have changed.  They’re not gone, but set in the context of that vast, empty, white, cold, snow-covered, wind ravaged landscape.

At Home in a Finnish Sauna


A traditional Finnish sauna is different from its American counterpart in nearly every way. The one I visited in Helsinki last evening with Jani, Sam’s wife Saga’s brother, is an old neighborhood institution, best described as a cross between a sauna and a social club.  Beer drinking plays a central role.

You bring your own beer—sparkling water in my case—and towel, pay the 12 Euro entrance fee (there’s an annual fee of 50 Euros, clearly the better deal) and step into the circa 1920’s wooden locker room with maybe thirty to forty very happy guys. Some of the men were playing chess on much used wooden tables under vintage photos of the sauna in earlier times.  Some were drinking their beer in groups of three or four on the wooden benches.  Most of the men seemed to be with friends, out for an evening of good times.  Most were wearing only their towels and the others nothing at all.  There was a lot of joking and laughing and while not raucous, a happy atmosphere of friends together filled the room.

Throughout the evening there was constant coming and going into the showers and sauna.  This in and out is part of the ritual.  First you walk into the large tiled shower room, hang up your towel and scrub down under the hot water.  Mind you this is an old neighborhood sauna—no fancy tile-work or trimmings.  It’s definitely not the Bay Club!  Clean and wet, you then pass into the sauna itself.

This sauna—the Kotiharjun Sauna, about fifteen minutes from the city center by metro—is one of the very few still heated by an immense wood burning stove, with rocks the size of basketballs on top. The stove is the size of a sedan.  Three tiers of cedar benches line three sides of the room.  The goal is to sit on the top tier where the heat’s most intense.  It’s not dark inside—more half light, like a Finnish winter afternoon.

Unlike American saunas, a Finnish sauna is wet from the steam rising from water tossed in buckets on the hot rocks.  It’s not a steam room but the air inside is hot and moist.  This prevents dehydration.  There is also an intake and outtake to allow fresher—not colder—air to circulate.  The Finns regard American dry heat saunas as deathly.

Now the fun begins.  After working up a hot glistening glow, it’s time for another quick shower and a walk outside in the snow.  At the Kotiharjun, there is a long wooden bench out front extending, at this time of year, into a snow bank.  This bench is actually on the street, though the street’s quiet with few passers-by.  At any given time, there are five or six guys—and women, too, from the women’s sauna on the second floor—sitting outside on the ice in just their towels and bare feet, drinking beer.  The night I was there was bitter cold, the temperature around 10 degrees F.  No matter, we all were out in the surprisingly not frigid-feeling cold, for about ten minutes.


Then back again inside, to the showers, then the sauna.  Jani and I went from sauna to snow five times during the course of the evening.  A neighborhood public Finnish sauna is not a fast experience.  We were there for over an hour and a half.

One of the remarkable things about a Finnish sauna is the complete unselfconsciousness of all the guys.  I’m told it’s the same for women.  There is nothing whatsoever strange about spending an evening with your friends naked.  There’s no weirdness, no sidelong glances, no bashfulness.  Buff or fat, old or young, everyone is naked and enjoying themselves.

Once anyone there found out I was American they immediately welcomed me, offering me beer, asking me how I liked their sauna, would I come back?  Where in the States would a bunch of naked guys right away include a foreigner in their party?  For that matter, where in the States would a bunch of naked guys in a sauna speak another language fluently?

At my health club sauna in San Francisco—of the abominable dry heat kind—anyone who removes his towel is considered an exhibitionist at best, a weirdo at worse.  Others will walk out.  The fear of being thought gay trumps any naturalness the experience might otherwise have.  No one ever talks, much less jokes with friends.  You go in, bake until you sweat, and leave, without a word.  You look straight ahead and never make eye contact with anyone else.  It’s in no way fun.  Of course there’s also no beer involved!

Just as many Americans might shy away from stepping inside a Finnish sauna, Finns find the American experience mystifying.  A sauna is about relaxation and conviviality.  It’s not a solitary adjunct to a strenuous workout.

I’m never going to step into an American sauna again without thinking about how much better it could be—even without the snow!

A final note about a Finnish sauna experience:  yesterday was my son’s wedding to his lovely Finnish fiancé Saga, in Turku, Finland.  My other two sons David and Adam were also there.  It was Sam’s idea that we all dress for the early evening wedding in my hotel room.  But first, we spent the afternoon in the hotel’s private sauna—dad and his three sons.  We did all the same things as I had done at the public sauna in Helsinki.  From showers to sauna to snow and back again. I can’t remember the last time the four of us spent an afternoon together all by ourselves, especially having as much fun as we had.  Maybe we were too relaxed because by the time we dressed and walked to the cathedral we had only ten minutes to spare before the ceremony!  It was a doubly special day.



She was the first woman ever to call me “honey.”  She held my hand and said she loved me.  That was then.

Once there was a boy who dreamed of the sea.  He dreamed of a day that was as gray as a corpse.  He saw an endless shore, the horizon receding out beyond the curvature of the earth.  There was only gray water against gray sky.  There were no waves breaking on the gray sand.  There was no inland, only the endless divide between the sea, the sky and the sand.

From somewhere people walked to the water’s edge.  Hundreds of people, monochromatic people.  No color anywhere.  More and more people assembled along the shore.  They all looked up into the sky, beyond the water.  The people were silent.  They stretched out along the water as far as the boy’s eyes could see.  He knew they extended even further, beyond the limits of his sight. He was far away from the people and, wondering why they were there and what they were doing, he walked along the gray cold sand to meet them. He walked a long time and as he watched the horizon he saw more and more people looking to the sky.  He thought they were waiting for a word, a sign, something that would descend from the sky and give them hope.  Something from their god, a god the boy didn’t know.

Slowly the boy approached this vast mass of silent, gray, searching people.  Still no one spoke.  The boy was overwhelmed by the silence, the calm silence of the gray day.  He, too, began watching the sky, listening to the deep silence–a kind of not listening because there was no sound at all.

Without any warning rumble or changing brightness or darkness, a voice that was not a voice but more a limitless sound that filled the entire sky descended on the people.  One word that was not a word, spoken without speech, was heard across this entire world.

That word was the boy’s name.

The boy didn’t know why.  His name falling from heaven had no meaning for him.  He knew no god.

All of the people along the shore slowly turned and looked at the boy.  They knew.

The boy woke up and didn’t know if he had been dreaming.  For more than fifty years the boy remembered this great dividing gray, the people on the shore, the water and his name filling the sky and earth and the peoples’ souls.

She asked me that early day when we were new together what I most wanted in my life.  I answered to have a woman love me as much as I loved her.

There was a night, a long time ago, when that boy became a man.  It wasn’t magical, or filled with joy, or significant beyond the act itself.  The new man said to himself, “I have crossed a line and life will be different now.”  How different he couldn’t begin to comprehend. How could he have known, then, that crossing that line was the beginning of a journey that led down a road of sadness and heartbreak?  That came later.  In between the markers along the way the man did see sunshine, and had blessings, and knew there was something that might assuage the sadness.  It had to be there, somewhere.

What happens when a man at last finds the one thing he has always wanted, and searched for, waiting a long, long time to find this one thing, and then the man loses it?

What dies in that man, as his dream dies?

I see her running towards me, so happy, embracing me, kissing me in the grass, lying next to me on the blanket as we let the music rise up to the stars. 

There are places that retain memories of their past.  The memories lie deep within the landscape. They reveal themselves to those who seek them.  There was once a man who sought such a place, such a memory.

He lived in Barcelona.  From someplace long buried in his consciousness he knew he wanted to see Roncesvalles. It had to have come from reading La Chanson de Roland in 11th grade French class.  He wanted to see that battlefield from so long ago to touch something he couldn’t exactly define.  It wasn’t a literary pilgrimage. It wasn’t a religious journey.  He hadn’t even thought of going there before living in Spain.  The idea came to him one day and he knew he had to go, that there might be something in this place that had an answer to a question he didn’t know.

It was in May when the man set off one morning with only a map to lead him down highways and roads that grew smaller and less traveled along the way.  He stopped in Zaragoza for the night and ate alone in a restaurant well recommended in his Michelin guide.  He wasn’t in a hurry, though only detoured off his route on his way home.

In the morning he continued deep into Navarre, passing small towns and villages with their Romanesque church towers, their old women sitting in the sun.  In late afternoon he approached Roncevalles.  The light was beginning to glow in the early dusk.  He rounded a bend in the road and there was the battlefield, unmarked but unmistakably there.  He stopped his car and walked up the slope, so green with its new grass and flowers.  Dark wooded hills filled the horizon.  Here was the site of the defeat of Charlemagne in 778.

The man started to cry.  It wasn’t the first time he had cried in Spain.  Once, in the great cathedral in Toledo, he sat on a bench listening to an invisible organist play, the sun streaming through the opening in the cathedral’s roof, and cried unable to stop.  That time it was tears of sadness that had begun when he had crossed that line years before.

At Roncevalles his tears also came from his heart, but were tears that flowed into the future, a future he didn’t know beyond knowing it was hopeless.  Like the fallen knight, he fell, too.

Slowly he stood up and walked back to his car.  He drove a short way down the road to a small inn covered in roses and checked into a room.  He was the only guest.  The proprietress eyed him with suspicion as she led him upstairs to a cold and dark room.  That evening he was the only diner in the inn’s dining room.  He ate the most delicious jamon de serrano he had ever had, cut in thick slices from the bone.

He left the village in the morning, stopping to look a last time at the field where Roland had died.  In the morning sun the landscape withheld its secrets.  The man didn’t cry and drove off in his red car, taking a different route home to Barcelona, stopping to see the ancient Monastery of Leyre on the way.

The man knew, though, that Roncevalles had changed him.  Again, he had crossed another kind of line. What came after was already imprinted in his soul.

I remember a time when we sat on the weathered wooden bench above the flowing water, alone with each other, my arm around her, her head on my shoulders. The quiet of this place where monks prayed, where gardens of flowers filled the air with the scent of lilies and roses, surrounded us like a sanctuary.  I had never been happier. Somewhere deep inside, I knew, though, that this place was outside any reality we could hold on to, could keep within us after we left the quiet valley.  No amount of prayers could fill that space between that day and the days that came later.

There came a time when the man the boy had become couldn’t face the hopelessness of his life.  He only saw his life as a long dark tunnel that had no end.  He couldn’t see that there were trees and flowers and children and sunshine outside his tunnel.  Everyday he walked further and further down into the darkness. He had his reasons for this despair.  He mistakenly thought they were real.  He didn’t see his own blindness.

The man had a plan that would end the misery.  He thought about it for a long time.  He worked out all the details, planned for the consequences in all the wrong ways.  Then he tested his plan over and over again and one night he decided it would be the night.

The road twisted though the woods and fields of an endless property.  It was always quiet there.  There were no other cars, as was the plan.  How the man mustered the nerve to do what he did has remained for him a mystery.  His plan didn’t work.  He buried his plan inside as far as he could push it down and never talked about it for a very long time.  It lived there inside like a cancer, spreading upwards and outwards to its inevitable end.

These were not good times for the man.

The night I kissed her for the first time, in the warmth of a spring night, outside the restaurant where the men cheered, I knew I had crossed another line, the line I had always wanted to cross.  That line was love.

There are substitutes for living outside oneself.  Travel.  Wine.  Music. Poetry.  Being alone in a forest.  Swimming in waves.  There was a man who knew all of these substitutes. He sought them out.  There were many others, too.  After a while they became ends unto themselves.  All were addictions the man couldn’t beat.  The man knew that if he only lived life’s substitutes, real life itself would fade away.  The addictions worked until they didn’t work anymore.  There was another night that changed the man’s life, that he hadn’t planned though perhaps he had sought.  Loneliness led to unconsciousness which led to misery which led to tragedy.  The compulsion that led the man from one to the next was beyond his control.  Later he knew, as awful as it was, it had to have happened.  There could have been no other way.  This end was his beginning.

One sunny afternoon we walked through an old part of Tokyo, a section of small shops and makers of rice crackers, and old wooden buildings.  There were shops that made only color pigments and one that made paint brushes once bought by Matisse.  Cats warmed themselves on the stone walls of a cemetery.  We took pictures of each other and shared a dessert in a small ice cream parlor.  We held hands and were in love.  We grew tired by the end of the day and again, I felt the old sadness seep in.  Again, another time and place out of the reality of our lives.  An escape from the realities at home.  A place where our love could be alone.

There was another time when a man suffered a fatal blow to his heart.  Doctors tried to mend it.  They thought it was a disease inside the man’s body, something eating his heart away.  They gave him pills to cure this malady.  Somehow they missed the arrow piercing the man’s chest.  They didn’t see the blood, the open wound.  They weren’t the kind of doctors who looked for guns or knives or arrows.

One night this wounded man was walking home with tears in his eyes and walked directly into a tree, knocking himself unconscious.  Insult to injury. He was lost in so many ways.  And every day he had to see the marksman who had shot the arrow.  He had to face his destiny.  He couldn’t, so he went away.

He went to a place far away from all that he had known before.  It was an old place, a city from the earliest times of the man’s country.  In the city there was the second oldest church in the country of a particular denomination.  It was a beautiful church.  Every day at noon the man went in and sat in the back, on a chair behind the last row of pews.   The stone arches soared above him; the satined glass windows glowed in the sunshine, were dark when it rained.  The man was often the only person there. He had the church all to himself and to his thoughts.  As a non-believer, the man didn’t exactly pray, though this place had been a place of prayer for more than two hundred years.  He wasn’t sad there.  The cool silence was a balm.

In this old stone church the man understood that the wound he had experienced was healing, but the scars would never go away.  A piece of the arrow would remain embedded in his heart forever.  A piece of his true cross. He knew if his wound opened again it would kill him.  He also knew he didn’t want it to ever open.

At the end she told me she had to pursue her personal legend and that pursuit could not include me by her side. What happened after is another story that can’t be told now because it isn’t over. I might be able to tell it someday.  It might never be necessary to tell it.  I may not want to tell it.  It may become irrelevant, a part of the past best left locked inside, like a very small tumor.  Inoperable but not fatal.

In The Air


Many people dislike air travel.  They become anxious, anticipating all sorts of delays and inconveniences.  They are afraid of missing their flight.  They worry about security lines and being singled out for special, unwanted, pat-downs and luggage checks.  Stories of needless strip searches lurk in the back of their minds, even though such occurrences are exceedingly rare and usually provoked by some suspicious situation.  They’re worried that the plane might go down.  They hate bumps in the sky.  They may get air-sick.

I’ve flown millions of miles—belonging to two airlines’ Million Mile Clubs among more than a dozen other mileage programs—and have never once had such concerns.  Maybe it’s fatalism.

I was sixteen the first time I flew.  With three other swim team members I was flying to Charlotte, North Carolina to swim in one event, a 400-meter free-style relay.  Our coach expected us to set the US National Record in the race, which we did.  Teammate Brad McKean’s mother was our chaperone. I stayed at the house of one of the local Charlotte swim team members.  The day after the race, our picture was in the sports section of the Charlotte newspaper.

My father flew frequently when I was a child.  Flying back then was an exciting, big deal luxury.  He always wore a suit to fly.  Taxis or car services weren’t common in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, so my mother and I would drive my father to the airport and see him to the gate.  I remember waving to him as he walked out to the plane’s stairway.  My memory is that he always wore a hat.

pan am 747

It was an even bigger deal the first time my parents flew together.  They were flying to New York where my dad was attending a business conference.  I can see my mother boarding the plane, wearing a blue suit and heels.  To her dying day, in 2006, she always wore a blue suit and heels on a plane, all the while bemoaning the lack of appropriate dress of the other passengers: “They were wearing blue jeans!”

Throughout my life, my mother always drove to the Allegheny County Airport to pick me up, meeting me at the gate when that was still permitted and outside security afterward.  The airport was famous for the huge Calder mobile hanging in the entrance.  (It still is.)  Having my mother waiting annoyed me when I was in college, but now I look back poignantly at those signs of anticipation and motherly love.


Pico Iyer wrote earlier this year in The New York Times that the greatest luxury today is being disconnected.  No phones; no internet; no communication beyond having a conversation with another human being.  Flying once provided that opportunity.

For a three-year period I flew monthly from New York to Tokyo, to meet with my Fujitsu clients.  Sometimes it was twice in one month.  The flight lasted seventeen hours.  I looked forward to these long flights.  They represented peace as no other life situation did.  Seventeen hours of quiet, with no questions other than, “would you like another glass of wine?”  I flew business class on Japan Airlines.  Their service was exquisite.

Sometimes my seatmate would initiate a conversation.  I remember on one occasion another guy and I told each other our life stories.  Almost nothing was held back: college romances, the joys of children, the perils and pain of our marriages.  I don’t think it’s unusual that two strangers share these intimacies in mid-air.  We meet, talk and never see one another again.  Another time I sat next to Tom Kelley, the founder of IDEO, and we talked the entire flight.  He gave me an inscribed copy of his latest book The Ten Faces of Innovation as the plane landed at Narita.

Mostly, however, I kept to myself.  I would take several books and hope to read one straight through.  I would sleep—never a problem for me when flying.  I always chose the Japanese meal over the Western option.

These long flights were times out of time.  I could have been traveling to the moon, or alone at sea.  There were trips when I wished the plane would never land.  We would keep going and going into an unknown place in the sky, someplace of ultimate disconnection and quiet.  Oddly, I never fantasized dying.  I just saw myself forever heading away.  I think about this every time I hear David Bowie sing Ground Control to Major Tom.

During the years when I worked overseas, I often flew long distances with my family.  Traveling with small children is a different experience, although in my case my boys were good travelers even when very young.  I remember flying from New York to Barcelona on Easter Sunday when David as three and Sam barely two months old.  Sam slept in the bassinet attached to the bulkhead for most of the flight.  We were flying Swissair and the flight attendants came round giving all the children on board beautifully wrapped Swiss chocolate Easter Bunnies.

There must have been times when the boys were fussy, but I don’t remember any.  Once, though, on a full flight from New York to Pittsburgh, David was sitting in my lap and without warning vomited all over me.  It was Christmas time and every available space was stuffed with gifts and carry-on luggage.  There was nothing to be done except futilely dab myself with cocktail napkins.  And smile.

When we finally returned to the States from Australia my wife and I decided to ease the boys’ transition by taking an extended vacation on the way back.  We first went to Singapore so that David and Sam could revisit all the places that were once familiar to them.  Being four years older than when they last lived there, we wanted to rekindle their memories to be fresh and happy as they returned to the home they no longer knew.

From Singapore we spent a week in Maui.  Because we were moving countries, and not vacationing, we were traveling with twenty-nine pieces of luggage including baby strollers, hand luggage, kids’ knapsacks, plus all of the larger suitcases.  We made porters happy everywhere.  I remember transferring in Honolulu to a smaller plane for the short flight to Maui.  We were a spectacle, much less a logistical nightmare for the agents.  Somehow everything was accommodated.

After Hawaii, my family entourage flew to Los Angeles to spend four days at Disney Land. The boys of course loved every minute.  Among all the photos taken there’s one of David enraptured with Minnie Mouse that captures the joy of childhood.

Eventually the return journey ended at JFK and with that conclusion ended a period of another kind of disconnection.

The life of an expat is not too dissimilar from the isolation and distance of being on a plane and in a foreign place.  In another country we’re never the same person we were at home.  The Japanese even have a term to describe the children of returning Japanese expats: “third culture kids”–problem children who are too Westernized and individualistic.

There’s a scene on Lost in Translation where Bill Murray is alone at night in his hotel room, high above the lights of Shinjuku.  His wife is faxing him plans for some house remodeling.  He knows his marriage is falling apart.  He knows—and feels—he’s very, very far away from his life at home.  He knows his own life is far away from anything he ever wanted it to be.  I’ve stayed at the Park Hyatt where the movie was filmed, and sat alone in my room at night.  I’ve felt the same emotions of inevitability and sadness.  Thinking about the long flight back to New York, I knew it would be a bridge to something I didn’t want to face.  I was grateful that it would last seventeen hours.

I’m writing this on a Sunday flight from San Francisco to New York.  It’s a long domestic flight, although not as long as I like.  Today I’m flying with no dread or painful anticipation.  I’m looking forward to being in New York at Christmas time, my favorite time of year in the city, and to working with my colleagues in our New York office. Later in the week I am returning to California only to turn around the next day to fly to Frankfurt on my way to Sam’s wedding in Finland.  In Germany I’m visiting my good friend Sean MacNiven and continuing the conversations begun in San Francisco a week ago.  We plan to visit the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf and hike in the footsteps of the first Neanderthals.  I’m setting off on a Big Adventure, beginning with a very long, and welcome, flight across the country and ocean. Can’t wait.