The End of an Era

Merry Christmas! As some of you know, my family sent a Christmas letter and annual family photograph throughout my youth. As the kids aged, we got involved and often invoked a creative writing theme. 2008 recounted the year in numbers 1-12. 2009 presented multiple geographic moves as the Nock Family Adventures. 2010 rode the social media wave with my brother beautifully crafting a “nockbook” profile with a stream of posts. 2011 went back toward print, publishing Nock Geographic with each of us reporting on someone else. 2012 turned inward, as we each wrote about ourselves. 2013 presented a recipe for replicating our year(s).

And that was it. With all the kids graduated and living independently, Mom and Dad sent their own letter, and each kid took their own direction. I’ve continued writing and snail-mailing letters with a sampling of photographs. The past few years have also waxed my existentialist nature and I have questioned the very nature of an “annual” letter. If I believe time is structured abstractly, why do I send a letter according to a socially constructed definition of the “year”?

Update: I don’t.

I’m going rogue.

This week – tonight – marks the official end of my sabbatical. I took four and a half months off from work, with a variety of goals to focus on restoring myself and aligning my doing with my being. Truth be told, I’m still very much on the journey of self-discovery, and I think I’ll stay on this journey – though not unemployed – for the remainder of my life. I’m committed to exercising conscious awareness of how I experience the world. To the chagrin – or delight – of those around me, I can talk at length about the importance of the capital-s Self and the capital-t Truth, contemplate the motivation in human behavior, advocate for verbally communicating emotions, or teach the yogic philosophy. But I digress…

In closing the pre-determined sabbatical and entering into an undefined future, I want to reflect on what I’ve learned throughout the past months’ experiences:

  • It’s hard for me to just “be”. It’s also “new” for me to be. Hard = New, in many cases. New things are hard. I knew going into this that I hadn’t had four months to myself in… ever, ignoring my pre-kindergarten days when all my time was free. I spent years in school, with 8-10 summer weeks spotted with structured and unstructured time. From the age of fifteen, I held summer jobs and part-time jobs while in school. When I graduated, or changed jobs or cities, I started immediately, without time off in between. I didn’t know how to rest. Now I do, though it’s still challenging to my instinct. And that’s okay. I’m enough for who I am, without what I do.
  • There are a lot of people who don’t work 9-5 every day. When I sit in parks and cafes, or commute on public transport, or whenever I leave my apartment, I see other people who aren’t at work. (I also see the ones who are at work, but not in offices.) I like that it’s okay to break the mold. It’s only when people ask how I spent my week or weekend that I remember whether it was a conventional workday or not. Every day is equal for me. I am ready to start working, AND I liked detaching from the work routine.
  • The world is full of distractions. My challenge and growth are in the focus. I remember telling a friend on a run in early 2017 that if I had a superpower, it would be to slow down time. I think I have. All I aspire for is to be aware of what I experience as my life happens. The past doesn’t exist. The future doesn’t exist. I only have the present moment. I exercise constant effort to be present: to be listening to whoever I’m with; to be reading without a wandering mind; to meditate and let thoughts pass; to run, bike, or swim and be in that action. My self awareness is what makes a day fulfilling. I’ve de-activated Instagram, which instinct and data tell me consumed several hours of every week. I’ve shifted away from constantly checking my to-do list and my inbox. I am often trying to make sure that I spend every moment where I am, not guilting the mind for wandering to the past, future, or elsewhere. The first step in focusing is to be aware of distraction.
  • Living sustainably and non-materially is challenging. In these months, I became more aware of the impact of my consumer behavior and choices on human and planetary health. Sometimes, I feel that I have no responsible option. I learned about the overwhelming emissions generated from flying. I started exploring a non-meat diet almost two years ago. Now I have validated my choice after seeing shocking numbers about the inefficiency of meat as protein. Meat sucks water and nutrients out of the food chain while pumping carbon emissions higher. There are responsible ways to produce meat, but mostly we don’t, and the world has a lot of people to feed. With so much free time, I move more slowly. I don’t jump from thing to thing, place to place. I can be more aware, and I’m shocked about how much non-processable waste I produce and how difficult it is to reduce this. Some things only come packaged in plastic, and it most likely won’t – or can’t – be recycled nor reused. My main choice is to reduce, but I’m only one in eight billion.
  • Physical movement and breath form the foundation of my well-being. I am more calm, present, and alive when I take time to move my body and focus on breathing. I’ve gone deep into a yoga teacher training, then fluctuated between routine and non-routine practice. I know, from experience, that breathing and moving are the best way for me to start my day. I will continue cultivating and nurturing my physical body for the remainder of my life.
  • Internal conflict may be eternal. I’ve decided to leave Berlin, and I still feel conflicted and uncertain about where to go. In the past 19 weeks, I’ve traveled from Berlin; to Portugal; to parts of Denmark; to Stockholm, Sweden; to Amsterdam – twice; to Seville, Spain; to Rostock, Germany, on the Baltic Sea; to Boston, Nashville, Toronto, across eastern Canada, and the southern coast of Maine; and I spent many days and hours exploring pockets of Berlin’s beautiful summer. I felt varying degrees of home in all of these places. For me, home is an elusive concept. I feel stimulated, energized, and enriched when I explore new environments. Yet perhaps these are all distractions; if so, from what? I don’t know, and that’s okay. I’m being patient.
  • I think everyone is afflicted with trauma. Everyone. You. Me. Yes, you. I see it everywhere, especially in Berlin. I’ve explored what trauma could mean in my past and read literature about the varying degrees of trauma throughout society. I want to break the taboo and encourage social dialogue. Maybe I’ll formally study psychology someday? Many people exercise to relieve stress or build self confidence or purely from an addictive habit, and people pay for gym memberships or fitness classes. I will re-iterate a past hypothesis: we might live healthier, more fulfilled lives by investing in mental health (counseling, therapy, emotional awareness) before or alongside physical health. And caffeine and alcohol are drugs, as much as marijuana, cocaine, heroine, you name it. They’re just socially accepted – and maybe less severe – forms of numbing reality.

I’d planned to write this Christmas letter for weeks and to mail some copies when I was in the US last week, but I didn’t. And I’m following suit with living in the moment. And Brené Brown taught me the importance of shitty first drafts. And this is everything that’s on my mind now.

So, thanks for your support. I’m extremely grateful, despite bouts of uncertainty. And I wish you a moment – however long it may last – of deep presence with your current reality. May we all embrace whatever era we’re in.

Me, the Immigrant

As much as I try to avoid the news, I find it impossible to not know the American executive branch’s sentiment toward immigrants. Immigrants are not welcome. Immigrants should go back where they came from. Immigrants are criminals. Immigrants are taking jobs, sometimes without paying taxes. All this, except the rich, white ones.

Hi, I’m an immigrant. I’m a white male, too. Where does that fit me in the welcome/not welcome spectrum? Should I go back where I came from? Where did I come from? Am I a criminal? What was my crime? If I paid my taxes and now I’m unemployed, whose job am I taking? I’d like to meet the non-immigrants, the natives. Truth is: they’re hard to come by.

Wikipedia: Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.

I (used to) take up employment and (still) reside in Germany. I am not German. I am a foreigner.

I wanted to know what it was like to need “permission” to exist, to be second class, to be an outsider, to live with consequences of others’ decisions without any say in the democratic process. I take for granted what it means to be “free” in America. I’m not talking about the right to carry a gun, or speak my mind, or publish this blog post. I’m talking about the freedom to know that I can securely own a home, apply for a job, open a business, receive a paycheck, drive a car. I can support myself without needing individual legal checkpoints to proceed with my intended life.

In the 22 months since moving to Germany, I applied for my initial visa and work permit, then two renewals; converted my drivers license to be eligible to rent a vehicle; established credit and rented an apartment; studied the language while fumbling through everyday interactions. To what end? Am I working toward being a non-immigrant? My ancestors left France and England for North American land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Subsequent generations made their livelihoods and settled lands throughout the North Atlantic region. Did they apply for visas and work permits? Did they struggle to learn English? When do outsiders become insiders?

Now I’ve joined the queue of unemployed Germans by notifying the government that I’ll be officially unemployed by the end of August. I lined up outside locked doors at 7:45 am on a Tuesday morning to say “I need to register as unemployed,” and then get yelled at for not knowing enough German. The employment office provides unemployment services to help people find work, and I’m entitled – or obligated – to work with them to find a new position. Since I willingly left my job, I won’t receive unemployment benefits for 3 months; however, after this time, I am theoretically eligible to receive a portion of my salary and additional assistance. If I were fired, I’d be immediately eligible for assistance, under the condition that I register immediately. Even quitting, I’m obligated to report myself… and that’s a bit uncomfortable. The Arbeitsamt offers quite a safety net, but I’d honestly rather take care of myself. I think most immigrants want to take care of themselves, because immigrants are people, and people want to be self-sufficient. Ideally, I’ll have a job contract soon, but it’s not so simple.

“Are you currently and legally eligible to work in the United States?”
“Would you now or in the future require sponsorship?”
Whether part of the electronic application or asked verbally, these questions – verbatim – are mandatory for hiring processes in the United States. I used to ask them in the initial phone interview, hoping for a yes then a no. I know that it’s much harder to higher a non-US citizen. But when people ask me “is it hard to get a visa to work in Europe?,” I can’t answer, because I don’t know how to measure “hard”. I just know it takes paperwork and patience.

And now, the tables have turned. I’m on the other side. In fact, I’m not legally eligible to work in Europe until I find an employer who can sponsor me. Or I can find multiple companies who are willing to contract my services and pursue an independent freelancer/self-employment visa. Then – in either case – I have to wait, often up to 90 days, to hear whether my application has been granted. And if not? Tough luck, I guess. Keep looking.

Most recently, I’ve been researching immigration and employment law for the Netherlands, and ideally I would qualify as a “highly skilled migrant,” which could speed up the decision process to two weeks. This requires an employer who’s a recognized sponsor. Becoming a recognized sponsor also takes up to 90 days, as well as several thousand Euros in application fees.

Imagine any career – doctor, researcher, baker, project manager, you name yours – and you’re applying for a job. The resume/CV gets you the interview. Cue nerves. The interview gets you (more interviews, more nervousness, then) the job. The job offer… gets you a spot in line to wait for the government to decide whether you’re permitted to work, whether you’re highly skilled and economically secure. Landing a job as a foreigner requires more than qualifications, negotiating, and signing a job offer. This application process typically includes the employer needing to prove that there are no local (in my case, any European) candidates who are better qualified for the job. Yes, because I’m taking a job from someone! Just like all the hispanic immigrants who are working in food service and poultry processing plants… we’re all taking jobs from the natives, right?

I am an immigrant. White. Male. Of European descent. In Europe. Full of privilege. Waiting in line. Proudly. Nervously. Uncertainly. Avoiding the news.

On Being, 84

The old man danced in the cafe and appeared to have no worries in life. Alice doesn’t know that her story stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words. I don’t remember what she said that he said. I do remember making the decision: Yes, I want to be eighty four years young, dancing in a cafe. That’s my dream age, and sometimes, that’s how I choose to act.

When I stated my goals of my sabbatical, one intention included:

Work (doing) is a distraction from life (being), and I am pursuing a different awareness of my preferred balance.

The balance is a hot pursuit. Taking a sabbatical has largely been an experiment in retirement. Well-known graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister speaks about his own sabbatical philosophy: taking the first five years of retirement and distributing one year of retirement every seven years of his career. His idea stuck with me after the second time I watched his talk. I’ve observed my grandparents in their different forms of retirement, and I recognize that if I want to be at peace with that lifestyle someday, I need to start now. The me who loves to get things done will suffer immensely if I feel my being is insignificant at an age when it is perhaps my most – or my only – significance.

The balance of doing and being ebbs and flows. I’m naturally a do-er. My Enneagram personality type 3 description aptly explains that:

“Threes know how good it feels to develop themselves and contribute their abilities to the world, and also enjoy motivating others to greater personal achievements than others thought they were capable of.”

THE ACHIEVER, Enneagram Type Three, Enneagram Institute

My personality hyper-focuses on getting things “done”, on gauging my worth by my productivity, and on human doing instead of human being. To make matters harder, my drive is largely about the “done” and less about the act of “doing.” It’s about the destination, not the journey. In the past three-and-a-half months, my effort, my exertion has tended toward shifting the mentality and slowing down. I am focused on operating at a lower speed and enjoying the thrill of deceleration, acceleration, and everything in between. Maybe you know the feeling of braking? The body leans forward to counterbalance the shifting momentum. I’m slowing from a run to a walk, tapping the brake pedal while driving a car, pulling the brakes to bring a bike to a surprise stop sign. It costs energy to slow down, to lean against the forces of the world, and I want to enjoy the experience when I spend energy. I want to be in balance instead of in opposition with the world. I am practicing what New York Times columnist Bonnie Tsui calls “fallow time” in her summer op-ed: You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything. I am practicing the act of slowing down, of speeding up, of moving with awareness of my speed.

Awareness of being is also a critical aspect of yoga philosophy. While some modern yoga forms focus heavily on achieving a specific shape, the ancient philosophy also emphasizes the process of finding the shape. Furthermore, the shapes of yoga (the asana) are vessels for the mind to calm and for me to start observing myself. Being in a human body necessitates being aware, of the physical body, the mind body, the breath, and many more aspects. Part of yoga entails the process of becoming aware: the process – not the achievement – of awareness.

Despite the fact that I don’t go to work, I wake up every morning around 6 or 7, write two or three pages in my journal, sometimes meditate, and often practice yoga for anywhere between 5 and 90 minutes. The whole routine takes between one and three hours. Are you impressed? I made myself a poster of goals, separated by today, this week, and upcoming. I needed this structure. I started logging my to-do list in the beloved Asana software system that I learned to love in my work at Formlabs. Are you impressed? I try to make plans to socialize or meet with at least one friend or acquaintance every day. Some days, I swim, bike, or run. One day a few weeks ago, I wrote a short yoga sequence, then biked 45 miles through the forests north of Berlin, came home, relaxed (shocking, I know!), and talked to two close friends on the phone, for an hour each. Are you impressed?

I eat at least two scoops of ice cream every day. Now are you impressed? 😉

“Look at me. I’m impressive. I’m developing myself.” The gut-wrenching truth of being a “three” is that I want to be affirmed, to distinguish myself from others, to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others. The motivation to achieve is innate to my being. Being a three isn’t enough; I need to constantly prove myself by doing. If my truth sounds harsh, I recognize that other personalities are motivated by: incessantly righting injustice, (over)extending altruism to be helpful, ensuring their own originality, knowing and understanding, creating only secure relationships, creating constant happiness, maintaining strength and power, or stabilizing peace.

I recognize that I shouldn’t change who I inherently am, and in this recognition, I want to fully embody myself. If I’m driven to get things done, at least I want to enjoy the doing by having awareness of my being. My to-do list has become a curation of the experiences I want to have, rather than the tasks I want to say I’ve done.

When I talk about my sabbatical, many people admire my courage and even express jealousy. This isn’t what I ask for, but it’s what I see. Everyone wants a sabbatical and “fun”employment. Tongue-in-cheek “fun,” if the verbal sarcasm is not obvious.

My truth is that moments of self-doubt pepper between every one of my daily achievements. The Enneagram also describes:

“Threes want success because they are afraid of disappearing into a chasm of emptiness and worthlessness: without the increased attention and feeling of accomplishment which success usually brings, Threes fear that they are nobody and have no value.”

Even though I told her, I’m not sure whether Adriana – an Italian – knows what her words meant when we snacked on pastries on Sunday: “I don’t like when people describe themselves by what they do. ‘I am a graphic designer.’ No. I am working as a graphic designer, but graphic design is not who I am. I am a person with a personality. Who I am is not what I do. I’m fine to talk about what I do, but it’s not the first thing I will say when someone asks me to describe myself.”

I wish this post had a visual. I want to unfold the thoughts that pass through my brain. A picture might speak a thousand words, but I’m afraid that even a thousand words can’t explain the challenge that an achievement-oriented person experiences in separating their value from their achievement. I think this mentality is ubiquitous in the United States, and I’m taking a different perspective.

I am more than my accomplishments. I am enough for my being. I remind myself this almost every day, sometimes multiple times. And I think that it’s slowly starting to work. I’m peeling away my attachment to my achievements. This band-aid requires a slow peel. There’s no high-speed route to calming the mind that feeds on business.

I challenge you – next time you think to ask “what are you doing?,” “what do you do?,” “what did you do today?,” or any semblance of creating value by evaluating someone’s productivity – instead ask “how are you feeling?,” “what is your way of being,” “how did you feel today?,” “how do you want to feel on your vacation?,” “what does it feel like to be you?”… and be ready to answer in return. Yes, these questions sound like nonsense to a mind that struggles to be. And if you catch yourself neigh saying, chances are high that you’re like me, ripe for the challenge. It’s not easy being human, is it?

Hence why I’m practicing to be 84.

My Privileged Diet

“Is this normal for you?” I asked my Italian-Danish friend at the counter of Social Foodies, a Danish shop that partners with African farmers to create quality food and sustain value in both communities. Why ask? Regardless of normality, ice cream before lunch is one decision I unapologetically support.

We tasted flavors like havtorn (sea-buckthorn/berry) and meandered through the coastal neighborhood to reach the beach, where small children enjoyed the seaweed strewn shoreline and their parents observed casually. As we dodged kids ferrying wet sand and toys and tiptoed over ripples of seaweed, I wondered for how many people was this just another day and how many families came to the beach because of the pseudo-holiday. The Danish government is required to call an election no later than four years after the previous, and this year, they chose to coincide with the national Constitution Day.

“So what’s the political state in Denmark these days?” I asked Nicola, back at home, between bites of fresh pasta and vegetables, facing each other with sunlight fully illuminating our skin and the peaceful ambiance of his rose garden below.

He explained that the immigration debate receded and climate is the critical topic of debate. A total of eleven parties nominated candidates and campaigned in this election, and the winners would be responsible for forming a coalition with their peers after the election. The liberal parties claimed that we are not doing enough to protect the environment and live sustainably. The parties that side with the conservative coalition took the position that the world is in tact and governmental policies have done enough to support and protect the planet. I wondered what affect this warm, sunshiny day would have on last-minute voters: yes, the planet is fine; no, this is abnormal. The next day, I learned that less than 5% of Denmark’s land is “wild,” the way it would be untouched by humankind. I wonder whether the myths of nostalgia or future distort voters’ perception.

I journeyed into the city by train, and spent the afternoon exploring the progressive cuisine and wares of Torvehallerne: ice cream made from bananas, oats, and dates; natural organic skincare products; potato-rosemary Skyr; vegan sandwiches; a real butcher, next to a knife sharpener and vendor; juices and health shots of many varieties; and a surprising amount of plastic packaging.

I stopped to write at Paludan Bogen, my favorite cafe. In the midst of reflective writing exercises, I recognized a burning desire to swim. I set that mini-goal for myself and stopped at Svanemølle Strand on the train journey homeward. I found the beachfront full of cheerful, attractive Danish families enjoying their half-day holiday. I wondered if the weather would decrease voter turn out. (The numbers showed 84.6% of registered voters participated, whereas in 2015, 85.9% cast their ballots.) The frigid water temperature quickly deterred any desire to do serious swimming, but I enjoyed a quick dip and an hour of reading in the sunlight.

Back at home, Nicola and Jonas arrived with a small batch of fresh produce to host friends for an election dinner and watch party. We cooked together and set the table in the garden. Promptly at 8:00, we needed to be in the living room to watch the first results from the exit polls. The news anchor announced the preliminary results with sophisticated graphics and live video broadcasts interspersed from each party’s election. In spite of not knowing enough Danish to understand the full broadcast, I was impressed about how well all three Danes and the two non-Danish residents explained the positions of each party and their opinions on whether their results were favorable. We watched the broadcast, with progressive updates as actual votes returned from the polls, for about two hours before people filtered out and decided to go home. The conservative, anti-immigration parties lost about half their support compared to the previous election, and the so-called “red bloc” saw gains. Fortunately for everyone, the openly racist, homophobic candidate didn’t earn the 2% of votes that are required to gain seats in parliament.

In the subsequent two days, I spent my afternoon at Respond, a conference hosted by the Danish engineering association, featuring talks and exhibitions about engineering a more sustainable future, including perspectives on food security, environmental stewardship, and management of plastic and toxic waste. The first speaker I heard asked how many audience members work for companies that have clear commitments to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I didn’t raise my hand; I don’t even know what the SDGs include, and I felt a pang of guilt that these important global needs aren’t a part of my conscience or dialogue. Two days later, I saw the SDGs advertised in the Vejle city center and again in a poster in my other friends’ home office. Get it together, Stephen. What can you do to contribute? I’m making a point to learn about the SDGs and figure out where I can incorporate them in my lifestyle and being. I side with the leftist Danes who believe that we – the humans who live and work on this earth today – need to live and work far differently, so that the planet will be a healthier ecosystem for all species to live and work in the future.

My privilege is having the choice to spend time on a beach with clean water and warm sunshine. My privilege is eating and cooking with fruits and vegetables that are imported from throughout the world and paying prices as if they came from the local farm; bananas don’t grow in North America or Europe, and apples don’t grow in June. My privilege is eating homemade venison meatballs on Saturday evening, from a deer that my friend shot on Tuesday. My privilege is paying less – financially – to fly from Berlin to Copenhagen than to take a train. My privilege is affording what I want to eat, and not limiting myself to a budget of starch and beans. My privilege is having the freedom to not eat everything on my plate if I feel full, while knowing that 1/3 of all food production goes to the trash. My privilege is having the financial security to spend multiple months traveling and living, without earning a paycheck, knowing there are people that can’t afford to miss a single hour of work, even when they’re sick.

Inconvenience costs now; convenience costs later.

“Is this normal for me?” Yes, my normalcy is full of privilege, and I believe it won’t last forever. I refuse to be unapologetically privileged. I’m committed to understanding my privilege and making decisions that allow more of the world to eat ice cream at 10:30 am, or at all.

Life on Pause

I’m on the brink. Literally on the border. My train from Copenhagen to Stockholm stopped at a non-central station just across the border. 10:55. The train host alternates announcements in Swedish and English. The police shot a man in Malmö central train station, and now the bomb squad is searching the station and surrounding area. We don’t have any further information. So our train is waiting to pass through. Symbolism? I’m in this period where I’m pausing, watching the construction cranes nearby and the wind blow, while I get my bearings. Other people are working, building, moving; I’m contemplating, holding steady. I’ll grant myself “permission” to continue my working life when the time comes.

For now, I am where I am, on a non-moving train passing between foreign countries. It’s the tail end of five days in Denmark. The universe pauses my movement, reminding me to embrace the privilege of returning to a country I learned to love eight years ago. I’m grateful. Tusindtak, Danmark. A thousand thank yous.

You’re welcome to leave the train for fresh air on the platform. 11:07 am. After a brief hesitation, I leave my stuff in my seat and go outside. I film myself doing a few minutes of yoga on the train platform. What a special place to breathe, to move, and to wake my mind from the previous trains’ slumber.

I arrived on one-way flight early last Wednesday morning. It’s a quick 50-minute flight from Berlin. I’m becoming more conscious of the carbon impact of flying, and I’ve chosen to take as many other legs as possible by… train. I also wanted to slow down. I’m not in a hurry. I guess today that includes a full pause.

I didn’t have plans for Copenhagen. A generous Italian friend from my study abroad days agreed to host me in the beautiful suburban apartment that he now owns with his Danish boyfriend. I caught the train from the airport to their place, and then sat at the kitchen table with Nicola while he took a work call and ran wastewater runoff simulations. The thrilling life of a wastewater engineer, eh. Meanwhile, I discovered that the Danish national engineering association would be hosting an event focused on “how science and technology can be used to develop new solutions to global challenges,” so I put the Respond Festival on my to-do list for Thursday and Friday.

Nicola and I stepped out to walk to the nearby coast and — pause.

Sometimes, we have to take a few steps backward. I’m in the middle of writing about Denmark while leaving Denmark. 12:18. The train has been canceled. Please disembark and make other arrangements or contact the customer service. It’s an odd feeling: to be just out of reach of something familiar and into the unknown. A million options circulated in my head: go back to Copenhagen and fly, wait here until the trains resume, cancel the Stockholm portion altogether, find a bus to Stockholm…

I milled around the deserted city square with a hundred or so other passengers, all with canceled journeys and little information. Some spoke Swedish and wanted to get home. Some spoke English and wanted to go anywhere. Some I didn’t have any idea what they spoke, thought, or where they wanted to be. Our shared oblivion brought me peace of mind. We all wanted to be on our way to somewhere else, but what could we do? This wasn’t anyone’s fault, and none of us have control. I watched the departure schedule flash a train to Copenhagen every 20 minutes, each marked delayed or canceled for the next few hours. I went down the escalator, affirmed that the trains were still not boarding. I rode back up, affirmed that the departures were flashing more delays and cancellations. I went down again. The train host said we could go to Malmö Central and wait until they allow passengers in to talk to the customer service desk. It’s easy to feel confused when there’s no answer. Everyone was equally in limbo. I thanked her.

I wanted to stay in Denmark longer, and I booked the trip to Stockholm in order to volunteer at a conference on the future of food. I couldn’t control the timing of such an interesting opportunity, and saying yes to this open door felt right. The conference guide advised us to wear black pants, which I didn’t pack. Time to go shopping!? I wandered into the posh mall across the street from Malmö’s Hyllie train station and spotted everyone’s favorite Swedish brand, H&M. Nothing like trying on new clothes with a backpack full of clothes in tow. After scouring the racks, I purchased a pair that fit and felt properly European. 13:55. I needed to charge my phone. I wanted to eat my Danish kanelsnegl cinnamon bun — and I wanted more deeply to eat it when I wasn’t aimlessly confused. I also needed to figure out where I was going and how to get there. I stopped at the mall information kiosk, and the middle-age blonde Swedish woman was very helpful to advise me where I could charge my phone and that if I crossed the city square, there were buses to the Copenhagen airport, just 30 minutes away. Aha!

After a few minutes of charging while looking at flight and train options, I crossed the square to find the parking lot mixed with Denmark’s public DSB buses and charter buses displaying the DSB ticker. Ah…. relief. The charter bus driver gleefully welcomed me. I plopped my bags in a seat, noted the electrical outlet under the window, and exhaled every vertebrae into the seat. Wow, I spotted a sign. They even have free Wi-Fi on this bus. The woman in the row behind me confirmed that the journey was free and would take about 30 minutes. This all felt like a good sign. I gleefully ate my kanelsnegl.

As the bus departed, I continued to search flight and train options on a half-dozen browser tabs in my phone. 14:37. Balancing time – when could I surely reach the airport? – cost – would the train company refund me? reimburse other bookings? including flights? – and security – when could anyone safely travel through Malmö again by train? – I opted for a 7pm flight from Copenhagen. Ugh, I don’t want to fly, but I need to get there. The bus arrived at the Swedish border, and two police officers boarded to quickly inspect every passenger’s passport. The bus continued and crossed the bridge that I’d filmed in reverse just three hours before. After three failed attempts — I’m sure my bank is thoroughly confused by my travel activity and last minute expenses in unfamiliar locations — I booked the flight from my phone, and noted that I had four hours to cancel without penalty.

I smiled, perhaps inside and outside, as I walked back into the airport terminal where I’d arrived last Wednesday morning. I didn’t expect to be back here so soon. I spotted the Swedish train kiosk and browsed the touchscreen for additional trains. The 16:36 departure glitched. Canceled? Unknown? The 18:36 departure was bookable but would mean a midnight arrival. Meh. I wandered further into the terminal to find the Norwegian Air flights, meanwhile looking at train options on my phone. Oooh, an overnight train with a sleeper car option. And it’s cheaper than flying.

Standing in front of the Norwegian Air check-in counter, I fumbled through their two-factor authentication log-in system, and yes, I canceled my flight. I didn’t want to fly anyway! 15:32. I immediately booked the sleeper train and bought myself six hours of free time in Copenhagen… what a dream. I could go anywhere. With two clicks, I bought a ticket into the city center on my phone, grabbed a seat at the front of the driverless metro, and ventured toward my favorite cafe, Paludan Bogen.

And here I am. Delayed. Paused. Relaxed. At home. 17:29.

Nicola and I stepped out to walk to the nearby coast and — pause. We went for ice cream last Wednesday morning, and that’s what I’ll probably do again soon.