Iceland had been on my radar for several years. It’s a relatively small island in the Arctic that has as dramatic a landscape as any that I have come across. It contains active volcanoes, lava fields, geysers, hot springs, breathtaking waterfalls, black beaches, and massive glaciers, among other beautiful imagery.
While I was ill, I latched onto the small Arctic island, possibly to escape present circumstances. I examined moody images of the black sand beaches, the ominous canyons, the most gorgeous waterfalls I had ever seen, the glacier fed blue waters with complete absorption. Isaiah 48:10 says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” For six consecutive years my soul was tested. I doubted and wavered some, but I managed to find myself on the other side of my illness.
When my aunt so graciously donated one of her kidneys to me in 2014, one of the first things I started talking about doing was traveling to Iceland. After the transplant surgery, it took about nine months for me to feel comfortable enough to get on a plane, and when I did, it was to New York City. The whole time I was there though, all I thought about was Iceland. It was then that I knew I had to go, that there was something more to going than I understood.
I made a promise to myself and to God while I was sick. I promised that if I made it to this side of my affliction that I would find a way beyond the walls that had encased me for so long. I promised to live life to the fullest, pursue dreams wholeheartedly, try my hardest to feel happiness and joy, even though I knew those things would be difficult given all that I had been through.
It took some wrangling, but I managed to coax a few family members into going with me to Iceland. The deal we made was: they go with me to Iceland; I go with them to Spain and Portugal. So, a three-week European trip was planned. An amalgam of excitement and fear consumed me as I prepared for the trip. I spoke to my doctors and made an extensive list of everything I thought I would need to do to stay healthy while I was away.
We departed Los Angeles on a Wednesday and when we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland it was Thursday. The flight went well, except one of our pieces of luggage didn’t make the connection we had at JFK. From the airport we drove into Reykjavik and checked into the Fosshotel Reykjavik.
We parked the van and walked towards this milky blue body of water. I kept trying to name the blue it was, but eventually I had to concede that I didn’t have the vocabulary necessary to label the magical blue color. I had never experienced such a blue.
Ultimately, I decided not to go in the geothermal water. For starters, I found out that it is not a natural body of water. Secondly, but most important, I was nervous that the water would be harmful to me in some way, even though it is said to be very healing. Everyone said it was okay, there were lots of people in the hot water, but I am not the normal person.
Later that night, back at the hotel, a man named Logi picked us up in his Super Jeep. We set off on a journey out of the city and into the dead of night to find the elusive northern lights, something I had wanted to see for as long as I could remember. When we finally came to a stop, about thirty or so of us stared up at a mostly cloudless, starlit sky. The vibe was full of anticipation and amazement.
The documentary series, Frozen Planet, points out that winter in the Artic can be magical, especially if the greatest lightshow on Earth is overhead. The first humans in the Arctic believed the northern lights, or, aurora borealis, were dancing spirits. Now we know the lights are caused by electrically charged particles streaming from the sun, attracted by the magnetic pull of the Earth’s poles.
At first, there wasn’t much to see. A pale green off in the distance was all. We took pictures and made small talk under the stars hoping for more. As time passed, the group grew discouraged when nothing momentous occurred. But then it happened. A flash of green light slithered across the sky like a snake. Then green and pink light swirled overhead. Then again and again. We all stood there, eyes fixed upward, watching the lightshow of a lifetime. “It’s heating up!” the tour guide shouted every time a new glowing light danced across the sky. In celebratory fashion, we drank hot cocoa spiked with vodka, smiles abound.
As we made our way back to the hotel, Logi, a native Icelander, shared stories about life and culture on the island. I couldn’t wait to get to bed so I could wake up again. The following day we were off on a road trip around the Golden Circle.