The Truth about Vikings
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Vikings this week, because what else is there to do when the temperature outside is heading for frickin’ incinerator o’clock, other than think of Norse warriors who sailed cold and stormy seas?
You probably know this already, but disappointingly Vikings didn’t really wear horned helmets. They were just bog-standard pudding bowl helmets, and the horned thing was supposedly the invention of 18th century artists. (Curse you 18th century artists and your, albeit well-meaning, complete fabrications.)
Also Vikings weren’t regularly putting their dead heroes on board an empty ship and sailing them off to Valhalla. Turns out the idea that Vikings put their dead heroes on empty ships, set fire to them and launching them into the water was mostly a story popularized by TV and movies. Apparently Viking ships were too valuable to burn (that makes sense) and so sometimes they would bury heroes with their ships instead (which makes no sense.)
The burning ships not sailing off to Valhalla misinformation annoyed me more than the ‘not really wearing horned helmets’. Because I’ve always pictured a burning longship sailing off on an empty sea as the perfect metaphor for accepting something you don’t want to accept.
I met with a friend this week. He’s a vibrant lovely witty person. Smart, sassy, and with a wicked sense of humor. But he struggles with memory loss.
He still makes me laugh. He still has the same twinkle. He still in one sentence can remind me why we’re such friends. But each time we talk, he is a little less himself. His body is still here, but every time we meet, even that is a little less.
We often talk about the old times. I follow him when he takes me on a direction that makes no sense, and strive to answer each repeated question like it's the first time I've heard it asked.
I’m not great with it. I feel false. A fraud. Like I'm a bloody well meaning 18th century artist making shit up about Vikings wearing horned helmets, when clearly they never did at all.
But I remind myself I'm experienced at this. I’m an old entertainment mongrel and by its very nature my business is based on pretense.
Those winter scenes in “It’s a Wonderful Life” were filmed in the dead heat of Summer. Busby Berkley made his millions with heavily choreographed showgirls making kaleidoscopic displays, but in real life was a horribly messy drunk. And let’s not even mention Bill Cosby.
Surely I too can pretend?
My friend and I are meeting because I’m gearing up to go out on the road with a show, so we won’t see each other for a while. He is a little more frail than the last time and can’t seem to focus like he used to. Sometimes he seems distracted trying to work out what he's doing here at all.
He used to always enjoy stories about the ridiculousness of entertainment and relish my capacity for a good Scottish moan. So I tell him that when you write a show, it’s like a conversation I want to have. But when it comes for the time to sell your show it feels like you have to accost people and telling them that if they don’t come and see it they’ll be missing out. “And,” I protest in my best indignant tone’, “It frankly doesn’t feel like you’re giving people a gift if you have to keep punching them in the face to receive it.”
There is a moment of confusion. A beat of doubt. Then he laughs loudly. Just like he used to, but not like he used to. Because in my ears, it’s the sound of that moment of confusion that rings loudest.
I want to stop everything. I want to take his hand and say, “Can we stop this thing? Can this not be real? It’s me, Lynn. Let’s start again and we can go back to how things used to be.”
But instead I laugh too. And we bask for a moment in the warm glow of friendship.
Sometimes it’s not possible for the inside to match the outside. Sometimes all you really have is pretense.
Jeez, if I had a nickel for every person who’d droned on and on and on about what a wonderful partner they had, only to see them divorce the year after - well, let’s just say I’d have a lot of nickels.
And how many times have my kids given me a scented candle for Christmas and I’ve told them it’s the best scented candle I’ve ever had? Because it’s never about the candle. It’s about saying I love you and I always will.
So I look at him across the table and I smile. He hesitates just for a moment, then smiles back. He can see me. I am glad.
Soon I will be traveling. When I'm gone, my friend will be traveling too. One of us can return.
He loves me, I know it. And I in turn love him. On the inside I know who he is. Who to me, he will always always be.
But he has boarded the ship. There is nothing I can do but hold steady, as he sails. And I will keep my place on the shore, waving and smiling till long after he is out of sight.
He is a warrior. A beautiful, witty, brave, magnificent warrior. Valhalla will be lucky to welcome such a soul.
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