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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Time for Retrospectives 

Karl Nilsson of Sweden, AP photo by David Longstreath
It's been nearly a year since I first wrote about little Karl Nilson, and how his survival from the flood-like waters of the Southeast Asian tsunami reminded me of my father's survival from a 1936 flood (see my entries Selective Perceptions, Undesirable Baggage, Mystic Mischief, and Of Biblical Proportions). Since then, this blog has been visited every week by people searching for news of what happened to the Swedish boy. So I decided to post here the latest I could find. According to an AP report of June 24, 2005 by Mattias Karen:
Marie Guldstrand, a Swedish doctor whose family brought Kalle back to Sweden, said he once asked that since Jesus was raised from the dead, "wouldn't it be possible to do that with my parents?"
     "He had those existential questions that are completely impossible to answer," said Guldstrand.
     Today, Kalle lives with his grandparents in Boden, about 600 miles north of Stockholm, and Guldstrand regularly keeps in touch.
     Cold reality has started to sink in for the boy, she said.
     "He has realized the full extent of what has happened, even though he, like many others, held out hope for a long time that his family would be found," Guldstrand said.
     But he also has times when he can forget the pain and play like an ordinary child.

I don't believe my father ever forgot the pain of surviving his family, rather he subverted it in order to go on. Even while it has plagued him from underneath thickening skin, he has gone on. At 15, he ran away from his grandparent's home and lied about his age to join the Army Air Corps; later, he served in Korea where he saw other boys die; at some point he completed his turn away from the Catholic faith of his parents; he married at 25 and had 2 daughters before his 29th birthday; through the Cold War, he spent weeks away from his family with his finger hovering over a button deep in a missile silo; he divorced at 42 and since then has been through so many divorces and remarriages, I've lost count; and throughout it all, he has struggled with depression and wishes for his own death. Now at 76, he lives alone in the rocky Texas hill country.

His only granddaughter is a few months shy of the age her grandpa was when he first married, but he's seen her only a few times. In 4 days, she will join her dad and me for a Christmas Eve dinner, and I will remember how my father could never wait for Christmas morning. I laugh every time I remember his pointing at red lights in the sky on Christmas Eves, telling us that Rudolph was over our house; it was his ruse so we could open presents early – so eager was he to watch his children open Santa's gifts.

I suppose I'm too jaded to hope for world peace this year, as I had so often in my optimistic youth. Instead, during this holiday noted for its annual increase in depression and suicide, I wish peace to my father and to Kalle and to countless other survivors.

Sometimes it seems like I'm settling for smaller things as I get older, but I guess it's still an awfully big wish.