Monday, August 17, 2009

Remembering Bjorn

Our friend Alex Ginsberg drove up to Vermont for Bjorn's memorial service Saturday.
In hindsight, I wish I had gone with him. Here's Alex's thoughts.

Bjorn lived in Woodstock, VT, a beautiful converted farmhouse, down a long, hidden driveway that slopes down off the main road. The house itself is sort of nestled against the embankment leading up the hill to the road, and on the other side is a gorgeous expanse of former farmland, now overgrown in spots, plus a few outbuildings.

The house is filled with the smells of soapmaking, as his wife, Kirsten, runs a soap store in the town of Woodstock and Bjorn was helping out both the manufacture of the soap itself and the store's web interface.

When I arrived, Kirsten and Bjorn's sister (also named Kirsten) and other relatives had arranged artifacts from his life on tables in front of the house. There were books, which, in typical Bjorn fashion, ranged from one esoteric subject to the next. Calculus, Japanese art, etc. There was a little rowboat he made - yeah, made - for his stepchildren. There were paintings he had done, some relatively recent, and other from when he was obviously just a boy. He learned to write his name the Norwegian way: Bjørn. Photos were on display of Bjorn from all periods throughout his too-short life.

Bjorn's maternal uncle, an Adventist minister and former missionary, Leif Lind, led the memorial, reading the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my Shepherd..) and the shortest verse in the entire bible: "Jesus wept." (can't remember the chapter and verse there.) His mother, Elsa Lind, said, "We are so bereft." And she said something to the effect that she believed in the Second Coming and at that time "I believe I will see Bjorn again."

His father, Doug, told everyone that "Bjorn was my son and my teacher." His sister, Kirsten, talked about how the two of them had only each other during the years they were growing up, in places like Uganda, India and Bangladesh.

Kirsten, his wife, talked about how he loved Vermont, loved the farm and loved working on it. She told a story about one day finding him with stakes in his truck and when she asked him what they were for he said when he walks in the forest he sometimes sees old apple trees that need a little help standing up. Two apple trees were planted there in his memory.

His in-laws spoke as well, and it was clear they grieved for someone who was like a son to them and obviously loved their daughter. In fact, although Bjorn certainly left a great number of people hurting, and hurting very, very badly, there was not a soul present who believed for one minute that he somehow wanted that.

I was not planning to speak, but I was asked to read a note that John had sent by email. This worked out well, because John put together something absolutely perfect, far better than I could have done. I told everyone that besides John and me, there were many, many people back in New York - a chapter of his life that was really a mystery to everyone there - who were thinking of him. Many people came up to me afterward to thank me for sharing my thoughts (I kept telling them they were John's thoughts, but somehow I kept getting the credit). They all said, if you hadn't been here, we would have had no idea of what his time in New York was like.

At the end, doves were set free from cages. They flew off in a big messy mass, then regrouped and buzzed the tower in formation.

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