"Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale" ~ Hans Christian AndersenIn June of 1998, right after my first year of teaching, I traveled with Bonnie Cecil and a crew of American vikings to visit the Roskilde Lille Skole at its small hamlet outside of Roskilde and around 20 miles from Copenhagen. That year, Preben Sauerberg brought his students to the Brown School for a month and several of us bonded with the kids and teachers - I couldn't help but fall in love with the culture, the humor, the history, the kindness, and the international connection. Since they visited us, it was a no-brainer to visit them right back.
When I arrived for the first time I bonded with a man named Gunnar who helped out the school and who regularly became part of the Danish team that brought students to Louisville. We ate together, visited with one another at Mae's house, and did sightseeing. He was a man of joy ad spirit, and when I went on a quest to find Nisse, gnomes, he was a gentle giant.
I learned that Gunnar lost his battle with cancer this weekend and, as Carrie Klingenfus remarked, it feels like we lost a part of our hearts. She and I regularly took turns going back and forth to Roskilde with students and we hosted the Danes each Fall when they came to visit the Brown (even some springs when the teachers came without students).
I was a 26 year old, long haired hippy in birkenstocks when I first shook hands with Gunnar. He saw me grow up during the ten years that the Danish experience was part of my regular teaching routine. For a decade, as Carrie can relate, the Roskilde/Louisville connection was a Brown School rhythm, a flow, a challenge, and an irreplaceable opportunity for high school students and the teachers who embraced the opportunity. Yes, it was a tremendous amount of work kept alive for a long, fruitful time, but worth the stress. Every October and every June I think about my Danish friends, because that is when we were in exchange with one another.
In my office hangs a photograph given to me by Ulla where she was sticking her tongue out and making fun of me. It stands above the door so I can see it every time I leave the space, only to put a smile on my face and serve as a reminder that the joys we have with other people are short-lived and temporary. I will print the photo of Gunnar, too, so it can hang next to Ulla as a reminder of my mentors from overseas, my colleagues, friends, and the beautiful times of my educational and professional history while teaching at the Brown.
I am thinking of my friend, Tiana, too, who went with me to Denmark, as well as Sally - who really bonded with Gunnar because they loved to catch one another off guard. I'm also thinking of Lars, Vibeke, Torben, Preben, and Kristen, who graciously extended their Roskilde love to me whenever I visited the fjords.
Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. ~ Hans Christian AndersenAh, Mr. Gunnar...rest in peace, my friend. Whenever I think of those days, I remember the bear hugs, your huge heart, and the total happiness you had for the exchange. I shall pick a flower from my garden today and wear it in memory of the joy you brought so many of us.