In the city of Helsingborg, a ferry ride across from Helsingor (or, ‘Elsinore’, if you’re drafting a tragedy called ‘Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’), there was once a youth hostel on the northern edge of town midst wooded grounds. It sat on a rise looking down on the city, on the straits to the Baltic Sea, and beyond to Hamlet’s Kronborg castle itself.
A young gaggle of volunteers, breathless to do good in the world, we had come to Sweden for a wedding of friends, before scattering to remote assignments in Algeria and the Congo. The bride had upper crust ancestry – her father a retired army major – and we, motley peaceniks, had wandered north in a no-frills Peugeot to find refuge, if not refinement, in the arms of the friendly hostel.
As we prepared to leave for the ceremony, squad cars with sirens screaming careened into the parking lot, surrounding our vehicle with a canine unit in tow. Service radios crackled in the background as back-up arrived. We could be forgiven for failing to allow for a get-acquainted visit with the Swedish police that morning, but it soon leaked out that there had been a bank heist in town, and we were the chief suspects. A van with French registration and a Latin sort with curly hair had been glimpsed at the scene. We fit the ‘wanted’ bill. The officers set upon the vehicle and its contents as though it were Sunday dinner – without the etiquette.
Titters of suppressed laughter escaped, first from us, who realized that policework had gone awry, and then from the cops themselves who found devotional books and hymnals, but no loot, in our belongings. No giggles, though, from the Alsatians. There followed sheepish apologies as the cops and the dogs sped elsewhere in pursuit of more promising suspects.
Still amused at this caper, this Nordic welcome on a wedding day, we turned to our volunteer coordinator who had withdrawn several thousand dollars to see us off to our assignments after the nuptials. He opened his luggage and then was seen to search the van like some madman. The all-important bundle of cash had vanished. Rising disquiet – alright, panic – now took hold as we scoured every crack and corner of the vehicle and surrounds. Nothing.
The hour of the wedding already upon us, we were about to break off the search in despair when one of our number recalled tidying up the van the previous evening. Our eyes fell on a nearby dumpster. Climbing inside for a quick search produced a ‘Eureka!’ Delirious with relief, we prepared to rush away, but had to yield first to a truck entering the parking lot. We watched in disbelief as it drew up to the dumpster – the very one – lifting it by mechanical arm and sending its contents into oblivion.
In a garden behind the stately home, beneath an arch twined with flowers, we witnessed those promises offered and received. It was winning. The ageless vision says that our journeys, however ragged, whatever their mis-directions, losses, and disappointments, have as destination a garden where a gathering very like a wedding awaits. To that festive moment are welcomed equally, and to much surprise, the refined and the unschooled, the deserving and the wayward – and all in an air of forever hilarity.
I watch now for those wayside hostels. Like some door ajar, they promise luster, ventures worthy of poetry.