I have just returned from teaching a writing workshop in Norway. It was there I discovered the newly published love letters of Norway’s much loved Fridtjof Nansen(1861-1930) – arctic explorer, author, Nobel prize winner and humanitarian – to American author and journalist, Brenda Ueland, 30 years his junior. The country was abuzz at the publication of these letters – so intimate and revealing of a new side of their aristocratic hero – the leading newspaper Aftenposten even published his full frontal nude photos sent to his beloved Brenda Ueland – an author I have long loved and admired myself. Her book “If you want to write” published in the ‘30’s, is my dog-eared bible.
Yesterday I returned to Cape Town from London. If you’re bound for Cape Town via Doha on a 24 hour journey – I highly recommend these letters to ease the pain of cramped seats, recycled air and inedible food. None of it mattered! Through his letters I traveled on a journey of the soul – and realize more deeply how love transcends space and time, how it has the power to open new insights into this mystery of life. The poets know it, the great artists connect to this force – I feel as if I too, from 30,000 feet high, had a window into this miracle.
What is this mystery of what happens when souls meet one another and recognize the power of connection? How to bottle this stuff? This is where world peace begins. This is where wars end. This is where we know oneness, compassion, loving understanding. This is where we transcend space, time, race, color, creed.
Fridtjof and Brenda only knew each other briefly and obviously consummated that brief interaction with a hot and passionate love affair. The rest of their communion was via this power of their written words to one another. There was no email, no phone connection. Each hand-written letter took weeks to arrive at the other. They patiently and carefully opened themselves up, layer by layer with courage and honesty. They agreed not to hide anything from one another, that there was nothing that could not be shared. And through their courage to face every part of themselves and share, I feel that I have become a better person.
How sad I am that Brenda’s letters were destroyed. The world has lost a great gift by the burning of those letters, but the great wonder is, that his to her have survived. He ventured to the Arctic and faced huge dangers. I think though, that this exploration of the soul, was his greatest achievement.