Under Aurora Borealis’ splendor, an enlightening revelation occurs during an annual family tradition.
When I was in the third grade, my parents initiated a family tradition of a yearly international expedition. The very first trip was a crayon-filled ten-hour flight to Jakarta, where we also flew to Bali and met people of other races for the very first time. Growing up in Taiwan, neither my sister nor I learned English. But in Bali, we found our young and anxious selves unable to communicate with other kids or our babysitter at the resort’s Mini Club. If anything this very first trip taught us, it was the importance of acquiring an international language – a useful key to connect with those embodying different cultures and backgrounds than ours. Since then, we’ve trekked the world together as a family. Through ridiculous laughter to inevitable petty fights, we’ve met Micky at Tokyo’s Disneyland, embraced sleepy koalas in Australia, witnessed a cheetah hunting a gazelle in Kenya, shrieked while riding camels near Egypt’s pyramids, and devoured caviar with champagne for breakfast in Moscow. Until recent years, I had never thought of these family trips beyond exotic adventures resulting in galleries of dynamic photo albums. My perspectives, however, drastically altered this year. Embarking on an Arctic Circle adventure chasing the Northern Lights unveiled life’s harsh reality, somehow I was awakened to realize an undeniable end to our family tradition because nothing in life, unfortunately, lasts forever.
This January, we arrived in Saariselkä – a small village deep above the Arctic Circle, in the Inari region of Finland’s Lapland. Population: 350 people. Temperature: -15°F/-26°C. There were two bucket list items to check off during this frosty excursion: chasing the Northern Lights while sleeping in a glass igloo. Despite that Northern Lights are active all year round, only one 6000th of the Earth’s population is fortuitous enough to actually witness such natural wonder, according to Science Norway. The night we checked into our glass igloos at Northern Lights Village was also our fourth day chasing the Northern Lights without avail. An overcast sky combined with zero stars in sight, there was little hope that we would detect any inkling of Aurora Borealis.
At 1:20 a.m., I woke up to a mysterious alarm coming from a clock installed in the igloo wall. As I tried to randomly tap in an effort to switch off the alarm, the clock’s neon sign indicated: Aurora Borealis is approaching! Astonished between excitement and flurry, I grabbed my phone and a digital camera in haste to finally settle on the edge of my bed, in sheer anticipation. There it was, a massively elongated smoke-like wave appeared in the navy sky, it could have easily been mistaken for giant clusters of clouds busy swirling in a circular motion. Once I began snapping photos though, the white-grey fog was, in fact, green and purple on my phone.
You see, the cameras are far more vivid than what our eyes can identify. Since human eyes use rods and cones to see, the cones sense color while the rods are far more efficient photo receptors which are not sensitive to color. In the dark, our eyes require the light sensitivity of the rods to see, hence color vision is curtailed. Cameras can accumulate light in a way that the human eye cannot. It depends on the strength of the Aurora activity for the human eye to identify vibrant colors of blue, green, purple, and red. Once I snapped a few photos underneath my igloo ceiling window, I hurriedly ran outside in the biting cold for an even better view. Beneath the sun’s electrons exciting the Earth’s magnetosphere, I quietly wept in awe. How did I get here?
Hiking up the mountains to relish the sun rising in Nepal’s Himalayas got me here. Watching the sunset while Berbers drummed and sang on the Sahara Desert got me here. My sister and I, pestered by our mother for gossiping instead of learning from our guide in Petra, got me here. Softly walking by sleepy bodies of Afghani refugees camped inside an Iranian mosque got me here. Meeting innocent, wide-eyed children in Siem Reap’s orphanage got me here. My parents’ continuous efforts to educate us through lessons of the world, ultimately got me here. But what else?
Being labeled as a FOB (fresh off the boat) as an immigrant in the United States also got me here. Slandered as a “banana” or a “Twinkie” for being yellow on the outside while too white on the inside also got me here. Discovering my driveway with the word “SLUT” spelled out in Oreo cookies also got me here. Sexually harassed by my superior in a corporate environment also got me here. Having an entire office of colleagues believing that I slept my way up the career ladder also got me here. Feeling utterly out of sync with Japanese culture while living in Tokyo also got me here. Falling in and out of love with an alcoholic also got me here. Through life’s ugliest moments, my family has always been my unwavering pillar. If I had to experience such atrocious truths for the most merciful moment guided by the Northern Lights, then I wouldn’t change any second of it.
In reality, Aurora Borealis appeared in a flash. After a ten-minute jaw-dropping show, it was gone. Just like that, we never saw it again during the rest of our Scandinavian adventure. Fleeting, therefore deeply cherished. I gained a newfound revelation that our annual family tradition will eventually change characters, I can no longer deny the fact that my parents are aging, as am I. Like seeing colors of green and purple on my phone rather than brisk white clouds to my human eye, I realized that life is far more than what we’re presented. In every moment, it is up to us to learn and evolve with loved ones. For this, every voyage I have left to experience with my parents will revere with a deeper gratitude while embracing life’s beauty and chaos. From beginning to end.