Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking Back

After a few months back in the US, I am finally sitting down to conclude my reflections on our year in Norway. From where I am sitting now, it seems almost like a dream. Sending in my application for the Fulbright. Being surprised by the award notification. Juggling the excitement of the opportunity with the responsibilities of family. Coping with morning sickness. Packing our home into boxes. Culling years of accumulation from our closets. Finding a place to live. Squeezing everything into one bag per person. Saying goodbye to everyone. And then taking that step into uncertainty...

I learned a lot in a year. Not just about Norway. Not just about digital culture and electronic literature. I learned about my family, my children, my spouse, myself. Some of it I always knew, but really came to me in a deep way. There are many things in life that seem important--Jobs, bills, paperwork, appointments, deadlines, desires, ambitions, etc. Being separated from my daily routines and habits and patterns of thinking, and feeling a keen responsibility for my children, who are at the continual mercy of adult decisions, gave me a new appreciation for their courage and character. For Carrie and me, the chance to live in another country for any amount of time is a luxury and privilege. But for Jonah, Oscar, and Sergio, the move was a bit more radical.  To a child, a year seems like an eternity. A neighborhood full of children who do not speak your language can be a frustration. A new diet. New social norms. Even different bedrooms. These upheavals can seem so big. Nevertheless, I got to see each of them adapt with wonder and courage to the tectonic shift I had introduced to their world. In spite of their dynamism, I came home each day to find my arrival anticipated, my presence needed, my attention required. We have always lived closely as a family, but somehow, I found myself being drawn even closer.

I was happy to discover that this is something very valuable to Norwegians. Parents are expected to take leave of their professional obligations to be with young children. Workdays are shorter. Vacations more frequent. Time, it seems, is more precious there. Back home, I feel like time is a commodity. If I were less fortunate than I am, I might have to choose each day between bread on the table and a seat at the table. Carrie would have to do this, also. In Bergen, I felt as if time were priceless. Maybe it's the romance of living in an old city and a coherent culture.

Already, I feel myself slipping back into many of my old habits. Long days. Frenetic pacing. Measurement and output. But I am not so complacent in this as I once was.  The claims that my career have placed on my heart have been weakened, and the claims of family, friendship, and community have grown stronger. Furthermore, I feel committed to bringing what I learned from Norway back home, to my community. To engage, not through an abstract sense of justice or a
sense of anger, but through a sense of hope and the realization that our arrival is always anticipated, our presence always needed, and our attention always required.  Our world can change, and change can be met with anxiety and curiosity, but it can always be made better if we only take the time to draw the world ever closer, to hold each other more, and to choose to behave as though our days matter.