A few days ago I undertook a long journey. With the help of two trains, two planes, and an automobile, I journeyed from mid-Denmark to southwestern Wisconsin. It took altogether about 28 hours from leaving my home until arriving at my friends’ home. Now I am again on North American soil, breathing a different kind of air, walking about this little mid-western town where I spent 4 years of my life. Things are more or less the same as when I was last here, nearly a year ago. Only my daughters seem different, they have grown and become a little less child, a little closer to teenager and adult.
It is not true that ‘you can’t go home again.’ Of course you can. But you can never remain the same as you were before you left. Life changes people. It takes them and shakes them up, opens them to something new, something other than what they knew when they were home. Each time I come back here I am changed. This past year has changed me profoundly. I am more sober, more weary than before. Certainly more disillusioned. This little town, called Viroqua, is a kind of a bubble. Within this small area live many alternative-minded people. They spend their days growing organic food, gathering herbs, making soap and tinctures. They give classes, on everything creative and alternative you can think of. They think and talk about the future in hopeful, spiritual terms. They believe in a peaceful existence, where the community helps one another, share tools, cars, advice, child-raising, give others help. They find all sorts of creative ways to make money. Most don’t have much of it, although some have quite a lot. Some talk about politics, while others prefer to concentrate on other aspects of life which seem more appealing and interesting. They have problems, heartaches, sickness and death just like anywhere else. It is far from Utopia. And yet. Being away in Europe, in a city with pavement, neat rowhouses, efficient trains and buses, where nearly everyone is a part of the state system, where you are hard-pressed to find anyone living an ‘alternative lifestyle,’ has made me painfully aware of the difference in quality of communal life between here and there. There is, from my observations, a real aliveness and vitality here, an energy of health and striving for a better world, that I have yet to find in Denmark.
Say what you will about small town America, with its many flaws and limitations, but I don’t feel lonely here the way that I do there. Maybe that is the true meaning of ‘Home.’ A place where you aren’t lonely, where people know you and love you in spite of who you are. In spite of the wrongs you have done. In spite of your weaknesses and flaws. In spite of the past.
My friend, her kids and mine, and I drove up to the larger city northeast of here yesterday. We participated in the great American pasttime, Shopping. Clothes shopping, to be exact, for my daughter’s upcoming high school graduation next month. We spent over two hours together, perusing racks and racks of pretty, colorful dresses, tops, shorts and skirts, picking over shoes and more shoes in all the colors of the rainbow. I have to admit that it was fun, even with my jet lag and tiredness, to help her find pretty things to accentuate her natural beauty and gracefulness. She found a very sexy, tight-fitting black and red dress, along with 4 inch black velvet heels, in which she looked beautiful, very femme fatale. With some red lipstick and her hair brushed, she will be the center of attention in any place she chooses to go wearing that get-up. The men will drool, the women will want to throw knives. I say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!
As I was waiting for my friend to finish paying for her purchases, it suddenly struck me at how simple it is to live here, where every word which I hear is immediately understandable and clear. It makes me realize that in Denmark I live each day of my life with an underlying uneasiness because I still cannot easily understand, even after nearly two years, much of what the people are saying. I have become used to it, and it doesn’t terrify me to go out into the city the way that it once did. But it is not my home in that sense, it can never be the kind of home that is in my blood and heart, a place where you are intuitively understood while understanding the other humans around you. It might sound ludicrous or silly, but it is actually very significant. One’s native tongue carries an enormous amount of influence over one’s life.
While I have been crossing the ocean and transitioning to being here in America again, I see that some of you have been busy writing and blogging. I hope to catch up on some of what you have been doing and thinking about over the next days. The English-speaking world remains prolific!
Now I give you some words from a woman who leads writing workshops in this area, named Diane Ludeking. She writes,
“Are we capable of feeling empathy instead of discomfort in the presence of real life experiences and the emotions that are inherent within them? We have all endured our own version of struggle, suffering, loss and demons. What would happen if we held sacred space for those who need a witness to their pain? And supported them with respect to their journey instead of trying to fix them? When did it become necessary for people to apologize for their public tears?” Dear Readers, I respect all of you for striving, in your unique ways, to share some of your own personal journey and struggles with the rest of us. We all need a witness for our lives. Thank you for being a witness for mine, and I honor you for yours. We are really all in this crazy mess called life together. No apologies for tears.