View from a Prairie Home

By Hege Herfindahl, Columnist

A kind friend asked me yesterday if I wanted to celebrate syttende mai with her group in Sons of Norway. I told her syttende mai was painful for me and that I would think about it. Being a kind and compassionate person, she told me she understood. But my answer lingered in my mind; I had never thought of syttende mai as painful. It never used to be. It is supposed to be a day of jubilation. Of national pride. “Ja, vi elsker dette landet.” How can that be painful?

So I think of life. Of any life. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s. As we continue on this journey, we all have to let go of something or someone. The most heartbreaking of all is the last goodbye; sitting by a bed or getting a phone call when a loved one died.

But also in our everyday lives there are changes that breaks with the familiar. Especially this time of year, letting go is everywhere. Graduations. Weddings. All fun, wonderful and jubilant experiences. The future can, however, be scary at times and not at all what we expected. The graduate often moves to the college of their choice or job opening. The newly married couple will face a life that is exciting, but new and not always easy. The familiar is predictable. But during milestones in our lives, we will experience something totally new. And unexpected. Who knew college classes would be so difficult? The boss at the new job expected you to always arrive on time. She seemed so friendly, but she is your boss, not your friend. Your spouse snored and took a long time in the shower. When I went to college, I realized how my mother had always done my laundry. How she had supervised my cleaning of the kitchen. It took more time now to live up to the standards I grew up with.

And then it is the everyday way of letting go that we experience with all the aches and pains of growing older. It isn’t as easy as it used to be to kneel and then get up. The back hurts after weeding for just a few minutes. I am sometimes so tired at night, even though I haven’t worked very hard during the day. With osteoporosis I had to let go of skating, downhill skiing and all the other activities that I once enjoyed.

But one of the biggest letting go experiences in my life; one I share with thousands of immigrants, is letting go of my home country. It wasn’t a choice I made based on fear or lack of means to make a living like it is for so many people. I made the decision because I wanted to live with my husband on his family farm in West Central Minnesota. We spent the first year of our marriage living in a very nice apartment in Oslo. I finished my degree at the University of Oslo while Grant worked at various jobs he could find as an immigrant.

He never tried to persuade me to emigrate. I made that decision. His parents made the very generous offer of a house and a farm if we did decide to come. I had been there on vacation and loved the prairie and the old house. So we moved.

And I fully embraced my new home country. I already knew English and I looked like everybody else, so I was accepted and made friends. I raised my family here, I worked here and I even became an American citizen.

But in the corner of my mind and heart, there is an emptiness that longs for a country far away. A country is more than a place. It is more than a language. It is a way of being that is unique to the country in question. As a tourist you might not even see that. But I do when I go. And my country has changed, so when I go, I am no longer a true Norwegian. But I am also not a true American. Because of my roots, I am foreign in a way that is hard to explain, but which is shared by many immigrants. It is a longing that has to do with both time and place. And on syttende mai, the most Norwegian of days, when my hometown is covered with the red, white and blue flags and when parades and brass bands are everywhere, my heart goes across the big divide of time and space and I am again a child or a teen dressed up to march and sing “ja, vi elsker dette landet.”