Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 7: The invisible days

There’s always several days to choose from. Mommy & Me Days, work days, weekend days, busy days. But mostly there are the ordinary days. Even during vacation days we still have obligations and responsibilities. We check our e-mails and return phone calls on the road. Then there are days we dream of accomplishing. I wish I could buy that new car. I want to go out with the girls. I want to spend more time with my family. Why am I always stuck in front of the computer??

Usually, when our family prepares to travel abroad, it’s either to visit Norway where I grew up or India where my family-in-law lives. In Norway I spend most of the time with my family and even if I do feel the comfort of home and family, there is also a sense of obligation. Occasionally I get invitations to meet with friends, and usually I give a tentative answer only to decline most of them eventually. There is just never enough time. Of course, going to India is also about spending time with family. I watch my husband trying to adjust to local time while at the same time pretending he’s not tired so that he can spend as much time as possible with his mother and siblings (he has three sisters and two brothers, most of them living relatively close by). Eventually, when we reach home, all we can think about is a vacation.

In 2007, six years after we married, we decided to finally go on that vacation. A friend from Graduate school was getting married and we wanted to go for her wedding even if it meant we had to go all the way to Japan. We brought our laptop and even rented a Japanese cell phone, but felt sort of cut-off from the rest of the world. We were on an entirely different time schedule and had a whole week entirely to ourselves. Half of the time we did what we would have done back in the US; we ate breakfast, had lunch, spent time in the apartment watching TV or sleeping. We created our own schedule and habits and favorites. Looking back now, I don't remember each day and what we did and what made our visit special. But I remember just exploring this different, strange and beautiful country and making it part of our memories, and that counts for something!

Last year, in 2008, I was invited to participate in a literary seminar back in Norway. I decided to do something a little unusual (and perhaps selfish): I went to Norway on my own and spent three days alone with my parents. The last time I remember spending more than one entire day alone with them was the day I moved from Bergen, Norway about eight years ago. Fresh out of Graduate School from the University, I spent the entire week going through all my papers, notes, letters and books I had collected over the years. I threw away most of it, only keeping my diaries and my books. At the end of the week my parents arrived in their car. We spent two days cleaning my apartment and move the rest of my stuff back home. I had many times imagined how it would be to spend time with my parents in Bergen. For different reasons they had not come to visit me that often during those 9 years I lived there. I remember being grateful for their help. The next day I went to Oslo and jumped on a plane to United States. I did not know it back then, but those were probably the last days I spent in Norway with my parents for a long time.

This time around, in 2008, I arrived at the airport with only one small suitcase. My husband and daughter were going to arrive three days later with the rest of the luggage and I only brought my own belongings for the first time in years. It almost felt like that day I left Norway eight years ago. My parents picked me up and we drove for 4 hours through miles and miles of forest and passed Mjøsa (a lake in Norway) all the way to Lillehammer, the 1994 Winter Olympics host city. Now Lillehammer is hosting an annually literary seminar they call "Sigrid Undset festival" named after the Norwegian writer who once won the Nobel Price in literature. If you're a writer or journalist or both, you probably end up here sooner or later. Being there for the first time I was nervous and excited. But instead of spending time with writers and journalists and attending important discussions about literature, I spent these three days with my parents. In the big breakfast hall we were practically the only visitors there. Everyone else stayed in Lillehammer City. We went for long walks and ate dinner from the buffet at the super market. We watched TV (everyone in Norway watches news at 7.30 pm for half hour). In the evening my mother wasn’t feeling well so my father and I went to the opening ceremony hosted by Shabana Rehman (Norwegian standup comedian). The next day I gave a speech at one of the seminars and my parents were allowed to watch. Later that afternoon when the other participants went for dinner together, I left. Instead we had dinner at McDonalds because that's what my parents wanted. And again we drove through miles and miles of forest all the way home.

I haven’t thought about Japan in a long time. Neither have I mentioned or talked to my parents about our trip to Lillehammer lately. It’s funny how these moments can appear so different than you remembered them. Maybe because they are so easy to forget in our daily life? Perhaps these memories, these invisible days, just need a little bit more effort on our part, to come alive again. Hence my little exercise. Now it’s your turn …

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