My family and I have been back in Minnesota for eight months, but I’m still surprised by the many ways a sense of “home” can overtake me.
One such moment occurred recently when I spent an evening with a book club consisting of several of my St. Olaf College classmates, most of whom still live in Minnesota. They had read my memoir, The Same Moon, and invited me to join them for discussion.
Despite the decades that had passed, most of us recognized each other, having lived in the same dormitory at some point during college. And a few of us are Facebook friends. But for the most part, this wasn’t the group I hung out with back in the day. In fact, I have spent very little time with any fellow Oles over the nineteen years we lived in Washington state.
And yet, that evening on Zoom, the sense of familiarity was almost overwhelming. The conversation flowed and was punctuated with landmarks and people, events and experiences that no one needed to explain. I found myself slipping into an easy verbal shorthand — both surrounding college memories and more recent topics. It seemed we shared some collective thinking patterns: B followed A, C followed B.
Had we learned these patterns during our shared four-year academic experience? Or was it the fact that we came of age at the same time and hail from fairly similar cultural backgrounds?
More than the thinking patterns, though, what I loved about the evening was finding that, despite our lives having diverged in all sorts of directions after college, a defining characteristic of this group seemed to be curiosity about and care for others — a trait revealed both in terms of career paths taken and topics of conversation.
The book club meeting took place a few days after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd and as we were reeling over the recent death of Daunte Wright. Over the past year in particular, my home state has been the site of terrible injustices, ones that have made me feel ashamed at times to claim Minnesota as my own, to almost feel a need to justify why we would move our multiracial family back here after nineteen years away. Is it safe? Are its opportunities open to everyone?
As the group switched to a discussion of what book to read next, their decision quickly coalesced around books about race relations, members suggesting ones that would expand their understandings and help them be better-informed community members, people better able to help others around them.
Yes, I thought. This is the Minnesota I grew up in and have always carried in my heart: a state filled with well-meaning, hard-working people with open minds, open hands, open hearts.
This is why I have hope that better days are ahead. This is why I call Minnesota home.
Um yah yah.*
*The St. Olaf fight song — listen here.
I’ll help you — check out my coaching & classes.
Posts on resuming a Minnesota life after 19 years in Washington
Sometimes you have to run far, far away to find your way home.
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Thank you, Gene — Oles are a special bunch! 🙂