Sunday, January 06, 2008

looking back

How do you regard your past? Most of the time, this is a ridiculous question. You recall moments, they’re good, they’re bad, you move on.

At other times, it’s a challenge.

When I travel back to Warsaw, I almost always ask myself this: what if I had never left? It was chance, really, that brought me to the States. I could have stayed in Warsaw. I almost stayed.

When I am in Poland, it is as if I had decided to stay. Here I am. Walking streets that are my daily route – I know the way the sidewalk concrete aligns itself in this block, I know the store that closes early on this corner.

It’s a desolate feeling, because it is not populated with the people I love – those in the States – so there’s that. I feel alone in Poland, even as it seems very much home.

Now, I imagine this is not unique to the “immigrant” who returns to the old country. Presumably if you lived all your young life in, say Columbus Ohio (is that middle America?) and then move away, but you go back at an advanced age (am I at an advanced enough age?) you feel alone. Yes, most certainly. But do you still think of Columbus Ohio as home? I mean, in the States, isn’t “home” a transferable concept?

There is no way that my Warsaw years can be picked up and transferred here. The people of Warsaw do not think and feel in the way that people in Columbus Ohio (or New York, or Chicago or Madison – the towns of my American existence) think and feel. They just don’t.

But, at the same time, I have chosen to put distance between myself and that world. I am removed from it because I want to be removed from it. No one forced me to give it up. I did it because people here drew me to their world. And I stayed.

Except when I go back. In Poland, I am not American, I am in all essential ways Polish, because, well, I grew up there.

Too foggy for you? Yes, of course. It has to be that way. As yesterday, I was thinking of all this as I was walking to the grocery store late in the afternoon. The fog in Madison was so dense that all the time I was contemplating this photo, I believed that I was watching a man walking his dog.

004 copy

I was wrong. There was a man. And there was a fire hydrant. And they were not together and he was not walking the fire hydrant. Things get complicated on foggy afternoons.