Joy and heartache at the Värttinä concert

Here's a shot of me and Paavo, one year ago exactly, on the shores of the Baltic Sea during our family trip to Finland and Sweden. As many of you know, I'm Finnish and my wife Dawn is Swedish, and as we get older we both feel increasingly deep and powerful connections to our ancestral homelands. In the past month I've had an ache in my heart/soul for those places so far from Midwest USA. My mind keeps reflecting on where we were a year ago at this time, and the indescribable feeling of "rightness" that we both had while visiting our relatives and walking around those towns, breathing that air.

Tonight I got to revel in my Finnish-ness in a thrilling and unusual way. The critically acclaimed Finnish folk band Värttinä (their new record is out on Peter Gabriel's Realworld label) had a show in Minneapolis this evening, and since my cousin Carl-Kristian Rundman is friends with the band's guitarist Antto Varilo (check out this picture of me and Annto taken a few hours ago), I got on the guest list for the show. I'd seen the band and met Antto when they played here back in 2003, so I knew the concert was going to be amazing. Of course, the music tonight was awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping and spine-tingling (even though the crowd reaction was considerably more reserved than it was 3 years ago). For me, though, intermingled with the rush of hearing such passionate and exquisite musicianship, I struggled with this recurring feeling of heartbreak and loss.

I feel like it sounds stupid when I write it, and when I talk about it, but that's the best way to describe it. I feel homesick for a country where I've never lived. It's been 100 years since my great-grandparents boarded the boat in Vasa and sailed across the Atlantic to start a new life in the United States of America, but down in my bones I feel like for some reason I belong back over there instead.

A month or so ago my Pastor, Carol Mork, preached a sermon based on the Old Testament lesson of the day from the book of Jeremiah, and in the text Jeremiah was addressing the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon. As she put the lesson in context, Pastor Carol said something that has stayed with me every day since: "There is nothing like the sorrow of a people in exile, unable to return to their home." Initially when I heard it, I thought "No way...there are kinds of sorrow much worse than that...the loss of a family member, the collapse of a relationship, etc." But as I've stewed about it, I think that Pastor Carol might be right. It's a different kind of loss than an inter-personal one. It's a wider more communal kind of loss. I think about it when I hear about all those people driven out of Darfur, or when I consider all the Iraqis who've been forced to leave for a neighboring country. Of course, these examples are much more "life and death" situations than my own strange exile from Finland, but 100 years ago my Great-grandfather was in a "life and death" situation, and it drove him to leave his homeland and move to America...he left to escape forced service and/or imprisonment and/or death by the occupying Russian army. So maybe I've got some residual "exile" feelings throughout my genetic code or something.

As I drove home I thought about all the Finnish-Americans packing that room at the sold-out Värttinä concert. When I walked in the room, I felt like hugging everybody, even though I didn't know any of them (although I recognized the cashier from the FinnStyle store who was sitting in my aisle) was like being at some weird yet wonderful family reunion. And it seemed like we all knew it. And all of our immigrant ancestors have deep and hidden stories of loss and heartbreak and longing for our Finnish past. Our fore-fathers/mothers sailed across that ocean leaving their parents, children, spouses, friends behind, some who they never saw again. And we all tap into those needs and feelings by showing up at concerts like this, wearing our Suomi hats and t-shirts, and immersing ourselves in this mysterious and delightful music. And for a few hours it's like the Spirits of our Grandparents dance along with us and we're all finally "at home" together.

So tonight I'm thankful for a great night of powerful music and for a chance to visit with Antto who will bring my greetings in person back to my Finnish cousins in Helsinki. And I've got a son named "Paavo" and a daughter named "Svea" and the hope that they too will appreciate this strange connection we have to the shores of the Baltic Sea, up over the top of the globe from where we are in Minneapolis USA.


Bridget Delaney said…
It's good to feel a connection to one's origins, I think.

I always feel quite strange as all I really know is that I'm mainly German and then Lithuanian (and I know the rest of the names of what ancestry I have), but I don't know anything about my ancestors.

My grandfather's parents came to America from Lithuania is what I think it is (my grandfather was never certain and so we don't really know), my grandmother on my mom's side was somehow German, and then somewhere from my dad's side, people came from Germany - his great great grandmother spoke only German and died when he was five.

Yeah, I know, and I've got Irish names!

Stein Auf!

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