With the sails full and the seas calm, we could talk easily as the boat cut across the shallow waters between the characteristically eastern Norwegian islands. Nina and I sat on the bow while the others crowded in the open stern around the wheel. The light breeze left a deepening chill, but the cool evening air was refreshing enough that we didn’t care. We watched the brightly lit islands float slowly and peacefully by as we shared a moment of silence to revel in the view.
“So you really don’t want to stay here?” Nina asked to break the silence.
I smiled silently and hung my head. I’ve gotten the same question half a dozen times since I returned to Tønsberg for WindSim’s annual user meeting. “I never said I didn’t want to stay here. I would love to. But I know I need to go back,” I tried to explain courteously.
“But how can you go back if you want to stay here?” She pressed, confused by my contradictory answer.
I paused for a moment as I considered the most concise way to explain my confused position. “I would absolutely love to stay here, and I definitely will be back, but right now, I just wouldn’t be comfortable hiding out in my little Scandinavian paradise while there’s so much work to be done back in the US.”
Tomorrow ends my stay in Norway for what will probably be a period best measured in years. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit sad. I have absolutely loved my time here, and unless I discover some new part of the world that attracts me more (and there’s plenty left to explore), I will find a way to be in Norway more permanently at some point in the future.
However, that future is not yet here because the truth is that I want to go back more than I want to stay. I don’t want the uncomfortable reintegration into my home state. I don’t want the ultra conservatism that permeates so much of American culture. I don’t want the automobile infrastructure that defines American cities. I don’t want the ignorance, the cockiness, or the laziness that I find so hard to escape.
But I also don’t want the guilt. I don’t want the weight hanging over my head of the knowledge that I could be doing more. I don’t want the shame of having abdicated yet another responsibility.
I do want the opportunity to make a difference. I do want the feeling that I’m contributing to the best of my ability to the solution to a problem that will define the future of our species.
Every time I face the question, “Why don’t you want to stay here?”, the ceasefire of the war inside me breaks down again. However, despite the continually recurring opportunities to make an excuse to stay, my rational mind wins out with the argument that I won’t be truly happy here. At least not yet.