Takk for Alt

Christmas is upon us, a time of great joy for some and of some darkness for others. While this person celebrates, that person mourns. Most of us, I suspect experience a bit of both, thinking on those whose presences have graced our tables in times past but do so no more. I find myself thinking of my parents at Christmas. They are now gone but still present in important ways. Strangely, this last little while I have found myself thinking about my father’s mother, my Norwegian farmor. I never knew her, her having died some years before my birth. But I have heard bits and pieces about her, too few.

She was raised in Norway and came to the USA for a marriage that produced one son. Her first husband died in an accident, I was told, and she came to Canada to take up a business opportunity at Milk River in Alberta, where she met my grandfather – my farfar – who was homesteading a piece of land. They went through hard times, raising a family of 8 through the depression of the mid-20th century, losing a child and scratching out a living with little luxury. She died in her early 70s, I’ve heard. When I was visiting a cousin in Newfoundland, I ate at her table and was glad for that experience. That cousin has memories of farmor. I have none.

And so, I wonder why she is on my mind these days. How can someone I never knew take up residence in the “kingdom of memory,” a phrase used by Elie Wiesel? How is it that farmor commands my attention? I really have no answer for this question but am glad for her presence in absence.

Christians speak sometimes of the experience of presence in absence, feeling God acutely in those moments when we feel most godforsaken. Many of us see that evidenced in the life of Jesus, especially on the cross, where he quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Scholars remind us that sometimes the first verse of a psalm was a kind of aide de memoire, invoking the whole of the psalm. In the case of Psalm 22, then, we are reminded that the same person who laments at the beginning of the psalm also said in verse 24: “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; God did not hide the divine face from me, but heard when I cried to God.”

There is something right-headed about the fact that the psalmist both laments and praises God’s absence and presence in the same psalm, I think. From one psalm comes both praise and lament. In like fashion, from one heart comes both lament and praise, both doubt and faith. And from all of us comes an ache for a wholeness that is all-inclusive. Maybe that is why I’ve been thinking on farmor these days. Deep in my bones is the desire to be whole, and whole includes holding the hands of all who have suffered for my well-being, for my little successes, and for my great joys. My blood pulses with a desire to say thank-you, and this desire has taken shape in a thought, a thinking on a woman I never knew but whom I know to be a part of me. And so, on this Christmas time, I say to farmor “Takk, farmor, takk for alt.” And to all of my readers, I say thanks for journeying with me in 2018. You will hear from me again in the month of Janus, the wolf who stands at the door of the New Year.

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11 thoughts on “Takk for Alt

  1. Wayne Bowles says:

    Thanks, my father’s mother died in 1940, 8 years before I was born, she was buried at a little cemetery near, Clyde Alberta, I visit the grave sometimes. 🙂

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks Wayne. That’s a nice way to respect and remember your Grandmother. Alas, I am a few too many provinces away for that gesture! I’ll have to come up with another… Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

  2. shoreacres says:

    It’s odd. I grew up among my father’s people: Swedish immigrants with six children. Grandpa had been a coal miner, and refused to allow any of his sons to work in the mine. We visited my them nearly every week, and I spent time every summer with them — as well as with my aunts and uncles.

    On the other hand, my mother’s mother died when mom was only sixteen. Mom raised her siblings, and her father and two of her three sisters died when I was quite young. Still, I know more about my maternal grandmother and the various greats and great-greats than I know of the people I lived among. Part of it’s research, but part is due to a felt affinity that in some way has made that maternal, Irish line more ‘real’ to me.

    When I remember family at Christmas, it’s my parents and my father’s family I think of. But when think of those I’d most like to meet for an afternoon’s conversation, they all are people I’ve never met from my mother’s side. In both cases, presence and absence are so mixed together, it’s hard to know which is which.

    What is sure is that it’s Christmas! Best wishes to you as you gather with your families of every sort, and best wishes for the New Year!

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for the well wishes. Yes, the absence and presence are powerfully entwined, palpable sometimes it seems. I suppose different contexts, different needs, different memories all call to mind this person or that. I mostly find it helpful, although sometimes it is a bit painful to know that I never got to know someone who has shaped me in diverse ways…

  3. Denise Hisey says:

    This is such a beautiful analogy…and I can relate to the sensation and curiosity of having a connection with family I never met. My great grandmother holds a special place in my “memory” too. I have some photos of her and I often wish I could have met her and talked with her. She also went through the Depression with little comforts. Thanks for sharing this story. and I hope the holidays are joyful for you and your family.

  4. Elsie Millerd says:

    Thank you for this perspective on our unmet relatives in our “kingdom of memories”. My grandfather Fryer (my father’s father) has been with me this month. He died long before I was born but as I reflect on what I have learned of him, I desire to feel more connected., Also, on my mind has been my grandmother Fryer’s father who likely was instrumental in my grandparents’ meeting. He was a devoted servant of God who taught teenage boys in Sunday School and then mentored them as they went out into the world. As I read your reflections, I am thinking that we all stand on his shoulders of faith. Now I will continue to pray for the wholeness that these connections can bring.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for commenting Elsie! “Being with me” is how I would name my experience of the “memory” of my farmor too. The desire is quite powerful, as I can sense in your words. It sounds like your great-grandfather was a remarkable person. We do, indeed, stand on the shoulders of these people of faith. A blessed Christmas time and New Year to you and yours!!

  5. Beautiful, A. She sounds amazing, and I know that we, so “prone to convenience”, as put by Dr. Joe Dispenza, have lost a measure of her fortitude. We don’t need to live in the past, but it is always wonderful to be inspired by it. Happy new year.

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