I’ve always liked the cold, but this was different. The year was 2004, and December was cold and exceptionally dark in Sandgerdi, Iceland. I had traveled there with my family following the death of my grandmother, Gudridur Bergmann, to visit Fuglavik Farm, her childhood home. Icelandic for “Bird Bay,” the farm was named for the Eider ducks that resided on the farm’s ponds. Looking over the hilly fields of the family farm towards the ocean, I became lost in thoughts of my grandmother from those early years. I pictured her collecting the down feathers that the Eiders left behind, feathers that the Bergmans would sell at a local market. I couldn’t hide in those memories, however, as reality in all of its starkness would find me; much like the sobering winter wind catches you off guard when you step out the door. I tried to close my eyes and convince myself that I was visiting for other reasons, but I couldn’t. My grandmother was dead, and I felt very alone. I shuddered and took strength in remembering her courage.
Courage, in my eyes, was what defined her. She married my grandfather, a US soldier stationed in Iceland, in 1946 and, with the war over, they planned to return to America. They flew separate flights. My grandfather was supposed to follow her on a military plane two hours after she took off, but complications arose and his flight was delayed. She was left to face America without the one American she knew – for two whole months. Two months. My time in Iceland was far shorter, but I faced it without the only Icelander I knew.
As Icelandair Flight 658 lifted off later that week from Keflavik’s seemingly barren runway, I was intrigued by the notion that I was leaving Iceland on an airplane, much like my grandmother had done over sixty years ago. Except I wasn’t heading to some foreign country, I was going home; home to my friends and family; home to face the second half of my senior year; to face Duke University in the fall. Thinking back, it never occurred to me that I would leave behind that very home I had become so fond of, and I would leave it for good. People live their lives in the past, to some extent, or at least I had been. As time passed and as I grew older, things changed; relationships with my other family members matured and, although I was content with how things were going, part of me always felt that one day, no matter what happened, things would go back to the way they were.
Back in Iceland, I remember thinking myself foolish for trying to compare my experience with that of my grandmother. Not until the following year did I see that our experiences had a lot more in common than I would ever have guessed. Embarking on our respective journeys, we would be leaving our homes, the things we knew and loved, for good. At the time, however, she had the courage to accept the fact that she was leaving her home, and was ready to take on her new one. It would take me that first semester my freshman year to discover that I had a new home; that the home I had known for the first eighteen years of my life was no more. It was a figment of the past; there was no going back. What I did from that day forward would affect my future and would eventually determine the next place I would call home.
Three years later, in December of my senior year, I began to seriously consider laws school; yet with this consideration, I realized that I had to make a choice. Entering law school after I graduated would be similar to my first semester at Duke; I was moving on to something entirely new. The home that I had established over the past four years at Duke would erode; if I wanted to go to law school, I had to be sure that I was ready. I had to realize that things would change; what I experienced at Duke, much like what I experienced in the years before that, would be forever inscribed in the my past, but things would never go back to the way they were. Strengthened by the support of my friends, new and old, and my family, combined with the knowledge and experiences I have amassed at Duke, I feel that I am truly ready for this challenge. Moreover, it is a challenge I eagerly await to confront.
With this new sense of hope, it’s as if I am boarding that plane in Keflavik with my grandmother in 1946. She can’t see me of course, but if she could, we would have something special to talk about. As she speaks of the life she will have in America, I talk about the journey ahead of me; the uncertainty, the excitement. She doesn’t know she will have to face the next two months alone, but a distinct glimmer of courage in her eye tells me that she will be okay; that she is ready to face any obstacle life might throw her way. And with this conversation, I realize that I, too, am ready and eager to face the newest chapter in my life. I know law school will be the most challenging experience I have ever faced, but I am not afraid; rather I sit calmly next to my grandmother, and while she watches Fuglavik Farm fade into the distance, I see Duke University, an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, fade as well. As we approach our destination, hers is a certain one, and even though mine is not entirely clear, I call upon the courage that my grandmother passed down to me; the courage that I believe defines me as well, and with a calm and confident mind, I anxiously await what lies ahead.
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