Two years ago I was living in Finland. In October, 2009 I moved back to the United States.
I moved to the area in southwest Virginia where I grew up. Suddenly, this spring I found myself unemployed and came back to Finland where my old job waited for me.
There is something I have noticed in all this moving around. Nothing changes much.
When I moved about 30 miles from Roanoke, the city where I spent my childhood, I drove over there occasionally for nostalgia reasons. I called Roanoke my living history museum.
In all my traveling around town, I noticed only one big difference. In my lifetime a large bank building has been built in the center of town.
The rest of the place looks the same. My house and the houses of my cousins and friends are still there and look pretty much the same. They’re just 40 years older!
The star on Mill Mountain overlooking Roanoke still sits there. It dominated the skyline in my younger days.
The yellow Catholic Church is still in place. So is the Hotel Roanoke, a Tudor structure which I got to spend a weekend in last year for the first time.
The only real difference in town is that the main shopping is no longer at Crossroads Mall, the first shopping mall of its kind in Virginia. There is now a huge mall over on I-581 near the airport.
I have had a chance to observe my new/old surroundings in Lappeenranta, Finland in the week or so that I have been here. There are little or no ch-ch-ch-changes.
I still drink coffee with the same colleagues I did two years ago. One little change is the mud they serve in the cafeteria is amazingly 5 cents cheaper.
The same bus drivers tool around town. Even the passengers are the same.
Yesterday, the same old guy that used to ride downtown from my neighborhood to take his daily constitutional by the harbor was one the bus. He looks the same.
All the local merchants are still in place. The video store I frequented last decade doesn’t even look like they have changed their selection.
Two years ago a major Wal-Mart type store was going to move from the downtown to the suburbs. It’s still downtown.
When I go to the harbor, the same ferries still take tourists out to the islands and the Saimaa canal. Even the spraying fountain is still shooting water into the sky.
The little carnival with its sand scultptures still operates on the harbor boardwalk. Only the theme of the sculptures has changed.
In the summer of 2009, there was a cowboys and Indians theme. This year, the motif had to do with the circus.
My favorite is the sculpture of the man putting his head in a lion’s mouth. There’s also a pretty nifty one of a sitting elephant, also.
The only difference I have even noticed is the planting of bus stops on the road I used to walk to work on. The bus used to turn right down a side street. Now it just goes straight to my workplace.
I think the main thing that has changed in two years is me. I can’t remember a lot of my Finnish.
I have been doing the paper chase, getting myself “official” here, so I get to practice. I have learned that a man’s identity is wrapped up in how many plastic cards he has in his wallet and how many keys he has in his pocket. I have just exchanged cards and keys.
I am sure I am a different person than was here two years ago. Whether I have grown or regressed is for others to judge.
One thing I do know, is I hope to grow from my own personal change. The places may not change much, but I want to be a different person one year from now.
As David Bowie wrote in his song “Changes”, I’ve been down a million dead end streets, and it seemed the taste was not so sweet. But now I have turned myself to face me. And God,