Erling Larsen from Norway is the winner of the 1997 Nishkian Essay Contest. Mrs. Nishkian sponsors the annual contest which challenges residents to describe their International House experiences. Excerpts from his essay follow.

A Resident Crosses His Tracks
by Erling Larsen

One day fifty years from now, you will find an old photo album and recollect vaguely voices and high-pitched laughter from a far away time. Gently, you will wipe away the dust. You will be an old man then, having lived and having seen life.

International House, 1996-1997 greets you at the front page of the album. Sitting in the cold northern corner of the world, with your house packed in fierce white snow, you remember the Californian sun boiling your neck as you sat outside sharing lunch with fellow residents. The easy laughter. High-spirited enthusiasm. It comes back to you and it is a spark to a warm glow of fond memories that fires up inside you.

You contemplate the path you chose and the reasons you had for following it. Pivotal points. These are the points where you chose the colors of your life. The year at I-House was one of those pivotal points. You met there some of the finest brains of your life. You had some of the deepest discussions you can ever remember. You saw there a diversity of personalities unequaled ever after.

You flip through the pages and see pictures from Sunday Suppers. Elegant Indian dancers. Master piano player. The noise of the Dining Hall. Smiles and tears. Buoyant story-tellers. You understand as you go through your dust-filled album that life is mostly about people. You cherish your trophies, you are proud of your publication list, you love the firm you founded. However, you know that what you couldn't have done without are the words you heard and the eyes you met. The group at I-House was unique and that year was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It all forced you to examine yourself and your own standards. You remade your goals, you adjusted your ideals. You entered I-House as part of one culture and left it as some kind of world citizen. You remember the time at I-House as one of bright optimism based on an impatient urge to change the world for the better. You entered that House as a young person with a young mind and left as a wiser person with a fresher mind!

You visit an old room in your heart: You whisper her name. You cross your tracks and you see that for a while there were two pairs of footprints and that they had long, eager strides up Centennial Drive. You bow your head and expand your chest and you let the memory of her glow and burn.

You sigh and feel heavily old for a second. That House! Still a magnet to your heart. You miss desperately the intense feelings. The uncertainty of what was to come. Possibilities. But also, you feel content. Complete. Not everybody got to be an I-House resident, but you did. You were there. It unveiled paths you didn't know of, some of which you walked down.

So, as the wings of your mind cruise over fond landscapes, your little granddaughter sneaks up upon you. She pinches the sleeve of your shirt and takes your hand. For some invaluable seconds this act fools your mind -- still in the twentieth century -- the act triggers up memories of other hands seeking yours. At a Sunday Supper fifty years ago, under the table where nobody saw. You remember the cascades of inward tickling you felt. Then you realize that at I-House not only had you witnessed a miniature world but also you had felt the touch of a hand from another continent over vast distances and differences.

With a glimpse of ingenuity you get the magic of it. Inter is the Latin word for in between. It hints at from one to another. National represents each unit, the individual bricks. House is the proud product. The sum of it all. And you know that you kept that sensation, initiated by the hand from far away, with you all the time. In that spirit, you look down and return to your granddaughter's puzzled, but curious face.

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