June 25, 2003

Beginning of the Road

by Dane Sorensen

The pace of life varies over the course of time. As a teenager, I thought it would take forever to grow up. As a parent it seems my kids grew-up too fast. During our time on earth we change course in so many ways. Aging is always changing us. One door closes and another opens. During all these changes some friends are lost along the way. It is easy to lose track. Friends in high school lose touch by going to different colleges. College friends lose touch by heading off to different jobs in different locations. Even a small town like Ely has its share of lost friendships. If every graduate from Ely Memorial High School still lived in Ely we would be a town of at least 10,000 people.

With increasing age I have come to the point in my life where I regret some of those lost friendships. The nice thing about the present is that you can use it to change the past.

When I was a Senior in High School we had an AFS student from Switzerland. He came from a small town outside of Bern. He played the Cello. He was a very smart chap with a keen sense of humor. He liked truth and was not afraid of shaking his life up.

Being an AFS student is one way to shake up your life. Imagine going to a foreign country where you discover they speak ever so much faster than what you learned in school and used slang your English teacher never even hinted at. It must be very confusing. As confusing as trying to learn math, science, and other subjects with all their own technical jargon in a foreign language. Unless I was lucky enough to be sent to England, I do not think I would last a week. Yet this is what AFS students do all the time. By the end of the year they often have a better understanding of English than some of your fellow classmates who just want to hang out in the park and smoke cigarettes.

My Swiss friend was called Rod Bernet. That is an anglicized name, different from his native Switzerland. I remember when I visited him in Switzerland in 1973 he was often called Rudi. He also told me his formal name was Roderic. So that gave me three variations of his name. I did not really know the exact spelling for two of them.

Thus when I tried about a year and a half ago to track him down via the Internet, I failed miserably. The Internet is a great tool for research but if you don't have the correct spelling a search engine is useless. You can't find Ely, MN if you spell it Eli. It is only when I tried about three months ago to search under the term "Thun, cello, Bernet" that I found him. In his Swiss world he is called Ruedi Bernet. It listed him under a web site that had a list of music teachers. He was not only a teacher, but the Headmaster of a large music high school in Thun.

I sent him the following short email on April 4: "Greetings Herr Bernet, This may be a mistake, but were you an AFS student in Wayzata, Minnesota in the 1970s? If so, you may remember Dane Sorensen. Please email me if you are this person. Regards, Dane Sorensen Ely, MN."

To my surprise a few days later I received this email; "Hiii Dane, you got it right, the hell knows how, though... It is a supreme and wonderful surprise to hear from you! Is it 28 years, maybe 29 years ago or so, since you were in Spiez?" Rod actually sent a very long email. His math was off - it has been 30 years.

Like me, he admitted that he had lost a lot of threads of his past life. "I am nothing of a decent writer or record keeper nor dealing with my past, which has the really negative effect of me loosing all threads to people which I emotionally cared for and maybe still do..."

I don't blame Rod for losing track of me. After all, I did it too. We were both busy guys. We both found a wonderful lady to marry. I had three daughters, he had four sons. We pursued our work to make ends meet. We both raised our children the best we could.

Now this August, I am returning to Switzerland to catch up on 30 years of what a good person has done with the best part of his life. I will be able to meet his mother again - she is 80. I will see Christine who was just a "good friend" back in 1973. Obviously, she had better plans for Rod than he knew.

The one thing I was a little nervous about - and this seems almost embarrassing to mention - is how much Rod has changed in 30 years. By that I mean physically changed. I remember him as being about 6 feet tall and skinny as a rail - about what I used to look like. Since the first of the year I have lost about 50 pounds, but that does not even put me close to the 160 pounds I weighed back in the 70's. Most Europeans are thinner than us Burger Kinged Americans. I honestly worried about looking like a bloated whale in comparison to his trim mountaineering physique.

Luckily, that anxiety is over. I found a slide of Rod and his future wife that I took in 1973 and scanned it into my computer and sent it to Rod. I thought he would get a kick out of seeing a photo he has probably has never seen. It did bring a smile, and a confession that "I increased in weight at least 20% and lost about 40% hair." Sounds like if I need to borrow a sports coat while in Switzerland Rod will have one that fits. I think my relief was based on "misery loves company" than by anything else.

I know there are others in my life that I have lost contact with. I hope Rod will be the first of many whom I can find and restart a long forgotten friendship. Raising a family is a time consuming job, but as my crop of children go off to start their lives it gives me a chance to pay attention to my life. Perspective is an interesting idea. Our perspective changes as we age. It is good and important to have ties to both our past and to our present. Restarting friendships is a good way to do that. So dig out those old yearbooks and log onto Google. I wish you the best of luck in your search.


Dane and Ruedi after thirty some years.


     Return to Index of Beginning of the Road Column