Dave and I have been traveling for nine months now, and we’ve been in Europe for seven. We’ve missed family and friends, longed for Tex-Mex and sometimes even been nostalgic for our old jobs in Glasgow, Ky., but I have never had a moment in which I wished I were back in the U.S., until about three weeks ago.
A good friend of mine was dying. Stage 4 cancer, and I didn’t even know until it was so close to the end that I couldn’t send a card to him in the hospital, or anything. I couldn’t call him. I have never felt so helpless.
Most people wonder how I cope with missing the happy times–birthdays, holidays, my little brother Ryan’s upcoming college graduation and my cousin Stephen’s wedding. I never know how to respond without sounding like a jerk who doesn’t care about being there for her family, but honestly, missing the happy times isn’t that hard. Sure, I want to watch my brother walk across the stage. I really want to see my cousin get married, and enjoy that massive celebration with the rest of the family. But I know they don’t need me to be there. My cousin’s wedding is going to be stunning without me in the pews. My brother is going to get that diploma, and then continue with his master’s classes and even look at PhD programs, without needing me in the arena on graduation day. Things like graduations and weddings and births are so full of joy, how can I cloud such a happy event with even an ounce of sadness? I simply refuse to associate sadness with the fact that Ryan is getting a bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics, a subject so complicated I couldn’t even help him proofread a paper during his first semester.
My location an ocean away in joyful situations simply means that the joy is spread that much further. It’s different when something sad happens.
If Ron had gotten sick a year earlier, I would have visited him in the hospital. I would have given him hugs. I would have written a card. And I would have been at his funeral. When he went to the hospital mere days before he died, if I had been anywhere in the U.S., I still could have sent him a card that would have arrived in time.
Fortunately, this lovely thing called the Internet, and social media, brings us all together easily. I was able to send my messages to Ron through his relatives whom I’d never met, via Facebook. I e-mailed them some photos, and Ron was able to look at them on an iPad in his hospital bed. It made my first loss of a close friend a teeny, tiny bit more bearable.
Just as I begin to be sad that I am an ocean away from nearly everyone I love, I remember all the things I am able to do from abroad that I’d probably never bother doing if I were in the States. A few nights ago, I talked to my older brother on Skype for more than an hour. We never would have done that when we were simply living in different states. I’ve played with my baby niece in her crib, thanks to the iPad and FaceTime. Dave and I write our niece postcards from everywhere we go, and she will have those forever. She wouldn’t have those handwritten notes from us if we didn’t travel. While in England, I’ve also been able to resurrect a previously damaged friendship through Facebook messages–we now write to each other almost daily, and are closer than we’ve been in years.
I suppose it all comes down to perspective. I may miss some important moments, but I’ll keep sending my love and joy across the ocean, and I’ll continue to celebrate the love and joy I find in this new life in England.