Tag Archives: Family

Meet Me Halfway

It’s a conversation better left un-had and it goes something like this:

“We missed you at the party last night.”
“Yeah, I would have liked to have been there.”
“You could have come.”
“I wasn’t invited.”
“Well, it wasn’t at a time that was really convenient for you anyway.”
“I could have moved things around, or you could have moved the party an hour.”
“We didn’t think you’d want to, and someone else was in charge of organizing. But you should have said something when you found about it.”
“But I wasn’t invited.”
“Don’t worry, it really wasn’t that much fun anyway.”
“Okay.”

The point is not that the party wasn’t fun or that I couldn’t be there. The point is that nobody thought to ask. Nobody in the group of nearly two dozen people in two countries thought that the person farthest away, completely separated from everyone else due to the pandemic, might have wanted to be involved. And even if there was a momentary glimmer of thought, nobody spoke up and nobody asked.

It’s a little bit like the time several years ago when I heard through a friend that another friend was mad at me for not attending her wedding. My response was one of genuine amazement for I hadn’t been invited. Likely, I hadn’t been invited because I live overseas and the wedding was at a time when I could not have feasibly gone. But to be mad at me? If she wanted me to be there, she could have gotten married a month earlier when I was there, just like another friend did. Or she could have invited me and let me work it out. If you’re going to make a choice, at least own the choice.

And likewise, give me the chance to do the same.

A different example: Last November, a friend planned a birthday party over Zoom. She sent me the invitation and wrote, “I know you can’t be there but I wanted to invite you anyway.” I called as she was setting up and wished her a happy birthday and fun party. It really can be that simple to do the good thing.

The issue weighing on my mind is that people don’t think. They don’t think beyond what is immediately in front of them. And I don’t know why.

As a friend said over tea yesterday when I was agonizing over this for the second day in a row, “Just because we think about them all the time doesn’t mean they’re as focused on us.” This seems accurate. Having not seen my family in nearly two years because of the pandemic, and with the need to make decisions about my next move far too soon with so many variables in flux, I think about my family all the time. They are not together in the same place or even the same country, but they have time in common and I do not. This is why I make phone calls before work. This is why I watch the calendar and count hours to get everyone’s birthdays right in their time zone. This is why I send emails just to say hello.

When I first moved overseas, a friend had her watch set for the time in Glasgow, seven hours behind us in Malaysia. I asked why and she said that even after four years of living away, she had never stopped thinking about what her family were doing.

I have never been an adherent of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and I fully understand the power of the contrary. However, I know a little bit about the power of shared experiences. People who spend time together deepen the connections they have with one another. This is among the reasons experiential education brings people together. This is why a late-night conversation is so often a turning point in a friendship or romantic relationship. When we no longer have things in common, it is easier drift apart. Our conversations remain superficial and it is easy to grow disinterested or disengaged. It is already difficult to maintain a sense of connection through text messages, email, and too-short phone calls. It is impossible when we are so used to others not being there that we neglect to include them at all.

It seems fitting here to mention the exceptions. I am very lucky to have friends with whom I can pick up after months of no contact, and it will feel like we last saw each other the day before. This is possible because our relationship was forged through years of shared experiences. In that sense, we have a reserve of togetherness that allows us to maintain close ties. We have done the hard work of becoming and staying friends, and this is significant. The bonds exist because we took the time and energy to build them. Exclusion does not allow for this, and so the cycle continues.

I wonder where this leaves us as humans. Are we so fixated on the present that we are unable to ask questions that look beyond? Are we too focused on feeling good about ourselves to remember that our choices impact others? How is it that we are so certain of our own wants and needs that we fail to consider that the wants and needs of others might differ? And do we make choices along the way that take away others’ ability to make choices of their own?

By no means do I need anyone to make allowances for the fact that I live on a different continent in a very different time zone from all family and many friends. This is an unreasonable onus and I understand that. But is it really so hard to meet me halfway? Is it really so hard to hold out your hand and ask?

Leoben, Austria – January 2020

Home Is

Home is people, not places. Home is joy and laughter and learning and love. In our homes we hold and care for one another, explore the world hand in hand, lift each other up. We can cry together because it means we can grow. We want to understand those around us and we work together to do whatever it is, whatever it takes.

When we’ve made a home, things matter. We, the human beings, matter. You, me, them, all of us, a family.

Home is an idea more than a physical environment. Home is together in security and in friendship. Friends are not born, they are made, and in homes we make choices. We can walk side by side, we can chase one another with glee. We can play. Look at the sunset, look at the trees. Feel the sand, the grass. What a world we can choose to build. What homes we can make.

Homes with an s.

And so they are, by necessity, but also because we dare. Because our hearts and minds grow larger as we live, and our connections to people near and far grow with time. When we are willing to live, to love, to be with others, we find homes. And in living, loving, being we share. We share hopes, dreams, anger, despair. For we are, all of us, mere travellers on this earth.

The idea of home is intrinsically tied with nature. Throughout history, we have navigated by stars, moss on trees, rock formations, sunlight, shadows, wind. Across time and space, people gather around the hearth. We find warmth and conversation around the fire, connection with others, connection with food. Where there is water, there are animals. With animals come people. People plant crops. Shelters are built. More people come. We create communities and in those communities, we make homes.

When all else fails us, the world itself is left.

Yet sometimes, we grow weary. We lose our way. We forget the signs or we search and search and can’t find them. And so we wander, wander in ceaseless patterns that we only recognize once we lie down to rest our minds. We stretch out our hands, pleading, but there’s no one around who sees us.

Yes, sometimes we work and work and are lost. I am searching but I can’t find you. Listening but I can’t hear you.

Breathe. And then.

In the morning, the fog clears. The mist lifts from the endless road, the path, the journey, the adventure. And isn’t it just?

There are mountains in the distance. They sing.

Welcome home.

Doi Inthanon National Park – Chiang Mai, Thailand – January 2018

5781

Tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the Jewish new year. We are celebrating 5781 journeys around the sun. These are 5781 journeys of love and loss, peace and war, fear and joy, hopelessness and solace.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve had such a strange six months that I’m not feeling the familiar ache to be with my family that I usually experience around the High Holy Days. I felt that ache acutely for weeks and weeks and perhaps I’m just accustomed to it now. I think the unprecedented life we’ve all been living is what has actually left me quite calm about my plans to welcome the new year quietly and with reflection rather than attending socially distant religious services in a normally communal environment.

Given everything, it seems fitting to begin a new year taking explicit action at making the world a better place – the world needs it. This is why I decided to go to the blood bank right after school. The queue both inside and at the door indicated that I was not the only one feeling the need to act and it was heartening to be in the company of so many strangers.

As I walked slowly home from the bus stop, I felt the strength of my heartbeat and I felt it working hard. The world needs us to work hard – it will not heal on its own.

As this year flows into the next my wish is, as always, for peace. Peace among friends, among strangers, with the earth, water, and air. And my commitment is to take actions to achieve it. I welcome all to join me.

Shana tovah u’metukah.

Auckland, New Zealand – December 2018