When I first began to think about living on another continent, far away from our families and friends, it did occur to me that we would probably miss out on a lot of things over the years. It wasn’t pleasant to think about, but seemed like it might be something we would just get used to and learn to accept. Last year, when we lived in Taiwan, our friend Brian got married and I realized then that this might just be (emotionally) one of the most difficult things about living half way around the world. The weight of missing his wedding impacted me far more than I had expected or prepared myself for.
I started to write this post then, but just couldn’t. I felt like I needed more time to process it…hoping, I guess, that I might be able to wrap my thoughts into a neat little package that explains how one goes about getting used to and accepting that we really are going to miss BIG things (and small, but still precious things) in the lives of those that we love from afar. Six months later, I’m no closer to having that neatly packaged explanation.
This past week I thought about it even more as a double-dose of emotional shock washed over me. First, with the birth of Miriam, Ryan and Tami’s daughter and the first grand-baby on Joel’s side of the family. And later in the week, with the wedding of my dear friend Alisha. These are the kind of events that we would never dream of missing. And yet we have.
My friend (and Starbucks Angel), Meredith, recently posted the following on her blog. She has applied to join the Peace Corps for two years and was writing to a relative to explain how she feels about it at this point:
“…it does seem a little crazy to me at times that I would want to pick up and move to another country for not just one, but two whole years. To be completely honest, there have been times when I’ve considered calling the PC office and asking them to rip up my application. But I don’t think it’s because I’m really scared to go…I definitely have fears…what if I can’t learn the language, what if I commit every cultural taboo there is and turn everyone against me, what if I’m terrible at the job, what if I don’t know enough to even do the job, what if I don’t know enough about world events for the PC to even want me. But even more than fearing what will happen over there (where ever there turns about to be) I also fear what will happen here at home. More specifically, what will I be missing out on? What will my family and friends be doing that I won’t get to join in? Why would I want to leave them for two years?”
I made the following comment in response to her post. Complete, neat, and concise it isn’t (even though I DID edit it for length)…but maybe it will be at least a small window into the thoughts I’ve been trying to process:
Nice post, Meredith. And really poignant for me. Partially because I’ve had, still have, and am in the midst of most of the fears you mentioned …The whys and whats are never ending…and often difficult to quantify.
However some parts of the cost are much easier to count…especially in weeks like this, when Joel’s brother and his wife have just had their first baby and an amazing friend is getting married on Saturday. It’s not that I don’t want to be here…but some parts of me wish that things in the States would remain on hold for the 2, 10, 15, 25 or however many years I’m going to be here…and that I would never have to miss out on anything in the lives of those that I love.
And so I’m living in the midst of a bittersweet tension…joy at the thought of new life and a new marriage, and sadness because my participation in these events is limited to what I can type or say from a distance. And the realization that this is only the beginning and that there will probably be many more events about which I will feel this way.
Would I really want things to remain on hold? No. I guess not…after all, I want my friends and family to continue growing, maturing, journeying, flourishing. And even though much of me wishes I could see all of those things, I’m also starting to realize that had I stayed at home I would’ve never known some of the joys and struggles of life here (which I’m only beginning to know now). How many people’s journeys will I get to be a part of from here? What of their lives would I never see if I were elsewhere? And, what growth (in myself) would I miss out if I weren’t here? …Obviously those questions are impossible to answer.
I ended my comment by telling her that she wouldn’t regret the choice to go and said that “Even in the midst of this week’s fresh realizations about what I’m missing out on, I still don’t regret it.”
And that is true. I don’t regret the choice to come here, but I do wish that we could somehow be present for these important moments as well. Obviously, the birth of a child or a wedding are not about us, and not about our presence or absence. I’ve even wondered, is it just extremely self-centered to be thinking so much about how WE can’t be there? It’s not like our absence sucks all the joy out of the event by any means (for which I am VERY thankful!).
At this point, I think I have grown used to the idea that living here means that there are things elsewhere that we miss. However, I’m not entirely certain that I’ll ever really be used to or fully accept the way that it FEELS to miss out on these important moments in the lives of our family and friends. When it comes down to it…no matter how happy we are here, or how certain we are that this is where we should be…there’s really no substitute for being there. And even though I still don’t have a neatly tied package explaining how we’re supposed to handle this, I think I’m growing more comfortable with living in the midst of the bittersweet tension. Part of this is the realization that it would be far worse to be so used to it that we don’t miss anything or anyone, and don’t feel like we’re really missing out. And part of it is the realization that we really do miss people and that we really are, in some important ways, missing out.