Traveling long term entails experiencing the highest highs and the lowest lows as anyone who has done it knows or understands as a follower of travel writing. We’ve returned home twice in the past year of being abroad and undoubtedly if we could, we would have returned more often. Seeing our family and friends only twice in one year? We’re too close with our family for that to be anywhere even bordering sufficient. Still, I do believe it’s good for individuals to pull themselves away from the comforts of home to focus on themselves for an extended period of time because it builds a type of strength, character, and understanding that may be difficult to achieve otherwise.
That can be hard to do at first, but to be perfectly honest, it gets easier. As the days pass by without being with loved ones back home, the ache of missing them progressively eases. I like that relief, but I hate that I like do. Even so, how can you really appreciate being abroad if all you want to do is go back home? So as that longing-for-family weight lifts from my bones, I travel a little lighter and in turn see my destinations a little deeper. I feel just terrible to admit that, but I can’t believe how easy it has been to slip into the traveling life and now the living-abroad life. I feel like we just deposited ourselves right into Madrid and it’s a perfect fit. It makes me not want to move back ‘home’ anytime soon. Believe me, if I could visit my family every weekend… well I wouldn’t really because I love my weekends in Spain, but it would be quite often I dare say! However, that’s just not a feasible task even with Auston’s ability to get us round the world tickets for less than $300 each. We just can’t fly home as often as we want.
Acknowledging that has me thinking of all the important things long term travelers and expats living abroad must miss while they’re discovering all the destinations their affinity for travel leads them. Busy writing about the festivals they’ll attend this summer, waking early to capture the best photos of Machu Picchu, racing through bus terminals to catch the one out of Uruguay, sleeping on overnight trains through Europe, volunteering with with organizations in Ghana, and all the various, unforgettable, and sometimes plain stupid things travelers get themselves into. I think with a life as such, it’s hard to not get caught up in it, consumed by it, forgetting to check in with everyone back home who are continuing on with their own life adventures however contrasted they may be.
Since leaving the US thirteen months ago we’ve missed countless birthdays, holidays, and family gatherings, quite a few graduations, farewell celebrations, weddings, and as I am heartbroken to hear this week, we will be missing a funeral. These events are life altering, sacred milestones, accomplishments, tragedies. They are moments to be shared with family in joy, in mourning, in love. No matter the occasion, the moment itself brings people together and is a reminder of everyone upon whom you can rely when most needed.
We have missed so many of these moments and it pains us deeply. Of course even if we lived in the United States we couldn’t make it to everything because no one can. But as we add up the life transactions that we’ve missed and will continue to miss while we’re gone I can feel nothing but guilt and regret. How can I possibly reconcile it? As my best friend graduated from law school this week I wrote her an email essentially trying to appease my remorse for not being there for her.
“It really kills me to be missing this.” I sheepishly wrote. “It's something I'll never get to undo, but it is what it is.”
How could I make up for this? Another postcard? A gift? A phone call? The options all seem so unsatisfying. I was supposed to be there to cheer her on, to shout in praise as her name was announced and to wait my turn to embrace her afterwards. But as I sit here on this bus in Spain all I can do is imagine all the friends and family that were there to do so.
It is not just about the ‘grand’ life changing moments either. I called my older sister today and she was filling me in on some of the big things going on with our family at the moment. Later in the conversation I asked about her three kids and she gave that small sigh of “oh they're my rambunctious kids as always”. Then as she recalled the talent show her daughter was in, she inhaled deeply with delight to inform me that my niece had sung a song on stage for her performance. Though she tried to play it down a little by saying that she had done it not alone but with a friend, she could not hide her pride as it seeped through her voice to be received on my end of the phone while I sat on the floor of a hostel in Córdoba charging my computer before catching a bus to Seville. My niece sang at her school’s talent show and I wasn’t there to see it.
Life’s important moments can be substantial events, but some of the most crucial are the small ones too. To be honest, I don’t really know how to make up for not being there for them all. I know I’m not the only one to miss them either. Whether you’re traveling the world, staying late at the office, or cramming for finals we all have our reasons for missing the important things now and again. I suppose it’s just an unfortunate attribute of life. We are supposed to be there to support our friends and family, but as individuals must follow our dreams too. Sometimes it’s just not possible to do both. Of course support can be shown in many different ways. You don’t always have to be physically present. Still to me, it’s the one that means the most; to take a moment away from your life to focus on someone else’s. I may have missed my niece’s song at her talent show, but I’ll just have to be at her next dance recital or softball game and though I missed my best friend’s graduation, I’ll be at her wedding or simply there to have a drink at the end of a rough day of work.
I’ll be there for things I can be there for and that’s the only thing I can focus on for now to ease my heavy feelings. Oh, of course wine helps too.