Reflections on my Family Overseas
My wife, Jan, and our daughter Elysa, are in Costa Rica right now. Some students from Elysa’s high school Spanish class went on an organized trip over Spring Break. They are far away from me. I have stayed busy working. But the house is large, and quiet and empty when they are away. It is remarkable how deeply we become intertwined, isn’t it? That we miss voice and touch, embrace and laughter, simple meals and the joys of bedtime. A marriage is a construction of enormous intricacy. It is an organism, filled with connections that sustain it. And parenthood is similar; with the caveat that we share DNA with our offspring. So much of who we are is expressed through the mystery of inheritance in our children. The connections of marriage and parenthood, physical and emotional, even habitual, make abscences difficult at times. When a husband and wife, a father or mother and child, are separate, it is noticeable.
My son, Seth, is in Sydney, Australia for a semester abroad. He has been gone since the end of February. I remember having barbecue with him, then hugging it out as we went our separate ways until June. I know that he is enjoying his time, but he is such a part of me, such a part of his mother and siblings. I see his musical instruments and the books on his shelf, and I miss the sound of his ukulele and the look on his face when he reads intently in the big chair by the fireplace. I miss his bear-hugs and puns and infectious, beard-framed grin.
And yet, these absences are attenuated by technology. We text, almost instantly, across thousands of miles. We can speak, we can hear the reassuring voices of those we love. The embedded connections of our bodies and minds are brought to pulsing life by the wonder of electronic connections across space and (almost instantly now) across time.
I think of our ancestors. How they were separated. They traveled for work, for food, for freedom, for safety. They crossed deserts and mountains, rivers and oceans. And until very recently, those goodbyes were hard as stone. There was no way to call your son in the middle of the Atlantic and say, ‘so, how are things? See you soon!’ You could not text your enslaved wife, your sick daughter (and how would you know anyway?), your embattled husband, who lived, and suffered, across nations, and over distances no car or airplane had yet traversed. A family that left might never be seen again. Even a letter sent might never be answered, if letters there were.
Even our bad times are good times. I know my loved ones are well, and they know I am well. I have access to them and they to me, and we will be reunited before very long. Jan and Elysa tomorrow night! Seth in a couple of months.
But distance and travel accomplish not only the expansion of our views, the delight of new things. They not only remind us of the essential nature of our interpersonal bonds. They remind us of where we are as a civilization, and of where we were.
I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the way life was in ages past.
But on the balance, I’ll take now every time.
Because I want to know that the woman and children I love are only a phone-call, text or flight away.
That’s nearly miraculous, isn’t it?