Song for (an expat's) Winter Night
|Getting ready for Christmas on the 14th floor in an Asian metropolis. Not bad: just different.|
One of the things I've tried to avoid in my blog is whining too much about being homesick. (Regular readers will note that MsC has no such scruples about whining about anything and everything else, but she really does try to avoid the 'I'm homesick' refrain.)
In fact, while my family and I do occasionally get homesick, most of the time, we're going about our everyday lives and not giving too much thought to the fact that we are thousands of miles away from our families. Really not much different from our situation in the US, where we almost always lived no closer than a day's drive or a 4-hour airplane journey. Nothing new, technically speaking.
In addition, I have to say, since MrLogical and I made the decision to move to Seoul with wide-open eyes and an intimate understanding of the pros and cons of expat life,I'm in no position to be sniveling about being homesick. When fleeting twinges of homesickness hit me, I usually just channel my inner New Englander, stiffen my upper lip, and get on with whatever I'm doing. No point in feeling sorry for yourself when you're the one who decided to move halfway across the world, right? Right.
The holidays, however - as you can all imagine - are a little different, and I occasionally find myself getting sentimental. I tend to wallow in music, books, and films that conjure up so many memories of Christmas Past and People Loved that it's almost impossible to make it through December without experiencing at least one crack in my 'expat realist' veneer.
Today was that sort of day.
It's my day off, and I've spent it in the most Christmas-y way: wrapping presents, baking cookies, and listening to seasonal music on Spotify. I had just finished up my 4th batch of reindeer cookies (yes, I'm one of those people) when I stopped what I was doing and listened - really listened - to the lyrics of 'Song for a Winter's Night' that Sara Mclachlan was crooning in the background of the sunny apartment:
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you.*
Granted, it wasn't a 'winter night' (although by the time you read this, it may be): but the sentiment was the same: having you near would be enough for me.
That's all. Just your presence. We wouldn't even have to talk. We could just be in the same room, or - for that matter - in the same house, or even the same town. I would know that you were nearby, and that I could reach out. And, if I wanted to, I could hold your hand.
And that's what we expats can't have. It's what we miss. The casual daily contact, the dropping-in, the 'I'm just down the road,' the 'running-into-you-in-the-grocery-store.' Holding hands.
We can call, we can Skype, we can email, we can IM. In fact, technology sometimes fools us into thinking that we aren't really that far away, that the distance isn't that great. We see our loved ones' faces on Skype, we hear their voices, we see videos, we chat and instant message. We're just a plane ride away anyway, we tell ourselves, it's not that different from living on the West Coast when your family lives in Philly. It's really almost the same as being there.
But we can't reach out and hold your hand. And that, my friends, is what we miss. At least, it's what I miss.
Living abroad is not a decision that people make lightly, and, once we do, we have to live with the consequences of our decision. Each of us has to make our own peace with our grief, our homesickness, our regrets for what we've missed, and - it has to be said - our guilt, which (I believe) all of us feel at some time or another. Living overseas is a choice most expats make with much thought and care, and one that most of us do not usually regret - much. We relish the opportunities, the experiences, and the new horizons that living abroad brings with it, and most of the time we are deeply satisfied with our choices.
But there are times when you realize just what it means not to be able to hold the 'hands you love,' and those times are hard.
And that is all I have to say about that.
If the link below ends up being disabled (as they so often are), you can find many recordings online by Googling "Sarah McLachlan Song for a Winter's Night"
*The lyrics and melody were written and recorded by Gordon Lightfoot in 1975 and were probably meant to be a wintry love ballad, but since I must have been either overseas or too young to pay attention to it, the song hit me in a very different way.