Song for (an expat's) Winter Night

Getting ready for Christmas on the 14th floor in an Asian metropolis.  Not bad:  just different.

(Warning:  This is not one of MsCaroline's more lighthearted posts.  In fact, it's probably a bit of a downer.  But you might as well know that expat life is not always a bed of roses.  You've been warned.)

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.  


Trish said…
Do you feel more homesick when Mr Logical is away?
Songs make me cry at the best of times so I can understand why this one should make you feel a little sad.
MsCaroline said…
Trish - Actually, I was perfectly fine when he was away. It was the baking and the wrapping and the general Christms-ing - combined with just the right song - that got me.
Oh .... do I relate! I just wrote a post about the expat life being glam (or not so much) ... it is hard!!!

That song is one of my favorites!
BavarianSojourn said…
Nevermind songs, this post made me well up. You sum it up so well, it's blinking hard isn't it? Hugs. Emma
MsCaroline said…
Naomi - thanks for stopping by! I read your post about the glamorous expat lifestyle - and yes, sometimes it's definitely like that - although, in my case, not so frequently!
MsCaroline said…
Emma - Oh no, didn't mean to make anyone cry! But, yes, there are days when you do want to just chuck it all in and move home...fortunately, they are usually followed by days where I suddenly have one of those 'I am so lucky to be here and see this' moments...I just have to remind myself of that.
Stacy said…
We all feel like that sometimes and it's not just at Christmas. I wrote a post a while back about just that thing.

I'm guessing every expat blogger has at least one similar post.

Sometimes you just need to go home. XOXO
Lou said…
You summed it up beautifully, and bought a tear to my eye too. It's that chance encounter, like bumping into someone at the supermarket, that I miss the most. It's hard being an expat but particularly at this time of year when you are constantly reminded that you're supposed to be with your family and you're not. If I hear Chris Rea singing Driving Home for Christmas on the radio one more time I'm going to scream!
Christmas is hard. I'm finding it hard to get excited about it here, coz my DH leaves on Christmas Day to Tokyo! I think we'll do Christmas the day before - the 25th will definitely be one of those days when I'll wish we could pop home. I know the guilt well too! My mum would love us to come home, but then we wouldn't see DH at all and flying/jet lag with the boys is still one of my biggest challenges. Sigh! At least the weather is on our side here! Hope you're feeling better now...the hardest thing must be having Son1 on the other side of the world. Is he able to come to Seoul over the holidays?
MsCaroline said…
Stacy - You're right! And sometimes you do wonder how you can even be complaining when the life you're living is one you chose (and pretty darn wonderful to boot!)Glad you got to go home for that visit before baby #2 came - sounds like it was just what you needed...
MsCaroline said…
Lou - thanks for stopping by! I read your post on 'The Canadian Race' and got such a laugh out of it! My mum's Canadian, and almost everything you said summed her up completely - down to the scrapbooks she and her sisters kept of the Royal Family when they were young! I will say, after living in Seoul for 18 months, I am having more and more of those 'chance encounters' which warm the heart so much - so I guess there's hope, right?
MsCaroline said…
Circles - Ouch - Tokyo...sigh. I suppose the good thing is that it really doesn't technically matter when you celebrate, and the other good thing is that you're not in the kind of culture where everything stops dead on Christmas (even if you wanted to get out and pretend it was a 'regular' day, it would be impossible to do so in N. America or most of Europe, for example.)
And, yes, Son#1 is heading to Seoul for Christmas - the closer his arrival date gets, the better I feel!
You strike a chord with me as so often in a number of different ways. My daughter and son in law are considering moving to the US for a while where academic jobs are more plentiful and better paid than in the UK. I am trying very hard indeed not say anything which is not supportive and accepting but inside I really want to say, no, stay, don't go somewhere I will see you once a year instead of six times or so. I want to say please don't go, but I don't.
But even when you are in the same country distance is still a problem. My parents live nearly six hours drive away and have for most of my adult life. That has never been a problem but now that my father is ailing and my mum looking after him with great good cheer and determination I long to be able to pop in, to hold a hand, to be part of their daily lives instead of a six weekly visit for a few days at a time, which is better than many people have I know, just not enough at the moment.
I admire your honesty in this posting. It isn't easy, however many good things come with it! Hope your son is home with you soon!
Unknown said…
Hi there, you really expressed well what expat life can feel sometimes. I lived in India for 15 years and now I'm a re-expatriate in Germany and I agree with you. I like your posts and enjoy reading. My husband is korean. I nominated you for the Liebster Award. Have a look at my blog for the questions, I hope you like it.
Anonymous said…
Carolyne, I just read your "Song for (an expat's) Winter Night" and was finally able to let go of the avalanche of tears I've been holding back all during the holidays. You captured perfectly what it's like to be so far away from the ones you love so much--everyday, but especially during the holidays. Thank you for being such a talented writer and for "concretizing" the whirling emotions that surround the profoundly important parts of who we are and what matters most. Once again, please know how grateful I am that our paths have crossed. Love, Sara (Jason and Ji Hye's mom)

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