By Corey Heller
Photo credit: TDC Digital
As I wrote in my previous Multilingual Road Trip! posts (The Answer to Living Multilingually and When Languages Collide) my family and I have been traveling from Seattle (our current home) to northern California (my childhood home). Along the way we have experienced the immense beauty of people and landscapes. We have also confronted language collisions and cultural complexities.
I can’t help but see similarities between our road trip and our journey through life itself.
As our last few days rise up to meet us, I sense that familiar tightening in my chest. It’s a kind of achy-ness that wells up inside me. I become touchy and nostalgic. I pine for that which I do not have; that which is only available here where I am now.
I savor my life in Seattle. I know I will be filled with joy to step into our home again, sleep in our bed again, use our own dishes again. Yet, I also realize that soon we will be more than a thousand miles from my family and childhood friends again. We will be far away from the people I grew up with, the ones who know the expanse of my existence, the ones who love me and my family with a depth only they can possess. Soon their positive influence on my life and my family’s life will be relegated to small, intense bursts triggered by holidays and birthdays.
My aching heart mainly goes out for my children. I feel a guilt for raising them so far away from their extended family. My father died the year I started grad school and my children barely got to know their American grandmother before she passed away. They only have one uncle here in the States.
No one in Seattle can replace this intimacy: A hug from their uncle Thomas, making beads with my aunt Lynn at the dining room table, running through Elkhorn Slough Estuary with my uncle Mike. The texture of experiences spent with family can not match anything we have in Seattle. And it never will.
There is something primordial and irreversible about the words “good-bye.” The fact that each culture has a variety of ways to intimate the act of separation is a testament to the power that language possesses: “See you later!” “Until next time!” “Take it easy!” “Catch ya later!”
Good-bye is so final. It is so absolute.
When I was young, I had a small bronze horse with a missing leg. I loved it dearly. From time to time I would place it at the entrance of our property and explain to it that I had to go. I explained that we would never see one another again. This was it. The time had come. My bronze horse would look at me with loving, understanding eyes as I silently walked backwards, waving good-bye. Tears would well up in my eyes.
If only I could have looked ahead to my life as an adult and the role that time and distance would play in creating real-life good-byes – over and over again. Some more final than others.
The Path We Choose
I am completely certain that my path has been the right one for me. I can not imagine life without my husband and children in my life. Bilingual homeschooling, multilingualism, culture mixing and clashes – I wouldn’t trade any of it for a moment.
Every international couple knows this feeling of separation that I speak of. They know what comes from deciding to marry someone from another country. One or the other will always be away from home. One will always be away from family; always away from childhood friends. Choosing to go rather than to stay is a choice we only partially make consciously and rationally – falling in love dictates more than we may even admit.
Together with this ache of good-bye is one of realization. We are deeply and fully aware of what we do have each time we let it go and return to receive it again. We do not have the luxury of taking our family members for granted. We are unable to become jaded by daily interactions with those we love most.
I would go as far as to propose that those of us in international marriages appreciate our connections to our extended family and friends more deeply, primarily because we are destined to be apart from family so often and for so long. Distance does make the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?
As our time here comes to a close, I breathe in deep this mountain air and swim in long strokes through the Yuba River’s cool waters. I listen intently to the crickets at night as they soothe us to sleep with their rhythmic melodies. I will wait until the last minute to wash away this dirt from between my toes and the river sand from my hair. I will pull myself away from this place unwillingly.
And when we are back on the road again, this time heading north, I will embrace the journey fully. Endings and beginnings, tears and joy. The cycle goes on. Each good-bye makes every reunion just that much more extraordinary and sacred.
Do you feel the pain of saying good-bye to family? Do you sometimes wonder why you chose to move so far away from your family members and childhood friends? What do you do to find peace with your choices?