Every year, a time comes when I have to decide whether to make that trip back home or not. “Do I have enough PTO for a long vacation?” “Do I have enough saved to pay for the small fortune that the airline company is quoting?” “What if the US consulate puts my visa on hold and delays my departure date?” These seem like trivial materialistic questions. But questions nonetheless that force themselves into the mind like unwelcome guests in your house. You don’t like them but you still have to entertain them.
After all, I haven’t seen my parents in a long time, grandmother (being grandmother) is old and I might never see her again if I skip this trip. Plus it’s my dear cousin’s wedding. These are all reasons that by themselves are compelling enough to make a decision. Money vs Family. Work vs Family. Career vs Family. Perhaps these are hard choices that every adult has to make in his/her life. But living in a faraway city 8000 miles from home, certainly doesn’t make choosing any easier. I wouldn’t think twice about spending, say, $300 to buy me a ticket home to see my sick relative. But what about $2500? What about $2500 + 7 days unpaid vacation? What if it’s a family of four and that number goes up four-fold? Does everything have a price?
Remember the movie Bluffmaster? There’s this poignant scene where Abhishek Bachchan’s character Roy is told by his doctor (Boman Irani) that he has only 90 days to live. Doc tries to cheer up and motivate Roy at the same time and asks him how many cherished/memorable moments he’s had in his life. “Kitne din yaad hai Roy? 10.. 15? 30? 30. 30 days that you remember, look back on and cherish in a life of 30 years. Baaki ke din kaha gaye Roy?” It’s a beautifully depressing thought and I’m sure many of us can relate to it. Thanks to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, I know exactly how much time I’ve spent at home in the last 10years – 150 days. Extrapolating that to 30 years gives me ~450days or roughly 15months of time with my parents over their lifetime. How many moments can I realistically fit in that timeframe?
Put in this larger perspective, all the mind wrangling over money and PTO and visas seem petty. Then why does the mind even entertain these questions? Is it a case of tunnel vision and our psyche being trained to focus on the short term benefits and problems? Perhaps. Or is it just me growing apart and sort of drifting away from my family and home and allowing superficial thoughts to have a say in important matters? More Likely. This terrifies me.
But this couldn’t have been farther from the truth ten years ago when I was a fresh graduate and had just moved to the US. It was a culture shock not because of what I saw here but because of what was absent around me. The yearning for family and the familiar comfort of home was constant. Over time, that feeling was replaced with little bouts of homesickness which then slowly turned into momentary reminiscing. The phone calls became less frequent. News that I would usually hear firsthand came to me as afterthoughts, often delayed. Expectations were lowered further and further. Houses were built, friends were made, dinners were had and new memories were created which I wasn’t a part of. I guess that’s the nature of the game. When we move into a new society, we tend to evolve and adapt to the new surroundings and build new relationships and naturally, the older memories begin to fade.
Since this evolution happens slowly over many years, it becomes less startling and more acceptable – almost the opposite of the jolt like reaction I had when I was transported out of my comfort zone and into unacquainted surroundings. And when newer memories are created around this new place and new people, priorities change and what was once considered special and dear to the heart takes a backseat. Circumstances then have to try really hard to overcome superficial materialistic thoughts, for those priorities to come back to the forefront.
“Sorry Mom, can’t do the family vacation before the wedding. I can’t take off more time from work that what is absolutely necessary”.
“It would be really nice if both sisters get married in the same week.. would save me a trip.”
So what can be done about it? How do I resuscitate feelings and emotions that have deserted me? How do I bridge the literal, vast physical gap that exists between my old home and new home, my past and my present? I’m not sure there are any silver bullets. There are some obvious answers. Technology via Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp has made it easier to have a virtual presence. More phone calls? Sure. But in the end, these are just tools. Tools to start a conversation and try to integrate my old life into my new. After all, cherished moments cannot exist without our cherished ones, life is dull without loved ones.
“..But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep”
– Robert Frost