On Missing People
This is a tough holiday, what with needing to stay away from those we would dearly love to be with. Like most folks, I enjoy holiday parties. I enjoy family feasts. I am fortunate to be related to a lot of delightful people, and acquainted with even more, and it has been a hardship to be unable to spend time with them.
In a sense, I have been well-trained for dealing with this situation. My dad made his career in finance, and between transfers and job changes, we moved around the country quite a bit during my childhood. When you are in second grade, moving means you will likely never see those friends in the neighborhood and the classroom, ever again. Nor will you “keep in touch.”
I grew up with my mom’s sadness around the holidays, as flights were beyond our budget, and her parents and sibs were too far away for a drive.
My mother, however, is a champion communicator. We were taught to write letters to our grandparents, and occasionally to aunts and uncles. We four kids stood in line next to the phone so that there would be no wasted seconds on those expensive late ’60’s calls to family. By the time we moved for the last time, in 1976, my parents had mercy on their teenagers and permitted us to place the occasional long-distance call to the friends we left behind.
As a result, from the time I was very young, I knew about missing people – people you never see again, but who are living life somewhere else, people who visit occasionally, and people who have left this mortal coil. There was no money to send anyone but mom to the funeral when my grandpa died.
I’m very grateful to be living in this 21st century, when long distance telephony comes in affordable and unlimited packages. The video calls of the future are here, in full color, and available for very little cost on tiny computers we hold in our hands! I see pictures of my far away cousins, and their kids, regularly, in exchange for being subjected to ridiculous advertising. (Only their grandparents got printed photos of my own darlings when they were growing up!) Those high school friends I was bereft to leave at 16 now reappear in my social media feeds. I send and receive quick notes, and funny photos across the country and the world in a few seconds.
I come, as so many do, from people who left their home, sailed across a great sea, and what with the exigencies of making a new life and raising a family, rarely or never returned.
So this year, as I miss gathering with friends and family, especially the son and daughter-in-law who are expecting our first grandchild, I am mindful of how very blessed we are to have loved the ones who are no longer with us, and to carry those memories, along with the photographs we could take because that tech has been in reach for regular folks for our entire lives. To have some videos of those folks too. To recognize how they live on through us (my hubby looks more like his grandfather with every passing year) and even through our kids.
I am so glad that we can gather, electronically, and casually, for protracted periods of time. We don’t line up, even for video calls. We can turn on the camera and play board games together for hours at a time. It’s not the same as being together, but it’s so very much better than having the formal conversations while watching the clock which were part of my own childhood.
Thanks Mom, for teaching my sisters and me how important it is to be part of one another’s lives. We share emails and texts and Zooms, and it’s the rare week that there isn’t SOMETHING amusing we share with each other. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for learning email, and agreeing to try Zoom. Thanks, all you engineers who made all of this wondrous tech possible. The missing is hard, but much less painful than it was for those who came before us.