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The choices we make

21 September 2008

I’m sorry, but this post is not going to be cheery. I promise to give you something fun tomorrow, but, for now, I need to ponder out loud.

This past week a very tragic event happened to a couple friends back home, which left many people I love grieving and world-weary. I’m not going to write about that in particular because I don’t want to make other peoples’ tragedies my blog fodder. However, this event did leave me thinking about all the major decisions I’ve made this past year and examining their consequences. From half the world away, I felt like I had a strange perspective – still heartbroken and grieving for my friends but at the same time detached. I could not run to help, offer a hug, cook a meal, watch a dog, or do all those other things you’re supposed to do when a friend is hurting. All I could do was sit and grieve from the other side of the world.

In another former life, I worked for a rather large exchange student program. As part of this job, I had the opportunity to sit in on a training session where parents who were about to let their teenagers leave home for the first time could learn from other parents who had already survived that separation. One of the topics they discussed was determining in advance the circumstances in which a teenager would be allowed to return home. Honestly, this is brilliant advice – as a former exchange student, I remember how easy it was to want to go home as soon as something bad happened (and, as a teenager, I had a much lower threshold for what constituted “bad”). Thankfully, in the pre-email, pre-Skype, pre-AIM era, it took a long time for “bad” stuff to be communicated to me, so I made it through my year without dashing to the Auckland airport in an Amazing-Race-like frenzy to book the next flight back to Wisconsin.

When I accepted my current position, I pulled out all those conference notes and decided I needed to make my own list of dash-home-worthy events. (I planned to discuss this all with Mike, but it always seemed a bit morbid, so we never got very far.) After much hemming and hawing, I finally determined that, in the event of a serious illness or death of a family member or close friend, I would come home.

Of course, this decision brought up a whole host of other questions. Who counted as a family member? Did that include in-laws? (I decided it did.) And what about my dog – does she count? (I decided to change the definition to “human family members” – sorry, Chili.) And how serious is serious? Prolonged hospitalization? Bed-ridden? How do you determine that? And then who really were my “close” friends? Do they only count if they lived close enough to Chicago that, were I at home, I wouldn’t have to travel to be with them in the first place?

And then, because I didn’t want to come home at the drop of a hat, I started weeding things out of my list based on how good the odds were that it would happen – after all, it was highly likely that someone I know would be hospitalized during the year, probably 1:1 odds, not worth betting on (and that did happen but I didn’t find out until after the fact because I was internet-less for a couple days, so moot point there). It all started to feel a bit like a Vegas gambling pool, where if I made the wrong choice Fat Eddie would find me and hold me by my ankles while shaking all the rupees out of my pockets (which really wouldn’t be that fruitful for him since salwar sets and saris don’t actually have pockets).

Here I was trying to create this objective list when there can be no objectivity in these types of situations. Plus it seemed really callous to boil down the lives of my friends and family to these morbid instances. I finally decided I would just have to make these determinations on a case-by-case basis.

However, as recent events have shown, this doesn’t work as well either because emotions get in the way, which was the reason to make the list in the first place. This past week, all I have wanted is to be home with Mike and our friends, to be there to hold each other as we grieved. But I couldn’t be, and I don’t think, even I could have been, I should have been there. I am meant to be here right now. (And that right there is one of those decisions that make me realize I might be an adult after all. My lonely 17-year-old self in New Zealand would have never understood that distinction.)

This past week, as I sat and grieved and pondered, I realized that, once I return home, these choices will have to continue and that, in fact, I have been making these choices for years, since I was 18 years old. I have lived overseas three times now and made friends in various countries. Every good or bad event that happens in the lives of the friends and family I have in New Zealand, Zambia, or India will always require me to objectively consider whether I can go and whether I should go. And it’s the consequence that we must face when we choose to open ourselves to the world outside our little bubble.

I guess here is where I say it’s worth it, though, and I suppose it is, but I don’t think it’s as easy as all that. I have missed some very important events in the lives of the people I love because they have lived so far away from me. And that’s not easy to think about.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 September 2008 1:01 am

    Oh Christine! I am sorry that you are grieving in this way. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  2. Unity permalink
    22 September 2008 1:03 am

    Thank for you post. It is hard to not be with people you care for when they are mourning. Decisions we make do have some consequences that are neither good or bad, they just are. You are meant to be where you are & it is awesome to see (or read) how this is all shaping your life. It is good to be reminded of that.

    We miss you!

  3. D.A.D. permalink
    27 September 2008 10:43 am

    Hi dear,

    I don’t know what you are talking about in this post, but I feel for you and Mike at this time, as well as whoever your friends were that experienced that tragedy. God is in control, and we must rest in His sovereignty. I remember those days in New Zealand, too, from our perspective. It was tough for us, too. We rejoice in your work, your life, and, Lord willing, your returning.

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