The problem with being here and not there

The problem with being here and not there

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Two pieces of bad news last week: my mother was assaulted and my grandfather fell and dislocated his shoulder.

Two pieces of bad news last week: my mother was assaulted and my grandfather fell and dislocated his shoulder.

Both are well - my mother primarily shocked and frightened rather than injured after the local madman moved on from trying to steal her office pot plants and fighting neighbouring workers to kicking a shopping trolley into the legs of a woman in her 50s.

My grandfather's fall also had a silver lining - it convinced the doctors how bad his emphysema was, sending the tough farmer home with bottles of oxygen to help him move about and maintain his energy levels.

But both incidents nonetheless sparked a feeling of isolation, of simply being unable to 'be there' in times of need.

The problem is, as an expat on the geographical other side of the world, being there is a wish impossible to fulfill on every occasion.

In fact, one just has to live with the feeling that you're stuck between two worlds, the old and the new, never quite feeling at home in one or the other.

Fortunately, I don't have that feeling very often but sometimes being here and not there just grates my heart.

This will worsen in years to come, as my grandparents and parents continue to age and children grow older and friends have more babies or buy new homes.

My wife and I are taking the kids across to my birth country of Australia later this year, the first such trip for my nine-month-old daughter.

She won't remember it, of course, but it will be a golden trip for my grandparents who are jumping out of their skin to meet her. They, like me, feel there is simply too much ocean and too many countries between us.

And with each trip back home, I ask myself (morbidly perhaps), whether this will be the last time we see one of them? Will the next time I travel home be for a funeral? 

Though I lived in Melbourne, three hours from my childhood home, it was still close enough to jump in the car and scoot up the freeway whenever wanted or needed.

My late teenage wish to head to the city and put distance between me and my youth indirectly led via my travels to my international marriage.

And though that distance gave a sense of liberation, it also created complications in how to maintain the relationships left far behind.

And while the telephone, video conversations, email and photos help to bridge the gap, they can never replace actually being there.

And that, as an expat, is one of the hardest things any of us has to face.


Aaron Gray-Block / Expatica 

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