A few weeks ago, Dad wrote me a short email asking me how things were going, making sure that my financial, mental, and emotional states were all in harmony and that I was not yet becoming mired in regret or homesickness. I assured him all was well; I was still enjoying my experience here, and my desire to be reunited with my friends and family had not outweighed my intense longing to satiate my lust for adventure, growth, and exploration. He ended our correspondence by warning that the Holidays are always the hardest part about being away from home – at least, that’s what he remembered from his time spent abroad in the Dominican Republic and points beyond.
I took his cautioning to heart, especially knowing my propensity to sway toward a “grass is greener” mentality and my past bouts with seasonal-affective disorder (self-diagnosed, of course, and never to the degree of requiring medication – at least, I never thought so. Past friends and girlfriends may claim differently). However, I was also confident in my ability to keep my head up and grind through the lonely Holiday season, as this is not my first Christmas away from home. Last year, I spent the winter in Keytone, Colorado, starving to death in one of the most beautiful places in the world. As is consistent with other negative experiences in my life, I tend to blot out the bad memories and romanticize only the good, but I do remember these points about my Colorado Christmas: 1) Giving, literally, my last $20 to my friend Baz (Australian, my best friend in the Stone) to cover my share of Thanksgiving dinner, which was comprised of tuna sushi, mash potatoes from a box, and a giant turkey. After dinner we crowded into Baz’s undersized dorm room and played drinking games, pretending it wasn’t actually Thanksgiving and we weren’t all away from our families. 2) My girlfriend at the time Stephanie coming to visit for Christmas time. I couldn’t tell you what we did or where we went. I just remember it felt nice to not be alone, but that feeling was overtaken by the shame of being too broke to buy anyone anything for Christmas, including her. 3) For New Year’s, I fell asleep at 10:45 p.m., before the Ball even dropped. I had no money for booze, no one to kiss, and my prospects for the Upcoming Year were looking bleak and directionless.
So, although my Holiday experience last year was viewed in a generally negative light, I had made it through with my sanity and shreds of dignity. This gave me hope for my second Christmas away from my family. After all, this year my situation is significantly improved from my destitute days in Colorado; I now have money, I have better friends, and I have reached a point in my life where I am genuinely excited to be where I am. However, I am also learning not to underestimate the impact being in a foreign country, and how removing myself from the familiar can take a larger toll than just the pangs of grief that being physically separated from the warm glow of loved ones can create. In Colorado, at least Christmas – in all its beauty, pageantry, and commercialism – still existed, and there was some comfort knowing that the good tidings of Christmas were surrounding me even if my family and friends were not.. It is not nearly the same here, as it seems like the Spirit of the Season has been surgically removed, leaving a lifeless travesty, a hollow shell. Going into the week before Christmas, the debate is still raging in my mind: Is it better to be immersed in the essence of Christmas Time but to do so in isolation from the people that give true joy to the Season (as I experienced in Colorado), or to simply bypass the Christmas Spirit altogether and half-heartedly celebrate a shallow reflection of a holiday that barely resembles the Christmases in my childhood memories (as things seem to be in Taiwan)??? While the conclusion may not be reached anytime soon, I only hope that the loneliness here will not cast a pall on my memories of this country and this experience.
I go into the week before Christmas feeling optimistic, but having armed myself against the inevitable tinge of sadness that always seems to accompany the cold weather and the shortened days. I know others, even in the presence of warm fires and warmer hearts, are experiencing some of the same sadness as me, a sadness that can’t be fixed by presents or proximity to those we love. At the very least, I know we are in this sadness together, even if we are apart. It is our job to fill this emptiness with whatever we can hold on to…
(to be continued…)