2020 was the year that many anticipated was going to be different. There was something about turning into a new decade that somehow signified a new beginning, a promise of change. Well we got that alright!
As opportunities have unfolded, we have ended up living in the other side of the world to our families. And the added complexity of this is that they reside at opposite ends of the UK. The job of organising ‘holidays’ to see them has by default fallen on me. Over the years I have honed my skills and become very successful at blending all the moving parts on our trips back ‘home.’ Our most recent trip back in December had involved a record-breaking number of stops so by the end of four weeks we were done with hotel rooms.
Arranging to meet Andy in a car park at London Gatwick Airport I was happy to hand over the reins of responsibility and the car keys. He had been working in the London office while we had been travelling and we were both ready for some luxury and space. By the end of Christmas between us we had rested our heads on pillows in Hong Kong, London, airport hotels and benches of airports, Slovenia, Bath, and Devon.
Moving from one end of the country to the other we left Devon for Norfolk a place that had been on my bucket list to visit for years. We were not disappointed at our first glimpse of the converted barn nestled deep in the lush green countryside. We were excited to meet up with old British friends staying nearby and reuniting with and sharing the barn with old friends from our time living in Asia. Having met at school in Singapore we had hot footed it to Malaysia following them as they moved across the border. Having shared such profound life experiences, we became lifelong friends. Sadly, as with all expat friendships parting is inevitable and we had gone to opposite ends of the world.
Now living in Cambridge, they had organised this converted barn as the perfect halfway house to bring us all back together again. Within minutes of our arrival our children now ‘young adults,’ slotted comfortably playing back together playing cards around the big farmhouse table. We recognized the ease at which they did this time and time again. Our ‘Third Culture Kids’ or ‘TCKs’ as they are commonly known were used to meeting up with people from here and there. They share a bond of living together in a place not originally home. This always binds them tight until they meet again.
As we battled to keep our eyes open to pop that inevitable cork at midnight, we paused to remember the ones spent sweltering in the tropics balancing drinks on the water’s edge as we cooled down in the pool. Life as expats had been a rich tapestry of experiences and for the kids the world had been a place of freedom and adventures. We had not moved from the kitchen table, excitedly sharing our travel stories and making plans for the ones to come.
As the first bang of fireworks went off on the TV in Sydney, we knew that 2020 had arrived already for New Zealand. And in the next few hours the rest of the world would be bringing in hope for the New Year. For both families we anticipated entering a chapter of calm and stability after we had both weathered a chaotic few years of moving and change. Charlotte and Dom had moved into their first permanent home in the UK and we were heading back to sunshine and putting our feet firmly into the sandy beaches of Australia. Predictably after too much rich food and alcohol we barely got past midnight before we all stumbled up the warm soft carpeted stairs. And although we thought New Year’s Day in a new decade would feel different it didn’t. There was still a hangover and a bigger pile of dishes than normal that greeted us in the sink.
Many of us start the year with New Year’s resolutions, but they are a distant memory by the end of the first week. It is human nature to stay comfortable, to stay in that zone of safety and the routines that make us feel safe. For years the world in general had slipped into complacency and traversing the globe had become more and more accessible. Most of us had an abundant supply of food and from every country. The internet had made us more connected worldwide but more disconnected from our neighbours next door and down the road. In western cultures there had been a growing trend for us to lose sight of the wisdom and knowledge gained by our elders. It had sadly become acceptable to ‘put them out to grass’ in care homes. Now lacking purpose and belonging and the close participation in community the health of these individuals had been shown to decrease rapidly. Suddenly everyone is now ‘too busy.’ And I hear so many times ‘the weary sighs of people that ‘don’t have enough time.’ I couldn’t see how any of it was going to change or for individuals to learn to slow down. With air travel projected to triple in the future and the population still increasing rapidly we were heading for disaster in many ways.
So, as the world welcomed in 2020 with the usual parties, fireworks and celebrations we left Norfolk and headed for London marvelling ‘how mild the UK was ‘for the time of year!’ We paused in London to spend time with more old expat friends in London and catch up on our four years apart. We had lived both in The Netherlands and in Perth in close proximity. Now reunited around the dinner table again we had paused before our food to give prayers and thanks for the blessings of our rich and varied life. How little had we known then how swiftly how privileged lives were soon to change.
The next day we had said our goodbyes not knowing when we would see them again. In the hire car Andy had driven us confidently through the London traffic. It was like we had never left all those years ago. Saying our goodbyes at Waterloo Station we marvelled at the ease of travel, our next meeting would be in the warmth of an Australian summer. Andy was heading back to his office in Australia and us to North Wales by train to see my family. He was glad to be leaving “It’s much dirtier and greyer than I remembered.” Were his parting words.
After the quiet of Norfolk, the noise and density of people in the train station overwhelmed me. To cope I parked myself on a bench brushing off the tattered remnants of a take -away wrapper and trying to ignore the sticky mess caught under my shoe. In my one safe spot I watched the world go by as three teenagers went off in search of their favourite cuisine. My job as always on our travels to guard the assortment of bags that gathered and grew at my feet. Confident from years of travel I knew they would find what they wanted without me. Elise was approaching the final year of school and I couldn’t help but think where she would travel in her planned gap year. The world was waiting for her to explore and I knew like me she couldn’t wait to see what was out there waiting for her.
Visiting my family stimulated the usual mixed bag of emotions. Mum had suggested I might like it if she brought Dad home from his care home nearby., But I hadn’t been ready for the reality of seeing mum drive him back to the care home at the end of the day. It was the reminder of the hardest bits of being an expat family, dealing with the reality of ageing parents and the combined distress of being so far away from them.
Leaving one place called home and returning to another is never easy. Each time became a little less raw and I used the empty hours in the air to adjust, to process all the emotions that each parting stirred up. It was a tangled web of feelings; excitement at what new experience lay around the corner mingled with what might have been had we stayed. Over- tired from too much change and travel seemed to heighten all of it and usually about halfway home, and when I should be asleep, the tears would always flow.
But what was the lesson for all of us in this? There had to be one surely? There is no Yin without Yang. No cause without effect. And no storm without the calm. Amongst it all we have all had to find our own strategies, our own coping mechanisms in order to find the eye of the storm; that point in the hurricane where the peace and calm resided. Sadly, for many their response was not to look for that and to allow anger and fear, the lowest forms of vibration and energy to overcome them. The chaos that we saw around the world was evident of the collective mass of this response. But in this journey, this experience that we call life there is always going to be tough times, uncomfortable situations, obstacles to overcome and walls to break through. But in my opinion, it is in these times that our greatest breakthroughs occur, where much needed change is forced upon us and when the real self -growth happens.
I choose now to see a new shift happening that is bigger than what we have ever seen before. I can sense it intuitively and energetically. And on my last trip to Bali I met many global nomads who were fully aware of what needed to happen to turn our broken world around. There is here in Australia a steep rise in conscious awareness, and the global nomads I met in Bali on my last trip there all form part of the growing collective ‘waking up’ expanding around the world.
So even though I don’t like what is happening I also have acceptance that for change to take place; that there has to be a burning or clearing of old dead wood in order for the new forest, our new world to be birthed. But for the many who want to hang on with grim death to all they have known in their lives previously, to the masses that are holding steadfastly to the belief that soon we will return to ‘normal’ it is my belief that they have an oh so much harder road ahead.