Dual Citizen with Dual Emotions

I have recently discovered that public transportation makes me cry more than anything. Bus rides and flights seem to be the best places for sentimental reflection on the place, stage, or people I am leaving.

My Instagram-worthy summer travels presented this situation to me repeatedly. The opportunity to visit my brother in Honduras and then my cousins and grandparents in Europe provided me with an abundance of bus rides and flights to let it all out.

The beautiful scenery and unique cultural experiences are what I usually talk about when someone asks me about my time abroad. Surfing. Hiking. Walking along the Irish coast. Jumping in freezing water. Touring Cambridge. All of the exciting, dreamy experiences that come with a bucket-list-worthy vacation spot. 

Because my dad left Ireland 28 years ago to marry an American (my mom), I have access to that great vacation spot for life! And because my brother fell in love with a wonderful Honduran girl in college, I got to experience their wedding in a beautiful tropical country and now get to witness a unique culture up close each time I visit them.

But, having family all over the world does not come without its drawbacks. During my summer travels, I was hit hard with the bittersweet reality of life when much of my family lives abroad.

It is fun-fact-worthy that my dad is from Europe, and I have cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who live there. But, I met Hannah, my seven-year-old cousin, for the first time this summer. I spent only three days with her and her older siblings and left crying with no guarantee I would see them again soon. 

During the trip, my sister and I were able to visit all three of my dad’s siblings and their families, who each live in different parts of Ireland and England. A pattern of interactions stood out to me. 

Each reunion began with recollection: all of us bringing up the small things we could remember from years past. Sharing memories of a young Lachlan chasing a lost hamster through the house (a pet he has had four of since, with the current rodent almost dying this visit). Bragging because I could actually remember the way to the downstairs bathroom, even after all the years away. Vaguely knowing the way to church. Joking with my 15-year-old cousin about how I used to give him piggy-back rides and laughing about that time he fell down the hill.

Memories were the most natural place to start, and because many of my cousins were under the age of 10 on our last visit, they were also necessary. This stage of each visit became a way of saying, “We really do know each other; we do have memories together, I promise.” In some ways, it is the memories more than a current relationship that connected us, but somehow that was always enough.

After a few days together, the reality that the time was dwindling became more apparent and the desire to ask about the important things, more prevalent. Questions about college majors and favorite subjects quickly became conversations about how school bullies have impacted my 13-year-old cousin and how he thinks it is best he waits for a girlfriend. Talking about the craziness of the pandemic quickly became learning about the emotional impact it had on our family who were forced to leave their friends, jobs, and life in Ethiopia immediately and with no real closure. In each of the three homes, a few nights of normal bedtimes quickly became keeping each other up with questions and conversation while disregarding work–or a 5 a.m. flight—waiting the next day.

All family members–old and young–seemed eager to get it all out there and share who they had become after the highs and lows of the past five years. There was a consistent awareness that these moments and conversations may only be a blur the next time we meet, but also an understanding that it was incredibly important that we have them anyway. In reality, these conversations may be the only chance we get to really know one another in this stage of life, and we have learned not to waste these chances.

And then, inevitably, came the goodbyes. The hugs, the tears, and the promises to not let as much time pass before seeing each other again (promises we often cannot keep, with our ability to visit being reliant on job commitments, bank balances, and, of course, the absence of a global pandemic). All at once the exhaustion—jet lag and late nights combined–reached its peak and I was met with attempts to hold in the emotion until I reached the bus or plane, and then, all bets were off. 

Maybe it is the Irish countryside or an aerial view of Europe that brings it out of me. Or maybe, it is the understanding that my influence in my cousins’ lives is limited because of the distance, combined with the sweetness of the new, precious, and rare moments I am leaving. Or maybe it is the reminder that the last time I flew, I was leaving my brother and sister-in-law in Honduras for the same indefinite amount of time. 

Whatever it is, there may always be a slight hesitation when someone asks me how one of my international trips went. Just a moment where I consider the emotional exhaustion of it all, before I share all the highs–the memories that keep the family close–that Instagram could never fully capture.


 

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