A very young infant has no conception of objects that exist outside of her immediate awareness. (Just how young has yet to be determined.) That’s why a parent’s “reappearance” in peek-a-boo, so mundane to us, is such a miracle to the child: the parent doesn’t exist, and then she does. It’s a classic early childhood game. With such high existential stakes, though, I can’t help but wonder if it induces some level of stress for the infant. But perhaps the joy of seeing the parent again is worth the existential doubt of separation. At any rate, she must get used to it.
On some level, the flush of homesickness in someone* leaving home for a long period of time is caused by a failure of object permanence. One some deep level of the mind, I don’t quite believe that I’ll ever again see the people and places I’m leaving.
* When I say “someone”, I mean “me”, but I can’t be alone on this one.
For immigrants, especially in times when wooden or steam ships were the only way to cross the ocean, this would have been the case. Even today, refugees and desperately poor seeking a new life say good-bye to their homes forever. But I’m one of the lucky ones, so home is really just a tram ride, a flight, another flight, customs, and a long car ride away. Less than a day, end-to-end.
But when I came over two years ago, I didn’t believe it. Not really. Not in the painful countdown to Christmas, when I actually contemplated buying vastly inflated last-minute plane tickets and showing up unexpectedly on the doorstep. (I suspect part of that was the incredible stress of exams. I have never had such a tense exam schedule as that first December, including my first semester of college, when I wrote four exams in two days and had to switch to my left hand on the last one because my right hand hurt too much. In the UK, your entire grade may be based on the final exam/paper, and it sucks substantially.)
Not during the long phone calls. Maybe a little during the round-robin calls, where the phone would be passed from person to person as Mumsy Dearest and my sisters tried to make cookies and dinner while talking on the phone.
Not when I searched the internet for pictures of Maine in the summer, and then Maine in the autumn.
It wasn’t until after my masters year ended, and I went back home and came back again to Edinburgh, that I was quite certain that everything I loved still existed, and would continue to exist until I was there to see it again.
This is not true, of course. Favorite pizza places close, as NTS discovered this trip. Family pets grow terminally old; expecting a dog to live past fifteen is not really reasonable. People are not immortal either, but of all the realities an expat has to confront, this is the one my mind avoids, and the only one that can’t be avoided. What if something happens, and we’re on the other side of an ocean? The only thing to do about it is to stay home, and expats agree–if not everyone else does–that that’s no way to live. As with many smaller things in travel and in life, you can only make your decisions, trust to luck, and try to accept what comes. And enjoy every minute while you have it. When travelling, all minutes are fleeting. You may not be there when they come around again, so you take them now.
Big things, though–back roads in Maine in the summer, apple orchards, friends in Boston and western MA–these are never going away. Not in my lifetime. That’s what trips home remind me. These places, these things, are there, whether I’m there to see them or not. And more importantly, they’ll be there when I get back.