As the days grow darker and the nights grow longer and the crisp Northern air fills each inhale, I find myself reflecting on the life I’ve chosen and the sacrifices made to obtain it. I’ve traded out Eastern warmth and cuisine and precious time with family to be here. So what exactly is here? By this point, the answer to that question is well rehearsed. A significant amount of time and energy has gone into justifying my choices and the maintenance of a life a continent away from home. Justifying the act of building a new ‘home’ that blurs the definitions of what home is or ever was. Here contains over half a decade of relationships built with care. It contains opportunities for a life I want to live, whether that's a career in writing or my studies. Here contains a partner, a house filled with plants grown from saplings, networks of people; a community. Nevertheless, here gets dark every year. An overbearing and overwhelming dark that challenges my devotion to my location. The dark brings the usually dimmed connotation of sacrifice to the forefront.
Here is the alternative to there. There is family, is warmth, is familiarity, is my culture, my language. I love both spaces, I love people in both locations, I miss people when I’m away from either. My Sunflower Friend tells me that love is not cake: “it is not finite”. And although love may not work in dichotomies, temporality does. Time here is time not there. Time there is time not here. There is a saying that once you leave home you can never go back. Physically, I have the privilege to return to the land I left. But once you leave you are ever changed. You don’t return with the same set of eyes. You can never go back. The land changes in your absence, perhaps due to your perception, perhaps something more; concrete shifts*. We cannot expect time to be frozen still in our absence. Our parents age, children grow older. I tell my sister that in my eyes she is still four years old. She turns eleven in a few months. My mother’s hair turns silver, crows feet become more pronounced, skin on the backs of hands become thinner. Time is unforgiving in that way.
We make sacrifices in the pursuit of our happiness and fulfilment. I know I would not be the same daughter or sister to my family had I stayed. I know I had to leave home in order to find a more actualised version of who I am and who I want to be. What feels like an act of selfishness, I tell myself, was necessary. This thought helps to lessen the dull ache of the life left behind. However, it will never fully counterbalance the undercurrent of doubt and guilt. Guilt for the fact that the sacrifices I’ve made are not solely my own. By sacrificing time with my family, I have made choices that take time away from them as well as me. Time that would have been ours to share otherwise.
At this point, dear reader, I will acknowledge the darker and solemn tone of this issue in comparison to my previous work. Put it down to the literal darkness of the days or the rigid Northern air. Or perhaps I am projecting the affects of the onset of the winter on this article. My apologies. As you read on you may find comfort in the message. However, I also have no desire to sugarcoat the pain it brings me, and I’m sure countless others across the globe, to be cognisant of the time we will never regain with those we have left behind. We have all been confronted by the realities of life in one way or another. It is seldom black and white. Our lives are seldom made up of easy choices. To the contrary, I believe that it is the difficult decisions that define who we are. I choose, in this issue, to discuss the outcomes of the paths we take. We are allowed to mourn the consequences of good decisions.
December rolls around and once again I am restless. There is lethargy in every movement, there is the deep desire to hibernate; to sleep and rest and be home: a term that no longer has a clear definition. So I find myself having these thoughts. I feel mournful and heavy hearted. Instead of trying to disregard these feelings and realisations into dull, distant static, I choose to sit with them. I believe that holding space for the pain that comes with these sacrifices is a way to honour them. Don’t get me wrong, there is no use in squandering the opportunities one has been given in life by wallowing in misery. Yet we cannot ‘toxic-positivity' our way out of the longing that resides in us for the lands left behind.
The only way I see to honour the sacrifices we make is to acknowledge them. To practise intentionality in the valuable time we do have with our people. To not allow our regrets or doubts to grow into bitterness or resentment. Acknowledging our own negative emotions, in this regard, helps us contextualise the actions and reactions on the receiving end of our sacrifices. We set our path. However, we are allowed to look back at the love and land left behind. Having more than one home is an abundant experience. We gather memories, people, and love along the way. Having a here and a there,-if by choice- in many ways, is a privilege. We get people to care for and to care for us in both. Yet there is bitter that comes with the sweet of a life lived in pursuit of experiences. We must find ways to cherish all as part of the whole.
We cannot abandon abundance to our doubts. As the weather turns greyer and the black and white of the day to day falls away, I find myself having these questions. Eventually I come back to the same conclusion: Grief that succeeds a choice is not indicative of the choice being wrong. It is simply a reflection of the multifaceted, grey nature of life and the choices we make in order to live it.
*it would be incomplete to end this article without addressing the privilege of having a home to return to. The land left behind, for me, is Turkey. As I am from the West of the country, my home and family were not affected by the earthquakes in February. Millions from my land no longer have the privilege I still possess. Sometimes something more concrete shifts. Sometimes something more; concrete shifts. Often due to forces other than natural disasters. In order to have this conversation, home is a privilege that we must address and be mindful of.