I am so thankful that I have the opportunities to travel and have had this time to be away so long. It’s very unusual to be able to take a 7-week vacation, and it’s been great. Because I needed a long vacation to teach me this lesson: it’s too long to be away from home.
I have been talking and dreaming for almost 7 years now about leaving Sweden, to move to a warm country. I have talked a lot about moving to the Canary Islands. But the longest of my trips there was 2 weeks. It’s easy to dream about living in paradise for 2 weeks at a time. However, on this trip I learned that visiting vs. a long-term stay is very different. For a few reasons.
Without a job here, without my own routine, without people I work with, live with, and spend time with, there is no life. I forgot that when I was young and travelled, I never ever was on a vacation. I always went to something to do: to school, to work, to something. I was always busy and active DOING something that involved study or work. I actually always too home with me. If “home is where the heart is,” I always took home with me, because my heart was in my work and the people I spent time with. But this time, this trip, I had nothing to do but be a tourist. Now, on this island that is cheap, I could do most of the things I wanted to do if I wanted. And I did most of those things. Sometimes over and over again. However, those things get boring after a while. There is nothing stimulating in doing the same thing over again. So, what seems like heaven and a break from the everyday activities of life became mundane and tiresome. Without any purpose to each day with meaning, even paradise becomes boring. Moving to a tropical island for the winter is not enough.
To be truly happy, I need work, stimulation, meaning in my every-day life. I need to know that what I do is making a difference for somebody, if even on a small scale and only for the day. And this means I need people. There are many kinds of people who have not been in my life these 7 weeks: students, work colleagues, friends, and family.
My students are like short-term work colleagues. But they are the focus of my work and often my most intense and meaningful relationships. Whether it’s half-an-hour helping a new student in the writing centre or meeting students over the length of a whole course, the sense of meaning and purpose in my life is so tangible. I can see the immediate effect of my work on these young people and the change I make in their lives. And although they can give little back at the time, the appreciation and thankfulness they give seem to out value all else and last many years… sometimes a lifetime.
Then there are my colleagues, who I meet with more often than my friends, over 15 years, on a somewhat regular basis. While not always close and not always in agreement and not always on the same page, we have been thrown together to get a job done. I have been immensely lucky with the jobs I have chosen: the 6 years teaching a Kreativ Mission, and the 15 years teaching at Malmö University. These two jobs have truly been the most fulfilling experiences of my life. And that is, in no little part, due to the people that I have had the pleasure of working with at both jobs. To come daily to a place where you are met with smiles, welcome, and a sense of home mean everything to a person. To have relationships with people where you work together with to over-come challenges, do mundane chores, have visions and goals, make and execute plans, meet difficulties and challenges… but to do it together as a team. That is the most rewarding work you can find. Oh, of course, not every person at work is a saint. In fact, each year there has always been one bitch. And when one bitch leaves, and new one rises up. In most cases, I have noticed that the bitch is someone who just works alone and has some kind of power trip or need to dominate. I had to deal with one the other day via email. But I’ve been lucky in that they only seem to come one at a time. And I just walk away from them. I take time for their bitchiness to fall off of me, and I go on. But most of the people I work with bring a sense of joy and fulfilment… even now when we have a lot of time working on our own from home. Some of the happiest times I have had on this paradise island the last 7 weeks were the 3 Skype meetings I had with colleagues back in Sweden. In two of those meetings, some really good work was done. Left those meetings feeling energized.
I have no friends on this island. And although I don’t often get to even see my friends for over 7 weeks back home, I always know they are there for me and that if I need to, I can call them up and visit them. I need to work on that back home too. Sweden is not an easy society to do that in. People don’t do that… we say we will meet, but there is always an excuse about why we don’t. I don’t, because I know everyone is very busy and tired and people don’t like someone just showing up on their door-stop unexpectedly in Sweden… or at least that is what we tell ourselves. But I could, if I really needed to. However, on these tropical islands, be it Thailand or the Canaries, I have no one. And befriending another tourist, who is here for 1 to 2 weeks, in a bar doesn’t really cut it. It might be a temporary fix, but I have convinced myself that the input and effort is not worth the output and fix. During these 7 weeks, I have been lucky once and I have had a great experience like that. I met one guy from Germany, at bout 10 am in the morning in a beach hang-out bar. We hung on hammocks and talked all day until I went home at 9 pm, except for about 3 hours where he went on a quick tour. The intellectual conversation and sense of comradeship just flowed as we exchanged ideas. But for some reason, knowing that we lived in different countries, we didn’t even exchange contact info. We know the other would become just another Facebook friend. We said goodbye and I will never see him again. In another setting, like home, he would have become a real friend. But on an island like this where I don’t have a life and he doesn’t have a life, there is no real friendship. Just a pleasant acquaintance. It is near to impossible to make real friends in a place that is not home.
And finally, but not least at all, family. I really only have 2 people who are my family in Sweden… my two sons. They are still teens and sometimes they need me and sometimes they don’t. But I miss them more than I thought I would. I worry for them as much as when I am at home. What I learned on this trip is that one of them, Lukas, with his diagnosis, doesn’t really care that much about Christmas and New Year’s. But the other son, Kristopher, needs his dad there. One of the reasons K needs his family is because of this media based social life he has via internet. He has not learned the skills of getting out of the house and hanging out with friends. He found no one to spend New Year’s Eve with, and he didn’t try hard. I would not have been able to push him, but I could have spent it with him, instead of him being alone. It is sad to see what internet addiction is doing to him, and how it is not too different from my isolating myself and not dating (see my previous post, Dating in a Millennial World). Just as I have never learned the skill of dating and navigating that world of social contacts, and I am suffering because of it, he has not yet learned the skill of making friends and hanging out with them, making plans with them, etc. So, I worry for him and miss him. Even if I can do nothing for him, I would like to be there to comfort him when he fails. I would also like to challenge myself to be a role model for him. Perhaps together, as family, we can learn, change, and grow. And surely my other son, Lukas, needs and wants this too. Although he doesn’t care about annual celebrations like Christmas, New Year’s, and birthdays, he does like to spend time with me, chatting, talking deeply, cooking and seeing a play together. These are all things I miss deeply right now. I already have tickets booked to see a musical with him, and we have a couple more plays and musicals to see in the coming months. And with Kristopher we have Star Wars to see, and TV series about super heroes to see and talk about. I can’t wait to see my boys that I love so much. Without family, I will not be able to move to such an island.
And so, I have learned some deep and valuable lessons on this “paradise”, which at times has felt more like a solitary confinement than a vacation. I have learned to dream new dreams and make new plans about my future. I cannot simple dream of moving off to paradise island somewhere. Those places will always be there for a quick week’s visit on vacation. They are only a flight away. But I need to find a home. There are those two old expressions, “Home is where the heart is” and “There’s no place like home”. Home is where I have work, workmates, friends, and family. If I want to leave Sweden in the future to live in warmer climates, I must first prepare the ground first to make sure these 4 things are there. This might be in the wonderful changing climate of the Okanagan Valley in BC, Canada, or this maybe in a big city on the mainland of Spain, such as Malaga… but they will need to be normal places where work and a life can be found.
When I was a teen, I heard a song in a musical called “The Wiz”, and a few year later one of my classmates at the acting academy in California sang it one week in singing class. The lyrics were powerful to me then, as I was 19, living in a sunny warm place, working for a temporary time in a great school, but I did not yet have any friends or family there (I did later in that year, when I met Lisa), and the song resonated deeply within my soul:
When I think of home
I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing
Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back
Now that I have some direction
It would sure be nice to be back home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Giving me enough time in my life to grow up
Time be my friend, let me start again
Suddenly my world’s gone and changed it’s face
But I still know where I’m going
I have had my mind spun around in space
And yet I’ve watched it growing
Oh, If you’re list’ning God
Please don’t make it hard to know
If we should believe in things that we see
Tell us, should we run away
Should we try and stay
Or would it be better just to let things be?
Living here, in this brand new world
Might be a fantasy
But it taught me to love
So it’s real, real to me
And I’ve learned
That we must look inside our hearts to find
A world full of love