I wondered, when we first arrived at this big, beautiful home for the holidays, how its owners could also be looking forward to leaving it for ten days. I wondered, as I sunk my heels into soft carpets and wandered from room to gracious room, how they could be so eager to get away from such luxury. Two fireplaces, well heated and lit rooms, a professional kitchen, every surface pleasing to a peasant eye like mine. A friend of mine, a single mom who lives in my more humble neighbourhood, said what I had been secretly thinking all along: “I don’t know how anyone could be unhappy here.”
Eight days in, I’ve had moments of boredom, sleeplessness, indigestion, loneliness and even a tearful fight with my husband, and I am again reminded that, like the old wives like to say, “Wherever you are, there you be.” Or something along those lines.
Having stepped out of our cramped, thrifty and constantly in motion routine and into another, softer, richer world for the holidays, I am still as human as I ever was. Luxury can deliciously distract me for a time, just as endless rum & eggnog, or a prized bottle of mead, or an impossibly soft couch and a perfect fire can transport me elsewhere.
The next morning always comes, though, and with it, hangovers, dirty dishes, and leftovers invade even the most well-appointed and well-stocked of spaces.
Don’t misunderstand – being away can be the best possible medicine. Away from my usual surroundings, I am given measures of time to reflect, space for stuffed down creative thoughts to bloom unhindered (write a novel? intriguing…), room to ignore the built-in responsibilities of living in one’s own home.
Being away from my husband from time to time, as we live out miniature lives apart (I to my exercise class, my writing, my work, and he to his schoolwork and hobbies) has always satisfied any thoughts of single longing that still may lurk in my subconscious. Being away from him means I am reminded of just how much I don’t care for life without him anymore, even as I enjoy my alone time all the more, because there is less of it. I have a choice in the matter.
I think that’s the real freedom of away. To travel away from my standard life for a time, and then come back to it, afforded through the generosity of someone else’s trust in lending us their home, is an essential part of feeling free at heart. In turn, we’ve given them the chance to be away, without having to worry about their pets and their palace.
I know that part of our mutual sanity as a couple has been to give each other moments of transportation – out of the mundane, into a new experience or a solo setting, letting go of a partner for an afternoon, trusting that they’ll want to return. Unlike my old jealous boyfriends, my husband lets me go and play different roles out in the wide world all the time, freely encouraging me to step into new spaces of personhood, and it makes me all the more willing and eager to come back home and share my stories with him.
My most treasured and still-around friends likewise allow me short jaunts away – their picture of who I am always leaves room for change, and I am not trapped by the person I was ten years ago. They may tease me lovingly about the past, but they have blank spaces of anticipation open for me to step into, instead of getting angry that I can be different or may change my long-held opinions about life. I try, when I’m feeling strong, to do the same for them – call them to places of difference, allow them to be more than the sum of their circumstances or their past. A friend, now a mother, still needs alone time, and someone else to hold the baby, even though she is an incredibly devoted and attentive mother. The people I serve every day, who own nothing and possess very few options, still need the freedom to complain about the food, have a normal bad day, or have opinions about art and music and politics and other people, not just providing hard-done-by soundbytes on the number of beds in the nearest homeless shelter or the safety of their streets.
Being away from my family this Christmas has made me realise something vital that I’d forgotten in the rush of old emotion and previously unspoken hurt: that I miss them, and they are irreplaceable.
I value the choice to not be with family this Christmas, made at first out of a deep desire to just be truly away, to get a better sense of a subject that has been weighing on my heart for some time. I am grateful and pleasantly surprised that I do miss them after all – despite our zen-like surroundings and easy schedule, I am looking forward to these coming weeks, when family members will all be crammed into our tiny apartment, together again. Instead of feeling trapped by duty or guilt, I am choosing, out of a real desire to connect again, to spend time with them.
So however you’ve been away this holiday season, I hope that it will teach you as it has taught me – that you can’t run from yourself, but you can reflect on what personal baggage came along with you, and decide how to repack it, or perhaps even leave it behind. Or maybe being away will spur you to regift awayness to someone you love, trusting that the journey back to the familiar is often the sweetest and most compelling of all.