I've never been homesick. The first time I went to camp, I was in fifth grade. About mid-week, our cabin got a bad case of homesickness. All the girls ended up crying into their pillows, moaning about wanting to go home to see their families. I knew what they were crying about, but I did not understand it. I was so secure in the idea that my family would be exactly the same when I returned home. My dad would cook dinner while my mom pelted me with questions about my day. I knew what I was missing, so I wasn't worried about missing it. I knew things would never change.
I was wrong.
Things definitely change. It seems obvious, but it doesn’t really sink in until someone completely surprises you when you aren’t looking. Last year, I was in Austria, having the most amazing semester of my life, studying Philosophy and traveling Europe. I was so excited to be there, but for the first time in my life, I was homesick. The reason? My sister was expecting a baby girl, due mid-February. I wanted to be there so badly, to meet my new niece, to hold her, to tell her how much she was loved. Instead, I found out via Facebook in an Internet café in Munich. I promptly burst into tears at the sight of that new life, flooded with love, sadness, guilt, and so much homesickness. That semester was just the beginning of my understanding of real change.
At first, it seemed like change was something I just had to cope with: not intrinsically good or bad, just inevitable. I knew change was inevitable, and I figured that it was just something I had to deal with. But I realized that change is not just inescapable, it is necessary. Without change, we would not be able to grow, to think, to love, to hope, to work, or to live. The human person is a living being. We experience life through the lens of our senses. This constant stream of information affects us. It molds our opinions, our attitudes, our values. This in turn affects how we live our lives and the decisions we make. Acknowledging this process allows us to look forward to new experiences as learning opportunities.
Despite the changes life brings us, we are in control of the way in which we internalize these experiences. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, stated, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”(1) As a prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl’s statement carries serious weight. Frankl was in the midst of one of the most heinous environments known to man. Death camps were designed to break people mentally and physically, and yet, Frankl insists that we are able to change inside despite our surroundings. At first glance, this may not seem like any great feat, but it really is monumental. As stated, we are affected by our experiences, but we have the power to react. We choose how to respond to our experiences. We are not programmed to perform; we have the ability to decide. Armed with this knowledge, we can look forward to change, even change that may not be for the better.
In Austria, I was unable to change my situation. I was an ocean away from my family, stuck with the Internet as my sole means of communication. At first, I felt really guilty about not being there for my sister and her husband as they started their family. But I realized that I was being selfish. Elizabeth was going to be born whether I was ready or not. Instead of focusing on things beyond my control, I instead decided to respond with affection. I wrote to my sister on Facebook, offering my congratulations, I shopped for a souvenir for my niece, and I looked forward to the day that I could see her in person. These small tasks may not seem like much, but to me, they made all the difference. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I was able to change my internal response. So when I finally did meet Elizabeth, instead of grieving over lost time, I was able to show her all the love I had been feeling for the past three months.
I am an aspiring Philosopher. I like to think about philosophy underlying daily life. I love dark chocolate, red wine, Tim Horton's Iced Capps and pickles. I love to travel and I want to see the Northern Lights before I die. I once bought a car I couldn't drive.
(1) Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning.