The year was 1998. That’s when I moved to the United States. Due to some visa restrictions that are irrelevant here, I was not allowed to leave the country until my Green Card was issued. I had no idea how long that’d be. I applied for it the same year, but the INS doesn’t tell you anything about anything. You apply for something, and they will notify you. One day. It can be tomorrow (it never is, really), or in 10 years. You’re at their mercy.
I could leave the country, really, but that might have meant I might never be allowed to come back. Newly married and starting my job and my life in the US, I didn’t want to risk not ever coming back. So, I stayed. And for two years (this is how long it was till the INS finally granted my Green Card), I was not allowed to leave the country.
I was 23 at the time and 1998 was a tough year for me. For the first time in my life, I was away from the only people I had ever called “family” for all the important occasions: my birthdays, theirs, deaths, and all the holidays. We had no Skype, no Zoom, no Facetime. I had a discount phone plan with MCI (landline; remember them? With the sun on the “i”?!) that cut my cost-per-minute by 10-20% or some such number. I was making minimum wage and could not afford to talk for more than 10-15 minutes once a month or so. The normal going rate was something like $2.50 for Romania.
Those two years were my practice time, where I learned how to survive and have a more-or-less normal life knowing I would maybe never be with my family for many, if not all, of the most important occasions. I admit, as a 23-year-old, that was something to get used to. By 2000 I got into the groove of it. It was what we did. And we lived. The distance and the absence did not kill us.
Nowadays, the desperation of people not being with their families for Thanksgiving this year puzzles me. Yes, I know it hurts. I know it’s not what we “normally” do. Like I said: I have been there. But why risk our health and that of those we love for a get-together?! That part, I don’t understand. Sure, there are still millions out there who don’t believe this pandemic is real, but even those millions that believe in it (although it’s science and not Santa Claus, really) are willing to risk it all for 24 hours of eating turkey with an audience. I just don’t get it.
Today, we have so many ways of communicating and practically feel like we’re right there, in each other’s homes, that I would think it would be a no-brainer being safe and not sorry later. Or better safe than sick. I know the remote options for communication work because today I meet with my family weekly for free for about a couple of hours every Sunday. We catch up on the week and gossip about the rest of the family. It’s great.
We still don’t celebrate, for the most part, holidays together. That is “our normal” and that has become our routine. We managed to find and make other traditions over the years around the holidays and we cherish them just as much as the old ones before we decided to live in different countries. We don’t mourn what we don’t have anymore (we have not done that in 20 years now), and we’re grateful for the times when we can travel and see each other. Those times, regardless of when in the year they occur, are holidays within themselves. We’re ever so thankful for technology and each other regardless of how many courses we all eat together from the same kitchen (Thanksgiving does not apply for my own family, but you get the idea). We have survived this distance. We have built other bridges to communicate and find other times to communicate in. And if we could, like so many millions of other immigrant families, I am sure we all can.
I wish strength and optimism to those who decide to stay home and make memories in a new (and hopefully not-to-be-repeated-again) way. Better days will come. They must. I wish everyone else who decides to travel and get together this season much care, precaution, and much luck.
Regardless of your choice, Happy Thanksgiving to all!