One big aspect I find missing in North American life and it maybe an unintended consequence of an immigrant’s heritage — missing extended family, old friends — a diminished sense of community.
But there’s something to be said about the benefits of living in a society that allows you to be how you will — enough anonymity and privacy to go about life the way you deem right for yourself.
It was a major factor for me. I stayed back in Canada because its social fabric wouldn’t ostracize me for being a single parent. Instead, I found my feet for the first time in my life. They grew fierce (as feet can be, if you’ve ever had your butt kicked with them) from initiative, hard work and resilience — and from being recognized for it. I had never experienced that before.
I have spent half my life being raised on one continent. And the other half learning to be a REAL adult, on another.
In the land I was born and which I love immensely as well, I believe I might have toiled to do the best by my child and I, but I wouldn’t escape the labels ‘divorcee’, ‘and with child’ translating to ‘a sad failure, what a pity!’ My parents would not have been spared the usual conversational barbs either. (This was almost two decades ago — viewpoints are evolving, at least I hope they are).
I knew there was a price to pay one way or other — living oceans away from social support networks I was used to, bereft of close family and friends, I was sure to be over extended in physical terms trying to do it all. If I went back to living with my parents I would bring upon them and myself the social censure patriarchal societies often seem to inflict on women whose marriages crumble. What I might have to endure from men who’d think I was “available” was something I didn’t even want to begin to contemplate.
What it boiled down to was, that I was okay with collapsing in sheer exhaustion each day being mom, dad, breadwinner, nanny, grocery shopper, cook, chauffeur, maid, teacher, employee. But to be emotionally drained by people and society — I didn’t have the guts to take that on.
I salute the women who do.
I think my mother would have done it differently. I wish I could, but I didn’t like confrontation unless it was thrust upon me. (Notice the past tense:)
So happy as western life is in the privacy and space it gives you to live your life — it has its price.
The flip side is the loneliness and isolation.
I’ve never been so keenly aware of it than I am now.
I always knew I missed close community. The pangs, intense. More evident in festive season, which where I grew up— there’s something every month!
Even in ordinary everyday moments cooking in the kitchen, I’d be surrounded by my mother’s comforting presence or by bantering lots of cousins and aunts — cooking and eating all at once — the kitchen a chaotic blend of aromas, voices and clanging utensils. I remember it with fond love now — and I smile wryly at how sometimes I’d wish to be far, far away from it all, then.
In my old life, there was no concept of privacy — you found your privacy deep within you, inside you, sitting in a room full of chattering family.
It’s changing now — the younger generation asks for it, for space. I think it’s essential and healthy to have that.
I wish the thriving communities I grew up in had that balance down or were even willing to consider that balance — a cocoon of support wedded with the ability to give a soul solitude.
The request for privacy and space from young ones is catching folks in the old country off-guard. But they’re getting it gradually.
I only hope they stop at the optimal level without being reduced to a society of individuals too scared to help someone for the fear of trespassing personal boundaries.
Helping without being asked is a trait that Asians pride themselves on. You’re not considered to have been raised well if the only focus in life you have is you. But I digress.
Will this demand for personal space create distance between people who are accustomed to living colourful, vibrant lives with tightly knit family ties?
The concept of making appointments to see family or friends is unheard of, scorned and laughed at….Will it make these emotional people less tolerant of community? Have we gone too far? I don’t know.
All I know is I didn’t fully value the humid warmth of concerned support, however overbearing it got at times.
Was it immaturity or a misplaced sense of shame in the innate emotionality of my native culture? Perhaps a mix of many things.
Having traveled in a world of logic and cold rationality for 20 years, I long for my chicken soup — the old homey love I grew up with when now it’s played out the way I stupidly wanted in adolescence — I long for it now when it’s far, far away.
The old model of subsistence farming was — “Today we all work on my farm. Tomorrow we all work on yours.” Guaranteed help. Your loss was their loss. You grew a variety of crops. So if you didn’t sell them for a profit, the village would eat the harvest and live.
The new model of commercial farming — “Today you work on your farm. Tomorrow it’s still just you. And that’s how it stays.” No help. Your neighbours farms are fenced off. You grow one commercial crop. If it doesn’t sell, you have no cash, no food and loads of debt. You starve or worse, you end your life.
Do you see the analogy to modern day living? McMansions? House Poor? Do it all — alone. We even raise kids this way. “You need a village to raise a child” no longer necessary. And we know how that is turning out!
It’s a delicate balance — individual and community.
Too much individual = anxious isolation.
Too much community = groupthink.
How do you get it right? It’s time we re-examine both models, in the East and West. It’s time we create a middle path relevant to a global technology age.
I don’t think I’m a very conscious person — I didn’t begin to understand this until a few years ago. My effort to write this is to give voice to something many are feeling.
This awareness of missing a strong sense of community has taught me to stay present and savour an experience, as it occurs.
That it’s never all good or all bad.
Most of life happens not in black and white, but in multi-colour and sometimes, grey.
To work together with the like minded and endeavour to create a sense of free-flowing community (I don’t have to work at privacy or individuality — lots of that around me! But for others around the globe, that might be the required emphasis).
To take nothing for granted — to experience it as if for the first and the last time.
Am I always able to do that? Not at all.
But life is unpredictable, it may offer repeat opportunities —and I try to pay attention.
So if there is something that was the chicken soup for your soul — something you long for that you regret not having enjoyed fully as it played out — don’t dwell on it for too long because you’ll be missing out on — the chicken soup for your soul, right now.
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Originally published at medium.com