It is hard to be away from the people you love; not to look into their eyes and have access to all the undercurrents that flow under their words. It’s tough to have family spread out, to have to wait for an occasion just to spend some time together. That is true for everyone, but it is certainly a main issue for those of us living out-of-town. Out-of-town means not being in the same city as many other frum people, and it also means living at a distance from one’s family.
It is also hard to be at a distance from friends – the friends you started your marriages with, and had babies with. Now you find yourselves separated by many miles. It’s hard to keep up with a friend when you aren’t nearby to share day-to-day concerns. Yes, it is easier to call now, as long-distance calls are no longer a big expense. But even the best relationships start to unravel when you are unable to share a smile or soothe a friend close by.
Living at a distance from your parents poses even bigger challenges, especially as they age. There was a time when my mother would join us for most of the holidays. She would fly to visit us wherever we lived, bringing trinkets from the local Jewish bookstore, and novel kosher delicacies. Once, she even joined us for a bris – spending a small fortune at the last minute to join us in Canada – of the grandson who would be named for her father. But that was a long time ago. Before we had a chance to notice, she could no longer travel. Now, we have to go to her and we can never manage it frequently enough. Sadly, it is not always possible to have my mother join us for our simchas.
And before you know it, before you will think it can happen, you may even live far from your own children. They may be studying or working in another city, state or country. You will not know their friends, or be able to keep up with their schedules, or know who they eat with over Shabbos. You will even have to sit in the backseat if they begin dating…and may only get to know the newest addition to your family when it is close to being official.
You hope that your children will be able to come home for Yom Tov. And even then, how will they come? Will it be by catching a ride, by taking a bus, a train, or a plane? Will they know enough of their schedule in advance to get the best deal or will the price of travel be prohibitive? And when they do finally walk through your door, it will not be the same as your kids who live with you or near you. Each moment is much more precious, for their visits are infrequent. You will rush to cook their favorite food, and sit back to enjoy the stories they tell and drink in the laughter. It will seem as though they are home for a whiff and before you know it, their seats will be empty.
Many of us share the mixed-blessing of having children who live over the ocean in Israel. We are proud to have children who have settled there, who are married with families in the Holy Land. We hear about grandchildren we rarely see. We listen to tales of their antics, without being able to hold them. Our hearts are always yearning to see them, to be a part of their lives. But if you are a teacher, you must live on a teacher’s salary and the only times available for you to travel are when there is vacation from school, during your school’s winter or summer break. And these are the only times when there is never a break on the exorbitant price of tickets to Israel. So you try to collect things to send over to Israel, if anyone could spare room in their suitcases, just so your grandchildren will think of you.