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Alone Together

October 16, 2011
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Living in a country foreign from your own is a very particular type of isolation. There are language barriers and cultural barriers that can keep one rather separated from the whole. In a place like Seoul, one of the most populated cities in the world, the experience is one of simultaneous isolation and inclusion. We are surrounded by humanity, daily rubbing elbows with 9 million other people, and yet we cannot carry on a conversation with the vast majority of them.

We are, of course, also isolated from our friends and family back home. Having just had our first child, we miss them more than ever. It is strange that this new being in our family, who means more to us than anything in the whole world, is not known by all of the other beings who mean so much to us. There is Skype and emails and phone calls, but it’s not the same. And raising a child away from any kind of built-in support system has its challenges. If we were living in the States our “village” of loved ones, the very village that it takes to raise a child, would be available to us. Here, they are not.

Confession: I’m okay with this, for now. There is something very luxurious about our current isolation. Away from the expectations and pressures of our own culture and society, and immune from the pressures of this society that we do not know and cannot understand, we are free to be the parents we want to be. To be able to figure out what works best for our family, without having to worry about what others might say or think, is a total perk. Through our isolation we are given permission to follow our instincts, to make mistakes without fear of judgement, and to figure out who we are in these new roles of Mother and Father.

There is a reason why all of the great sages and prophets have spent time in isolation and why mystics and contemplatives constantly seek it. In isolation one can turn inward and really get to the heart of the Self. Who am I? What do I want for myself? What do I want for my child? What do we want for this family?

A new parent is perhaps one of earth’s most emotionally vulnerable creatures. We want so much to do our best, to give our child everything and anything they need and to be better than what we had, even if what we had was great. It is easy, in this state, to doubt yourself, to doubt your instincts, and in your search for guidance , to follow advice that just doesn’t work for you or your child. Especially when surrounded by well-meaning loved ones, who only want what is best, and so very gladly tell you what they think about what you should do.

Yes, for now, I am content in isolation. I enjoy having the world at my fingertips, living in a modern city with every possible amenity I could ever want or need, while also being excused from ever having to engage with anyone outside of my home beyond nods, smiles, and polite pointing. This singular focus on my new family is something I cherish. Especially as I know it won’t last. And I do not think that it should. We are slowly but surely learning Korean and after we’ve been here a while longer, will indeed be able to communicate and perhaps even make friends. Before we know it we’ll have a “village” of friends and neighbors and it will be so nice to have someone to watch the baby for an evening, or to grab a coffee or share a meal with someone other than my husband.

Until then, though, I’m going to take advantage of every moment of our alone time. Years from now, will I look back on this time and think about how great it was or about how challenging it was? I don’t know. Probably both. But for this moment, being alone together on this island of our family life is something I would not trade for anything in the world.

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