Monday, June 19, 2006

Feeling the pull

I'm in my parents' cozy living room, sitting at the computer table while my husband lounges on the couch watching a World Cup match and my son naps next to him. The winds outside are really whipping up, and the sky is growing darker and darker, in anticipation of forecasted thunderstorms. Today has been the first day that I haven't actually left the house - so relaxing!
With just over a week to go before we return to Israel, my feelings about going are ambivalent at best. I can't help but wonder if our lives would be better here, easier somehow. Even though I've been living in Israel for nearly fifteen years, I suppose I will always feel more comfortable here. Even the unknown is relatively familiar, and my natural instincts kick in. Life isn't a puzzle here like it is in Israel, where despite my language fluency and successful acclimation, I still often feel as though I'm shooting in the dark, as though I will never fit in 100%. Of course, after so many years abroad, I imagine that it would be hard to be completely American either, but I suppose that what it comes down to is that which comes naturally versus that which must be learned. A recent conversation over large lattes at Starbucks with my friend N, who lives in Europe and was also here visiting her family (we coordinated visits "home") confirms what I've been feeling on this subject, though I actually believe that she is generally happier and feeling more comfortable where she is than I feel in Israel.

It's tough being an expat, even when you are living somewhere you chose to live. I have some good friends in Israel, but my "soulmate" friends are all abroad, whether it be N in Europe or the dear friends we stayed with last week in New Jersey, where everything was wonderful (except for my knee acting up and causing me to miss one of our NYC days) and we had five days of perfectly meshed personalities on every level. Of course, it's also been wonderful for the little one, who has been having a fabulous time making new friends, hitting the playgrounds and amusement parks and charming the pants off of all who cross his path. (And his English just keeps getting better and better - it's amazing to watch!) While I realize that we are on vacation, and daily life would certainly be different if we were actually living here, as I look around me at the lives of my friends, I think that it would be nice for us to be here too. My son's educational and extracurricular opportunities would certainly be greater, as would my professional opportunities. We've talked about relocating to the US for a few years, but we don't know what my husband could do, given that his professional experience is very focused on one particular area, and isn't really something that he could do here.

Then there's the normalcy, the idea of living in a country whose very existence isn't questioned, a place where life isn't lived in such an intense, "in-your-face" manner and banality is the norm, should you so desire. Everything about life in Israel is intense, and you often don't realize just how stressful it is until you get out for a while, like I've done now.

On the flip side of all this are all the great things about living in Israel - my sense of personal security (in the "I-can-take-my-dog-for-a-walk-at-2:30am-without-having-to-worry" sort of way, not in the "watch-out-for-suspicious-people/objects" sort of way), the friendliness and openness of many Israelis, and how they're willing to help you at the drop of a hat, even when they don't know you, socialized medicine (for better or for worse), and so on. It really is an amazing place to live.

Where am I going on this? I don't know. These mixed feelings are always swirling around in my head, and they intensify whenever we come to the US for a visit. I suppose they are even more intense this time, as I see what kind of life my son could have here, as we miss out on relationships with those we hold dear. A dilemma, to be sure, and one that I cannot imagine ever solving.


nrg said...

I know exactly what you mean with every word... it is probably the same for most expats. I have told Mr. Viking right from the start that when I die, I want half of my ashes thrown into the ocean at the beach house on Fire Island, the other half from our cabin here... and that some day they will meet in the middle and I will become one with the ocean that has always separated me from half of myself, half of what I love and hold dear. I, too, am split for life, dearest She. So be it. We wouldn't really give it up for anything in world, would we?

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean! Generally when I feel myself being pulled toward life in the States I turn on Fox News. That cures me! ;) Seriously though, I just tell myself that life isn't necessarily better in either place, it's just different and I am one lucky bunny to have access to both when I want it.

lisoosh said...

nrg - well written.

As a triple expat (born USA, raised Scotland, several good years in Israel, plus Israeli husband, currently USA) I know exactly what you mean. Whenever I am in one place, I miss the other two on some level.
That is why I need to win the lottery! Then I can have a home in each place and fly first class between them all to get my "fix".
See - perfect solution.

Udge said...

Yeah, me too. The life of the (voluntary) ex-pat is of constant longing for where-we-aren't-right-now. Good piece.

Enjoy the holidays.

nrg said...

"fix" is an excellent word for it, isn't it? I promise all my friends and loved ones in the US that I will always be back at least once a year. But I have to admit it isn't because I feel obligated. I need my fix! I need to re-Americanize myself! I need to hear my daughter's accent fade after two weeks of English. I need to eat a Reuben (yes, my big weakness...try finding corned beef in Norway...). I need to go into a store at an ungodly hour, like 6 in the morning just to buy band-aids... because I can!!

Then I need to come home to Norway and remember why I would rather raise my kids here, I see the Oslo fjord gleaming under the setting sun (at 10:30 pm!), I settle into my routines and comfortable surroundings and wait for the longing to start again!

lisoosh said...

nrg - exactly. I don't find I miss each place in its entirety, I just yearn for certain aspects.

Savtadotty said...

I'm with Beth: "life isn't necessarily better in either place, it's just different." The intensity of Israel can be too much, and I have the luxury of cocooning to escape it, which a young parent doesn't have.

RR said...

She, I can totally relate. I go through exactly the same thing every time we visit the US, and the feelings have intensified for me as well in the last few years because of my kids (and their wonderful relationship with my family).

I think, deep down, I would like to move back, but then we'd be missing out on so many things here, especially as far as the kids are concerned...

SIGH. There really is no solution, is there?

Safe trip back! The heat and humidity are waiting :-) I admit I got jealous when you mentioned rain in the SUMMER!

nrg said...

Has anyone else noticed the lack of input from She in this comment section????

Oh Sheeeeeee.... where are youuuuuu??????

risingsunofnihon said...

I am glad you wrote this post. Often others do not realize how hard life can be as an expat, nor can they empathize with common sadnesses like missing your home country. I hope you work through it and are ready to return when it is time to go back!

Liza said...

Sorry for the late replies, everyone. I returned to Israel two days ago and am still trying to get my bearings...

nrg: How did Mr Viking react? I like the concept and the way you describe it. Quite poetic, actually.

Beth: Fox News would definitely cure me - they make me crazy! You're right about life not necessarily being better in either place, but I think there are definitely aspects about each place that are better than in the other place. All a matter of establishing priorities, I guess.

Lisoosh: Want to split the cost of a Powerball lottery ticket? I'm definitely in! I've always wanted to fly first class (or at least business class!). Those seats looks so much more comfortable than those horrible coach class seats!

Udge: Frustrating, isn't it? It's rather daunting to think that I will never feel whole again, no matter where I am.

nrg: You are definitely right about needing the fix. It's not only the big things like seeing friends and family, but also the little things like going into a supermarket and seeing the familiar products, watching local TV, etc. American pizza is so much better than Israeli pizza - I miss it when I'm here! I miss Vienna Fingers, the best cookies ever!

Of course, now that I'm back I've just sort of settled into the old routine, but we are definitely thinking about making some changes to our life now, both big and little, so that I can feel more complete here.

Thank you for not calling me at 6am to go buy band-aids...

Lisoosh: See comments to Beth and nrg, above. BTW, I thought of you when visiting your current home state, just so you know...

Savtadotty: I definitely agree with you about the intensity, whether it be in the day-to-day issues or life in Israel as a whole. Even normal, daily interactions with others can be intense, and I like being able to escape that once in a while.

rr: There is some comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in my feelings, and that to some extent they are shared by so many other expats. No solution? Lisoosh had one! :-) Powerball lottery, here we come!

You wouldn't have been jealous if you'd seen the rain we had - torrential, scary to drive in, etc. A little rain is okay (and certainly a novelty in summer for us), but this was just ridiculous, and there was so much of it. Sometimes it rained for days on end, and the weather reports changed from day to day. It was difficult to make outdoor plans because you never knew what was going to happen with the weather, as forecasts were often way off the mark.

nrg: Sheesh! You again? I'm back now.

Risingsunofnihon: Thanks for your comment. You bring up some good points, and I think it's even more complicated, in that not only can people not understand that we miss our home countries, but that if we do miss them, why don't we just go back, or the feelings of wanting to live in two places at the same time, and constantly feeling that pull. I think I didn't realize what I'd be getting myself into when I made the decision to live in Israel all those years ago. I couldn't fully appreciate what it was that I'd be giving up. Not that I regret my decision to come here, but more that I didn't expect that it would be so difficult at times.

The Miner said...

Kojayi? chera neminevisi?
Where are you? we have never seen you here since a few days ago!
Keep posting...



Jon said...

I, like the others who commented on this post, can relate. Life in Israel is intense, and I miss America. The comfortable lifestyle is, as of now anyway, unattainable here. Not sure that it's so important, but it's how it goes.

leavent said...

Cant but admit my admiration for your out look stemming from your feelings that, I on the other side almost feel the same disgust towards” those” who steer things the wrong way with abstinence for all that (no more may hurt their own people they are hurting )but the disaster to day, on my side and yours , they are totally ignorant in the rules of the game, except for force and violence .Among the maddening crowed I stand hurt ,pessimist and alone .
While the one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind is a king, he dose not see far, around or straight. I am dismayed for the false claims and the hollow promises, and the absence of reason and rational and most of all the nation of sheep on both side .Some believes God is a realestateagent, others think God await Jehadsi in “Jennah ”paradise.
irrespective where you are ,I would have liked to welcome you home with better news,yet for some one like you with reason ,I greet you and wish you to attain safe feelings for you and your family .