The title of this post is a little presumptuous. After all, I have no idea what you do or don’t take for granted. For all I know, you savour every moment and understand exactly how lucky you are. And equally, I don’t even know if you are in a position to take things for granted – you may be far from friends and family the way I was for so many years. So basically, it’s a messed up title. But it reflects a real feeling I’ve had this week – a real sense of all I’ve been missing for so long. And yet a sense that if I hadn’t gone away for so long, I might not appreciate what I have now.
Last week my mum came over the visited us in our new house. I made her a cup of tea and we sat in the garden chatting. Then we went down to the local pub and had a nice meal together before she drove over to Leeds where she was staying for a few days. A few days later we met my brother for dinner in his local pub because it’s his birthday. And earlier in the week I was able to send him a present that I know he really wanted and needed, because I observed it when I went to his flat, instead of a gift certificate because I’m living so far away that I can’t possibly know what he needs. Then on Friday night, my old college friend Ruth came over to stay the night while Phil went off to visit his best friend in Manchester. We had dinner and dessert (we always were suckers for dessert) and we talked and watched the first episode of Downton Abbey because she’s never seen it and the next morning we drove a few miles down the road to an antique store I’d seen and pottered around happily for a while.
This week has been quieter, but we have two good friends coming to stay for the weekend then the week after we’re visiting Phil’s dad for Father’s Day and having two more friends over for dinner on the Sunday night.
None of this is particularly remarkable. It’s the stuff that makes up normal life for most people, but for me it has been a long time since I could share simple pleasures with the people I love the most. Sure we saw each other now and then when we came on holiday to the UK or they flew over to New York. But then you get a concentrated chunk of 2 weeks before they leave again and you miss another year or two of their lives.
And it must all sound very uninteresting if you have the kind of life where you regularly do things like this, but for us it’s still a complete novelty. To be able to just spend time with our best friends and family without it being a full 2-week stay. To be able to just pop in on Father’s Day with a gift instead of making a phone call and sending a gift certificate. To have friends over for dinner on a regular basis. All these are things we missed while we were living away.
“Oh, friends are easily replaced,” another ex-pat said to me once. And perhaps for some people that’s true. My old friend Ruth seems to make friends everywhere she goes and if she had lived in America as long as I did, I’ve no doubt she would have had a full social circle in less than a year. But I have always been introverted, always found it hard to make casual connections (which frankly is the only way you make long-term friends – nurture lots of casual connections and see where they lead you). So I made very few friends in the US and, while I know that’s almost entirely my fault, it didn’t make it any more pleasant as a way of life.
So now that we’re back, I’m treasuring the things I once took for granted – finally able to fully appreciate exactly what it means to have friends and family who love you.