I used to hang a row of time-zone clocks on the wall in my studio, each labeled with a location on the planet where I had friends or family that I cared enough about to keep track of. It is a habit I began years ago when I had Yemen to deal with, then Nepal, then London and the Arctic Circle and the South China Seas…it got out of hand a couple times but I kept it going. I moved once or twice and rehung the clocks each time. Singapore showed up out of the clear blue sky one month…. Hawaii, Sweden, Cape Town, Madagascar and then Peru (which had to be up there all the time since it kept repeating itself), Guatamala, Panama, New Zealand, Poland, Buenos Aires – just some of the changing places on the wall. But I had to shut down my global tracking operations. I ran out of space and removed them all when it became too long a row to devote to just clocks. Visitors were starting to look at me funny. But really it was a display that outlived its usefulness since I can check all the time zones I need to check on my IPhone now. Why do I need to check times, you ask? Are you a mother, a friend, a significant other? Do you have a pulse? So that I’ll know when I can be expecting a call or when I can safely make a call and not disturb sleep. And I wanted to see the times because in some odd way it made me feel closer to the people. Of course most people come and go and travel here and there but this core group of special people I am close with live, work and play in exotic locales on a regular basis. It has been a steady phenomenon in my adult life for so long now, to have my most important peeps in faraway places, that it has become my “norm.” It has become part of my own lifestyle as well as theirs. When they come home, they really COME HOME – it’s not like they just arrive back home from a state or two away, yawning hellos to me as they come shuffling in the door – the word HOME has weight to it when you are seldom there and you can compare it to primitive locations where you have missed it. It is a place you dream about when the heat of where you are is so oppressive you can’t breathe and it is a place safe from wild chimpanzees and elephants. I travel some too, but these crazy-good fun people in my personal tribe have taken the concept of traveling to new heights. They go to some extraordinary places! When they walk through my door there are bear hugs and kisses and shrieks of delight to finally see eachother again.
There is much to be gained from these travels – I lap up the stories and I view the pictures and I learn from each person’s experiences. Sometimes I follow them to their next targeted area, if it is a trip I would find fascinatng. Some of those who are dearest to me actually live permanently in exotic places, enjoying careers that enable them to happily live abroad, and I mean really abroad. If a location requires a full 24 hours for travel home for the holidays, that is a far piece abroad in my book. As a mother, I have developed a fine selection of coping mechanisms for times when I know that a trip is approaching for one of my core people that involves great risk. I have learned how to sustain optimism, have faith and deny any middle-of-the-night terrors from taking hold of me for months at a time when cell phone service is impossible because for instance a loved one might be trekking with some guides and few yaks around the base of Everest. I am practiced at these coping habits; usually they work. They have to work, because my sanity is at stake. One person in particular who is in oil exploration criss-crosses the globe, leaping across time zones and oceans, accepting work that often involves great danger in politically unstable regions or areas where animals will gnaw on you. When my phone rings, and it’s a special satelite phone code showing up on caller ID, I hang onto the nearest immovable object and brace myself, as I hear “Hi! It’s me! Don’t worry – I am OK – but you won’t believe what happened on this trip…it was much more hairy than Gabon when I was almost trampled by those elephants. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.” That’s a good call to get – it proves he is safe and able to make phone calls.
I can receive a text message from Singapore in the same few seconds I receive one from two streets away. I heard from my son in Madagascar as he stood out in a remote field near a watering hole where he pitched his tent. My friend Chris called me from the bush of Kruger Park in South Africa so that I could hear the roar of the lions at night.
Some nights when I forget to turn off my cell phone I hear, across the distance from my bed to the dresser in my bedroom, a series of pings and bongs lasting until morning, representing all these travelers checking in by email or text message, and I actually sleep very well. It is reassuring that we are in touch. The world is our backyard here in the 21st century, and we are enjoying the greatest time possible for communication. How did we get so lucky to have those two situations at the same time?