Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Losing & Reclaiming Traditions

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned while living abroad happened while attending Samant's wedding in India last week. The thought started here in Mexico, when one Sunday a few weeks back, I noticed an eerie quiet around 2 pm. Nick and I were wandering around the neighborhood, probably in search of something to eat -- I don't remember.

But, I remember picturing a family -- grandma, grandpa, mother, father, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and probably a few great-somethings in the mix -- gathering around the table for Sunday brunch. An unspoken tradition that happens every Sunday, even if you have to pull yourself out of bed bien crudo to get there.

I felt so alone. Sure we had friends we could call on to recreate this family tradition, but family is family, and I craved to be surrounded by family at that moment. This is the life you chose, Alice. You squandered something few have -- both families in the same town.

We arrive in New Delhi three days before the wedding, and our plan is to stay in a B&B on our own, go shopping, eat kebabs till our teeth fall out, and stay out of Samant's hair as he prepares for his wedding. We'd find our way to his house on Thursday for the first planned event.

So very American thinking. The next morning, less than eight hours after we arrive, Samant calls us to invite us out for drinks that night. He wants us to meet Sneha, his bride, and other family. Then, each day thereafter, Samant would ring us to know our plans, and if we were free, to go shopping with them, come over for dinner, etc. I kept thinking, don't you have something more important to do -- like plan your 4-day wedding -- than hang out with us? Again, so very American of you, Alice. Weddings are for being with family, and Samant considers you family.

We realized this early into our trip, and we didn't resist. We joined in every scheduled wedding function (except one, and the family noticed), and we met Samant's parents, brother, uncles, aunts, and cousins (who, in India, are referred to as brothers and sisters. And if they see the look of confusion on your face, they clarify, "Oh, he's my cousin brother/sister."). Even on Thursday, when the wedding festivities were commencing, Samant and his brother took me and our mutual friend, Varun, to the Karol Bagh market. Not exactly the tranquil kind of thing I'd want to be doing if I were getting married, but I'm glad they did. We ate some of the best foods I've ever had in my life.

At the end of the wedding, after an intense number of waking hours together, we were hugging, exchanging numbers, and asking when the other was coming to visit. We had that deep family feeling connecting us. The kind where if we came back to Delhi without telling them, and they found out, we'd be shamed.

I don't recall the exact moment when I had my epiphany, but somewhere in the madness of wedding ceremonies, I felt very satisfied. I said to Nick, "I like the tradition of being with family. If we're going to continue living abroad, let's make a commitment to see our family at least once a year. Get everyone in the same place at least once."

In typical husband-like brevity, he replies, "Ok."

In places like Mexico and India, the tradition continues without effort. Because they know the importance of something we've forgotten. Family oils the gears of life. Family keeps us happy and socially adjusted (I know, not always). So while I can't undo the fact that we've moved far away from family, I can try to reclaim what's been lost. Even if it is just once a year.


  1. You are so right these things are so important. Im so glad we have Issacs family close and that they have accepted me in as their own.

  2. well put. Bravo my dear friend whom I consider family. When are you going be back so I can take you and my Grandma Polly to D and A in Chinatown? - Christine

  3. Amanda -- your girls will have a richer life because they're surrounded by family. i'm learning that raising a family was never meant to be done in isolation like we do in the US.

    Christine -- thanks for commenting! :) let's plan on a meet-up soon with gma polly.