While I was growing up, I was sent to Catholic school in hopes that religion would take. While it never did, I remember being powerfully impressed by one particular idea when I was a child – The Call.
“It’s a message from God,” said my 2nd grade teacher. “When God wants you to become a nun or a priest, you receive a call to do so. When you accept, you will enter a life of servitude to God.”
Oh please, oh, please, I thought, don’t let me get that call.
And for weeks, I flinched each time the phone rang.
There’s a different kind of Call that strikes terror in my heart now. As I get older and as I stay longer and longer away from home, the mere thought of the Bad News Call can send tears rushing to my eyes. It’s bound to happen at some point. No one escapes it. It is the Expatriate’s Nightmare.
When I first made plans to move to Japan, a number of my acquaintances said: “I’d like to do that, but I love my family too much.” As if I don’t. As if the mere act of leaving heightens the chance that something terrible will happen. The reason religion never took with me is because I don’t believe in the supernatural. No one in my family is going to get hurt because I choose to experience a new culture. Speaking in religious terms, that would be punishment for … what? A hankering for authentic exotic foods? No. I know nothing will happen to people I love because I’m far away, but as time continues to pass, I realize that I’ve experienced very few such Calls in my life and that it’s only a matter of time before I do receive one. I know that if something does happen, being far away will make it much harder. Feelings of guilt for not being there; have I been selfish after all? Fear that I won’t make it back in time; will I lose my position here? I can only imagine that long plane ride – heading home yet sealed off from home, alone in a crowd with your grief.
A word of advice to all readers who have friends and family members living abroad: ingrain the time difference in your head and never, ever call at odd hours. You have no idea what a random call during the work day or, worse, the middle of the night, can do to us. The reason I’m even writing this post is because I got such a call at dawn this morning – an Unknown Number. I don’t know who it was because I was too groggy to find my phone in time. They didn’t call back. I’ve been awake ever since.
It could have been a drunken wrong number. It probably was. And if it was really The Call, I’m sure they would have kept trying. But I won’t be calm until I know for sure that everyone’s okay.