For as long as I can remember, I’ve been missing people.
When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, she asked her best friend to be my godmother. At the time, my godmother was living in China. When I was in elementary school, she moved to the Philippines, and finally when I was in high school, she moved to the next town over from where I lived.
Some of my first friends were her two daughters. I spent all year asking my parents when I could see them next and was elated when I could spend time with them during summer break, when they would come to the United States. This was just the beginning of a lifetime of cross-continental friendships, international pen pals, and lots and lots of I miss you’s.
The narrative that technology brings us closer sometimes feels like a hoax to me. I feel connected while facetiming someone because I can hear their voice, see their expressions, and exchange ideas with them in real time. I even feel good after a conversation with someone on the phone, but at the end of the day I feel there is an emptiness in having held onto my phone or computer all day for the sake of human connection. Distance often makes it hard to feel present in my relationships with others.
However, I’ve found that I truly feel at home when I’m with someone that I love, and that doesn’t have to be in person. I feel at home when I can meaningfully interact with people I care about—and while that’s easier to do face to face, I don’t think it’s impossible to do otherwise. This reminds me of art that touches people’s hearts, or books that transport readers to another place. In one way or another, technology allows us to meet each other on a mutual playing field to have a conversation that wouldn’t exist without a phone or a computer.
That being said, sometimes I fantasize about what it would’ve been like if my parents raised me in the town that they and their parents were from—and if everyone stayed and no one left. I don’t think life would be easier, because that lifestyle would come along with its own challenges, but we would all be close, and we would never miss each other.
Nostalgia can be a way of connecting people to physical places as well. I grew up in Nashville for 18 years, then I went to college on the West Coast. Every time I go home, the city is different. I see new restaurants that replaced my old favorites, new stores that cost too much money, and new buildings that are taller than all of the old ones. I’ve come to expect a feeling of disconnect from my hometown—this city that shaped me so much. Sometimes it feels like home, and other times it doesn’t because it’s so different each time.
On the idea of “home,” Baha’u’llah wrote:
This span of earth is but one homeland and one habitation. It behoveth you to abandon vainglory which causeth alienation and to set your hearts on whatever will ensure harmony. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 67-68.
The Baha’i teachings also connect “home” to the divine and to the human heart:
Quotations like these have led me to spend a lot of time thinking about where I feel the most at home. Is it the house I grew up in, or the apartment I’m typing this article in? Is it where one friend is, or another? Is it the city with the most sunshine, or the city that makes me feel the safest? The one with the most access to healthy food or the most diverse demographics? Can I take parts of one place that I like and transfer them into another place that I like?
Baha’u’llah’s writings help lessen the weight of these intimidating questions. They remind me of my own responsibility to keep God in my heart and treat every place, regardless of access to healthy food or which friend happens to live there, with dignity.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve formed friendships with people who live all over the world. As I look forward to a lifetime of long-distance friendships, I remember that, although it’s a bit daunting, as long as I do what I can to “ensure harmony” in my community and in my relationships, I’m destined to find some beauty in them.