Tag Archives: Cultural Identity

What We Leave Behind

TCK Life What We Leave BehindLeaving our lives behind is a concept that is inherent in every single Third Culture Kid’s upbringing. As far as foundations are concerned, the idea that a departure is always imminent is probably the strongest baseline you can find in the highly jumbled subcultures of TCKs from around the world. TCKs share very little when it comes to the cultural developments that made them, but they are all so close in the foundations that built them into the people they became. They are built out of leaving their lives behind, built of loss, adoption, and absorption. Of starting again, and applying the lessons learned of the past to new and interesting cultures that surround them. And their ability to adapt, to bounce back from loss and create something new from the rubble of their previous lives is all because they started this journey learning that loss is always more than probably, it is inevitable.

Human kind lives in a world where society is still highly pocketed. Cultures exist within cultures, and many of those cultures rely and thrive on a degree of isolation. People cross cultural boarders more so than ever before, but in reality these borders still exist within the confines of an isolated and highly compartmentalized social and developmental structure. The world is getting smaller, but the rate of cultural adaptation hasn’t kept pace with humanity’s abilities to blur the lines within the cultures we inherit.

That is, with exception to those that have been thrust, most unwillingly, into the Third Culture.

The Third Culture is the closest we have come to defining human kind’s ability to embrace cultural adaptation. It starts with a core self identity crisis, in which a Third Culture Kid hits a wall in their lives where they suddenly realize that they are no longer truly a member of the culture of their parents’ culture. For some, this wall is mountainous to overcome. For others, it’s a small hurdle cleared with ease. But that realization hits every TCK at some point in their lives, and from that moment forward they will be tasked with the endless struggle of finding what it is that makes up their cultural identity.

From here, a TCK picks and chooses the pieces of his or her life that hold the most value to who they think they are. A little bit of culture “A,” a lot of culture “B,” and a dash of culture “C” all lends to the creation of a person who can transcend any culture they’ve touched, make themselves part of it, make themselves welcome and comfortable, but never truly becoming a completely interwoven part of the culture itself. This picking and choosing allows for the cross pollination of cultural ideas from a party that the impacted culture can trust, while offering a sponge of cultural absorption in the TCK who will carry the elements of the culture they’re interacting with onto every culture that follows.

The TCKs lack of ability to truly be indoctrinated by any one culture means that they will always be on the move, always looking for new pieces of the puzzle of self identity. This is the drive for forward momentum, like seeds being spread across a field in the wind. Everywhere a TCK goes, they evolve, become different, absorb new cultural elements. Then, when they leave, they leave behind a piece of so many cultures that will be absorbed into the culture they have departed, and the TCK takes with them even more cultural quirks to spread into the next culture they encounter.

As the world gets smaller, we are approaching the point in which culture will inevitably have to change. It may not be in the generation of the millennials, or the generation that follows them immediately thereafter, but soon, at least from a galactic perspective, the entire cultural foundation upon which civilization has been built will have to confront one of two outcomes should humanity choose to survive:

The first and most brutal is a complete cultural reversal. Inspired by mass extinction events of the past in which entire species are wiped out, we are looking at a potential Cultural Shut-down. Any large event, a World War, a technological hiccup that shoots us back in time through our ability as a species to harness technology, will distance us from one another once again and strengthen our ties to individual cultures, making cross pollination of cultures unnecessary and unwanted.

The second, and hopefully more likely, is Cultural Survival through Evolution. Globalization comes at a price. It unifies ideas, people, and minds. And at the same time, it forces the segregation of independent cultural norms that we accept in our current societal state. As the ability to travel comes ever simpler, as cultures rely more heavily on each other to prosper and survive, cultural blending will become absolutely inevitable. Language barriers will collapse. Food sources will be shared. Trade will increase. Boarders will weaken. And in that process, cultures will be mixed more heavily with one another unlike ever before in human history, fuelled by technology that was unimaginable in the days of isolated cultures.

This transition is happening now, only in its infancy, and that infancy lives within TCKs everywhere. TCKs are the signs of a world to come in which culture isn’t about isolation, but rather the sharing of ideas and theories. Many cultures will, albeit sadly, fade away into oblivion with countless millions of forgotten cultures before them. But in the end, we will have a more global society built upon the best pieces of the cultures we experience now.

That transition is many years away. Centuries, perhaps. But if the rapid growth of TCKs shows us anything, it’s that their self identity in culture, the adaptability of human kind, is the gift that they will leave behind for the generations that follow. TCKs are paving the way for a future that they will never live to see. But the future of our species depends on cultural adaptation, and TCKs are already doing something that has never been done before. They’re growing in numbers, and manipulating cultures in a world that has the technology and power to experience the difference adaptability makes in its every corner.

And that adaptability will be the idea that carries our species forward into a world of true globalization. It will be the gift that every Third Culture Kid will leave behind, for the generations that follow.

__________

Author of TCK Life

Post by: James R. Mitchener

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Childhood Home

Childhood-HomeYou tell me about your childhood home, and I smile and nod, balancing on the edge of every single word watching as your eyes light up and the memories of your youth flood through you. As you comment so naturally, so consistently, on this backdrop of the events that made you who you are today, I hang on every jump from past to present tense of a home that both exists now, and existed then, that is as loved as any person in your family or any memory of your life. It isn’t just a place, this childhood home. The memories of your youth have interwoven with its frame to make it almost human, an evolving part of your development that changed as you changed, that grew as you grew, that shaped itself over and over as you went from crib to bed, child to teen, teen to young adult.

I listen with such overwhelming attention because you’re speaking to me of this natural world that to you seems so natural and so normal, but to me seems so foreign and confusing.  You pause in thought, smile, and sigh as the memory sits in the forefront of your mind. And then you ask me about my childhood home.

All at once, the neurons fire, grasping for memories that are not there. I realize now just how foreign of a concept this is to me, just how little a question like that connects to any experience of my life. How do I answer that, when my home has been in airport terminals across the world, when sitting on an airplane is more natural than a bus or a car or a train. Where do I begin in trying to bridge the difference between what was your experience and what was mine?

Do I tell you about my house in England? The small little home in a quiet little town, the one with the toilet under the stairs that I would get toilet roll out of to put on the floor in the living room across the hall to pretend it was a pit of fire? The one where my bedroom was up the stairs through the tiny hallway, just on the right, where I had a train set that my dad had built me that he painted a lake onto that I believed needed real water instead of painted water that would flow off the sides and nearly ruin the bedroom wall? The one where I had a little blue plastic stool to stand on to brush my teeth with toothpaste that tasted a flavour of some berries, maybe, or something else small and forgotten in the memory of a three year old boy?

Do I tell you about the apartment in Hong Kong? The small, three roomed apartment on the 17th or 14th or 16th floor, in building B? The one where we had a sofa couch made of some sort of foam composite that we would stand on its side and open up to make a wall in the game room? The one where just through the kitchen you could find Mallette’s tiny little room where she would sit and do whatever she did until Robert or I bothered her? The one where when we were getting into the elevator and I was carrying my yellow haired troll doll that I loved, and then proceeded to drop so he fell down the crack and tumbled to his grave beneath the elevator?

Do I tell you about the house my parents had built in Houston? The massive-by-English-standards home with the master bedroom upstairs that threw off the American builders who did not put master bedrooms upstairs? The one that we would run around outside of in the blistering heat of Texas playing action games with our neighbors, all about our age? The one where I sat in the kitchen for hours every single day procrastinating on my homework, driving my mother mad?

Do I tell you about the little house at the end of the road in France? The one where my Nan and Grandad drove across the ocean from England to bring us their old kitchen so my mum could get rid of the horrible green cabinets and replace them with the kitchen her mother had retired in a renovation? The one where I would walk all the way up the road to get on the school bus to attend my favorite school I had ever experienced up until that point in my life? The one where we got our first computer and discovered the internet with the large bay windows fully open letting in the beautiful french breeze?

Do I tell you about the five story connected townhouse in Hong Kong that was incredibly thin and shot to the sky? The one where my brother had an entire floor to himself and two bedrooms because one of the bedrooms was only just large enough to fit his bed, but not large enough that he could ever open his closet? The one that had the independent wall mounted air conditioning units that kept my room so cold it was like I lived in an ice box? The one where we got robbed three times and Ralph, our dalmatian, had scratched half-inch deep treads into the staircase as he chased the burglar from our home?

Do I tell you about the house we returned to in Houston that felt nothing like it had before, an empty shell of a past experience that was nothing as it should have been. The one in which I cried myself to sleep every night in that bed for weeks, as a fully matured teenager, upon arriving because I was in a room that I had sat in before and so helplessly could never escape from to go back to the world I loved? The one I locked myself away inside of, letting my grades slip into oblivion and my concern for the world fade to silence? The one where I learned how different I was, and who I had finally become, and slowly overcame the heartbreak to uncover the pride of all that I had seen?

No.

I tell you about none of them. I tell you that I have no childhood home. That my life is a string of memories from all over the world, that every single one of them made me who I am, and that my life is not built upon the memories of a single location. I tell you that there are things I loved about them all, and things I hated about them all, but in the end, they were just buildings of my past, and the things that mattered were the friends I made and the experiences I had.

And you understand. Or you say you do, because that is what we do, and you agree that the house is just a place, but it’s a place full of memories for you, and that you and I aren’t so different in that regard, except that your childhood memories are on one childhood home, and mine are from many.

But I don’t think you understand. Because I don’t understand. And that’s sort of beautiful.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

Am I a Third Culture Kid?

Am-I-a-Third-Culture-KidI get this question a lot more than you would think. I say all the time that being part of the Third Culture isn’t so much the experiences you had, but the way you adapted to each experience at the time you had it. We aren’t TCKs because of where we have been. We’re TCKs because of the way we absorbed the cultures of the places we have grown. Even now that I have left Hong Kong, I still relate to it closer than any other place I’ve lived. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, an idea that can easily make me sink into quite a severe depression, but I do know that I will carry the culture of the city and time that I lived there for the rest of my life.

Of course, that would make sense to a Self Aware Third Culture Kid. While I have been a TCK since I turned 4, I didn’t know it until I was 15 or 16 years old. And even then, I didn’t understand it until I was 17 or 18. Why? Because I have known no other life. Where other people can say they remember growing up in one country, in one town, with the same friends, I can’t even remember the  layout of my house in our seventh country. That’s just my life, and it’s all I’ve ever really known. To me, that’s just normal.

The best way to understand the parallel and lack of realization would be to imagine that you and I saw two different versions of the color Blue. When describing it to me, you’d say “the sky is blue” and “the ocean is blue” and I’d agree, but what I see and what you see aren’t the same thing, and while we understand the connection, I am mentally incapable of knowing your perception of the color blue, just as you are mine. What appears to be blue to me may in fact be a green to you. But it doesn’t matter, because we can see the connection, we just can’t understand the mental process beneath it.

That’s what it’s like when an FCK tries to explain their home to me, or tell me what it was like having the same friends, or that they never want to leave because this is where they belong. I can see the parallel, I can draw the connection, and I can pretend to understand. But in the end, their home is a blue that I’ll never be a be able to see.

And while Self-Aware-TCKs understand this mental process perfectly, my readers who are just uncovering their TCK status might not fully realize the power behind this truth. So, I am going to break my rule of never creating lists, and I’m going to give you my top 5 silent bullets that I ask anyone (always without actually asking, but instead uncovering the answers through careful conversation and evasive questioning) who asks me if they are a TCK during a conversation with me.

1. When I ask you what home is, your eyes dart top right in consideration or bottom right in internal dialogue.
This is a nice little trick because Self-Aware-TCKs will answer with their stock answer like mine: “I was born in England, raised around the world, and I currently live in Raleigh where I moved to from Texas.” This informs them I am not from any of those places, they are just places, but it also ties in multiple locations they can hopefully relate to while combining an air of mystery. An FCK would just say the city/town/country that is their home. An expat would say “I am from England but I live in Raleigh,” always bringing their home into the equation of where they’re from.

But an unaware TCK will wonder. They’ve been asking themselves this same question for years, and in the end, they still aren’t really sure. So they’ll dart their eyes into the top right corner of their socket, triggering the visual memory portion of their brain, and fire through a list of locations they grew up and try to figure out the best answer based on all those memories. Or, they’ll be at a stage where they’ve been asking themselves that question for so long, mulling it over and over in the silence of their mind whenever they are alone, that they will drop their eyes to the bottom right portion of their socket and listen to the internal dialogue of a sequence of questions regarding where they are from, a question they still can’t quite answer.

2. When I ask you about a politically volatile situation, your impulse is to relate to the minority, not the majority, regardless of your connection to either party. 

There’s an air of globalized protection from TCKs when it comes to minority parties. We have spent our entire lives being the minority, even if we aren’t consciously aware of the situation yet. In a way, we are even minorities in the group of TCKs, because no two TCKs are alike. So naturally, we relate better with groups that have fewer members because we ourselves have always been the group with the fewest members. We default into joining sides with the party that needs us, in adopting the cultural stand of the group that is the weakest, because in a way we understand just how difficult it is living a life where you’re always just a little bit off from the rest of the group. No matter how good we get at fitting in, we are always going to be outside of the circle because we will never fully be a part of that particular culture.

Of course, there’s an exception to this rule that helps guarantee the success of the TCK response. From my experiences meeting TCKs, and I am not saying there isn’t an exception here, but as far as my conversations have extended I have never seen a TCK take the side of an oppressor, even if the oppressor is the minority party. We value human development above all else. Why? Because it’s in human development that we find who we are. We are cultural leaches, sucking out the good of every culture we come across. When a group tries to expel a culture we could absorb, it’s a personal assault on a part of who we are or who we could possibly be.

3. When describing your Passport country, you don’t say “home,” you say “[country name].”

This is one of the first things I started doing before I even realized I was a TCK. My passport country where all my family lived was never home. My mother would say “We’re going to fly home next month!” to my brother and me, and from then on I would say “[X] days until we go to England!” To my mother, it was always home. To my brother and me, it was just the country everyone we were related to lived in, with exception to our Australian family members.

To a TCK, your passport country is just another location in the list of locations you’ve been. So if we’re talking, and you have told me you were born in England, but you keep calling it England after that, I have a pretty good idea that you’re trying to find your identity in the TCK crowd if you haven’t already.

4. When you’re telling me stories of your life, they involve elements that an FCK would think “there’s no way that happened.”

“I was only four, but I loved riding the top of the double decker buses as they darted around Hong Kong. The drivers were on a schedule, and the system was incredibly efficient, and if you sat at the front on the top floor it felt like you were flying because the glass extended all the way to the floor. We would hold onto the bar and press our faces on the glass and watch as the bus took turns on the edge of the cliffs several hundred feet up so sharply that the bus literally lifted off the ground and made the turn on two wheels!”

I’ve told that story to FCKs so many times, and they never believe me. Of course, ask anyone that lived in Hong Kong in 1992 and they’ll tell you the same thing. How all of us that lived there didn’t plummet to our deaths as we tumbled down a cliff into a rocky and watery grave, I’ll never know. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. And the best part? That’s one of the more believable stories of my youth. If you tell me a story about a far away land and the FCKs life an eyebrow in disbelief, there’s a strong chance your childhood was the TCK development period. The world of a TCK is just full of disbelief in general. Even now I wonder sometimes if what I remember is even remotely possible. Then I browse the pictures of my youth and am reminded that it all really did happen.

5. I tell you I’m a Third Culture Kid, that I am a global nomad and don’t have a home, and that I will always be moving because staying put is the worst punishment anyone could ever give me, and your face lights up while all the others around me look at me like I just shot their mothers. 

And the final trick. I explain who I am and what I have seen. And when I do, the FCKs around me look at me with shock, curiosity-masked-confusion, or inquisition, but there’s that one person in the group who’s eyes light up as if for the first time in their lives, someone said something that actually makes sense. Then the questions fire, and the TCK will say absolutely nothing but will listen to the FCKs firing off questions and me answering in my traditional global-nomad way, and all the while the TCK’s face will continue to glow brighter with understanding while the FCKs around them become more and more confused, uninterested, or distanced.

So if you read this question and all the others before it, and felt a connection to them as a point of truth or realization, there’s a good chance I would be thinking when I met you “looks like I have another TCK on my hands.”

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. This is just the most reliable sequence of events I’ve found in my life to uncover the unaware TCKs that surround me. And hopefully, in bringing that status from unaware TCK to Self Aware TCK, perhaps you’ll find the comfort I found in realizing that being the minority, in not fitting in, isn’t so bad after all. In the end, we have the whole world to draw from in defining who we are. And that’s a heck of an inspiring pool if you ask me.

___________

The Author
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The TCK Unity Era

As Third Culture Kids, we are constantly examining the cultures of the world, even when we aren’t in the process of adopting them into our own Third Culture. We are cultural pirates, pillaging the pieces we want and leaving behind the parts we don’t. We talk about these elements of TCK life all the time, sharing reasons for what we take and why we love that aspect of a particular culture, yet rarely do we take a step back to examine the culture we have created.

We are natural adapters, capable of surviving almost any situation in almost any culture. It’s for that very reason that we are so ill equipped to turn it around and look internally at what we have done. We are a mess of chaos and unity fueled by self-driven cultural evolution. We are constantly changing, constantly altering the core of our existence without care to what we are leaving behind in the process.

But the reason we survive so flawlessly no matter where we are is exactly the reason we do not step back and consider the universe we have given birth to. Every single person is different, and thanks to the adaptation of a TCK, every TCK is different within a completely unique self-culture. Sure, we group those cultures together and call it the “Third Culture,” but the Third Culture is different for every single TCK, and it’s even more different from the outside looking in.

Until the final years of the 20th century, our ability to unite and communicate was limited to physical interaction and personal relationships. The only opportunity a TCK had to cross paths with another TCK was simple luck of the draw. There was no unifying moment, no sense of shared community, only the knowledge that somewhere else in the world was another person who had grown up similarly to yourself. However, despite this knowledge, the distance created by a lack of ability to communicate the TCK experience made it almost impossible for a TCK to feel anything but being alone.

Today, however, TCKs have finally started to come out of the bubbles of their personal worlds. And truly, they are highly personal worlds. The cultures that each TCK has created are so uniquely different from any FCK or TCK anywhere in the world. The unique experiences couple with our adaptive nature makes our Third Culture like a snowflake in the middle of a rainstorm; we are surrounded my elements of similar qualities, yet while each drop of water that’s so similar falls to the ground, we float casually and unseen through the mist, so uniquely different and so uniquely complicated.

The world is smaller now. Transcontinental instantaneous communication is standard. We are even capable of looking into the rooms of others thanks to the increasing speeds and global spread of internet access, meaning with a computer and webcam, two people can sit in front of each other and have a conversation as though there were no oceans or borders or thousands of miles between them. We can fly anywhere in the world at a moments notice, travel wherever we want without much hurt or hindrance. And when we don’t want to travel, we can view the detailed lives of others through collections of data and information about their personality portrayed through a variety of social media tools.

Because of this boom in technology, this shrinking of our world, TCKs are being presented with the unavoidable truth that a life that was once built around the exterior is finally coming back home to the self. We are no longer isolated from other TCKs, having the ability to interact with total strangers that truly and completely understand what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. And they know not because we have to sit in front of them for hours or days or years explaining our lives, the decisions we have made, and the type of cultures we love. They understand because knowing nothing about our history or who we are that they too are as similar and different to us as two snowflakes in a rainstorm. Though we are similar in our name, the crystals of our lives that shape us make us different to the core, but when floating through a sea of droplets of water, there is nothing more comforting than that person that is completely different, and yet so very similar at exactly the same time. And though we may never see the world through the same lens, we at least understand the way that lens was crafted.

People, everywhere, spend their lives looking forwards and backwards in time, saying that “life must have been so much more interesting for people back then,” or “life will be so much better in a few years.” But honestly, I think that with the evolution of communication allowing for you, a reader, to sit at your computer and read the words of a TCK you have never met and probably never will, and me, a writer, getting to hide behind my words and engage you all through your comments on my posts or emails you send me, makes this the most exciting time in the history of TCK life.

These are the first days of our coming together. And just imagine, in fifteen or twenty years when this collection of individuals that fundamentally understands the intricate dynamics of cultural environments comes together, how powerful our impact on the world could be. We are the birth of a new era of realization, the fathers of tolerance and the mothers of understanding. And while we may have grown up TCKs many years ago, it’s here and now that we are finally given the power and ability to find one another.

Honestly, I cannot imagine anything more exciting.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Where is my Second Passport?

Having recently naturalized to acquire my dual citizenship, incorporating a United States passport into my United Kingdom and EU travel opportunities, then moving to a new city in a new state to start a new job and find a new apartment while getting a new driver’s license and learn my way around my new place of residence, there are certain things that get lost in the transition. I naturalized in Houston, got my certificate, even took my passport photographs and filled out my passport application. However, with the move very shortly positioned thereafter, I never got around to stopping by the post office and getting it signed and sealed to be sent off to the American Passport Office for completion. It just sort of fell behind the curtain. After all, I still had my UK passport, so I was still a person, and I knew I was getting my US one, there were just other more important things happening at the time, and my travel plans weren’t set until the middle of 2012. I had time.

Time is an interesting thing. There’s tons of it everywhere, and you feel like there will always be a little more, and there’s always that one thing you wanted to do today but didn’t have time, so you just push it back until tomorrow. The days blur into weeks, and weeks into months. Even as a Third Culture Kid, one that travels the world and gets itchy feet if he stays in one place, I foolishly believed time was on my side when acquiring the single most important document of my entire life, my Passport, my key-card to the world.

Take, for example, the 18 year old boy that was driving his car home two nights ago. He was with his mates, enjoying life, approaching the same crossroad he always approached every day that was just minutes from his house. He crossed the intersection at a green light, a system we trust and expect to protect us. But as he did, a van ran the redlight, slamming into his vehicle and knocking him unconscious as the side of his car caved in upon him. Not long after arriving at the hospital, still unconscious, the driver’s heart stopped beating. It was a normal day for him, and if you can find any comfort in a story like this one, he passed with it being still just another normal day, completely unaware that anything had even happened, hopefully without any pain at all.

But for that boy’s family, normality shattered. That day was the most abnormal and horrible day imaginable. It produced a sense of numbness, shock, depression, and catastrophe that cannot be described, only experienced. It changed everything forever, a moment that the family will never forget, a life snuffed out of existence too soon and taken away from so many that loved him so dearly.

That boy was my cousin.

I have written an article about the cost of a TCK life and how TCKs deal with family loss, or near loss. But words don’t explain a thing, and no TCK handles loss the same way. All I know about how we handle loss is that we have a natural ability to do it. We don’t do it better than others, we just do it differently. We live in a perpetual state of being torn between getting attached and being ready to let go. Letting go is inevitable in our lives, it is something we have decided to make part of who are because our upbringing has made us into travelers. But every time we let go, we always know in the back of our minds, “I’ll see them again, one day.”

The last time I saw my cousin was in August of 2011. It had been over a year at that point since I’d seen him. He was becoming a mechanic and electrician so he was always busy with school and work. I remember I caught him changing the tires on his car. We chatted in the driveway as he went from tire to tire, talking about nothing. Then he rolled me a cigarette, something he called a “rollie.” I’m a seasoned smoker, but the concept of rolling my own cigarettes was a foreign one. He stepped into the garage and used a table covered in tools to roll me one. He handed it over and it was covered in grease and oil from his fingers. I lit it up and started smoking, the grease sitting on my lips and tickling my taste buds. It was salty. He asked how it was, and I told him it tasted better than a regular cigarette, which was true if it weren’t for the grease. He laughed, a smile that revealed a broken front tooth he had gotten repaired once but kept breaking, so he decided to call it quits and leave it snapped. He told me he didn’t like his job much, and that school was hard and he wasn’t having a lot of fun, but he loved his car, and his work paid for his car, and that made it all worth it. He finished putting the tires on his car, then he said goodbye and he left.

I thought about telling him I loved him. I thought about telling him I was proud of him for everything he had achieved, that our grandmother would have been so happy he had found something he was good at and a passion he could pursue. I thought about telling him that I was sorry for never being around, and that I wished I could come back and spend some time with him, maybe stay with him on my next trip. But I’m an introverted TCK. So instead, I said nothing, thinking “meh, I’ll tell him next time.”

Yesterday, I spent the entire day getting my passport in order. Fortunately, I have a friend that owns a premium travel agency for high profile travel. He used his contacts to expedite my passport processing, getting it back in my hands Wednesday of next week. But for now, I am sitting here feeling trapped and lost. Everyone is in England, dealing with the loss together, but my brother and I, the TCKs of the family, are over 4000 miles away trying to figure out how to get back.

And when we do, the question of dealing with loss will come into play once again. On the inside I am a mess, a storm of depression, sadness and spiraling thoughts, but on the outside I will be as I always am when it comes to goodbyes. I will be a rock, locked up and shut down, an emotional wall that cannot be broken while the sadness raves inside of me until I am alone and cannot contain it a moment longer. I see no benefit in being strong for others, but it is simply the way I work. I was trained to behave this way in the event of loss, and even when that loss is my little baby cousin who I loved to an unimaginable level, I am still just a TCK with a mess of issues.

———————————–

In loving memory of my cousin, Jack. I wish I hadn’t waited for next time to tell you how proud of you I am, and what an amazing impact you have been on the lives of our entire family.

Update: The boy in the car sitting behind my cousin, who will remain unnamed out of respect to his family, was taken off life support two days ago. He passed away yesterday evening. I extend my dedication to him as well, and even though I did not know him, he was one of my cousin’s closest friends and a friend to many that have made me into the man I am today, and that’s more than enough to know that this world would be a better place with him still in it.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Hidden Value

Three days ago, I got a taste of something I haven’t ever had before in my life. I got a taste of what it’s like to fear for the life of someone you care about. I’ve lost people before, people in school, my grandmother, extended family, pets, but like all things in this world, they each hold a different weight on your mind. As a Third Culture Kid, loss is just part of life. You just sort of get used to it, and you get used to it at a very young age. If you don’t, it consumes you, because the life of a TCK is built upon the foundation of loss. Without it, we would never know how to let go, how to cease the moment of a new community, of a new culture, of a new group of strangers that are all waiting to call themselves friends. We would cling to the past, and miss the present, all because we had never bothered to find the key that opened the door to change.

I’ve found in my life that the abilities I gained in coping with loss as I grew up came hand-in-hand with knowing how to cope with death. Sometimes, people are there, and then one day, they aren’t. It doesn’t always work with losing people that are alive, and it doesn’t always work with losing people in death, either. But for the most part, the system doesn’t fail. You let go, not because you want to forget, but because you know that in holding onto something that is no longer there makes you miss living in the moment. The memories remain, the influence that person had on your life still making you who you are, but you acknowledge that there will be no more chapters in that specific book. Instead, you close it up, and start writing another.

By now, you have an understanding of my family dynamic. They are important because they are family, I was taught that by my First Culture Kid parents and extended family. Family is important. I don’t fully understand the reasoning, and I probably never will, but I know that in order to make my family happy, I must pretend to see that value and connection. And if it makes them happy, then to me it’s worth it, because though I sometimes do things that are spiteful or cruel, I am truly a good hearted person who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone, unless they cause pain to the people I love. We all have our weaknesses, and attacking those that I love is simply one of mine. Beyond that, I generally don’t care to cause people harm.

Regarding family, though, my parents are by far the most interesting. They shaped me the most of all my other family members, I suppose. I mean, they did raise me after all, or at least raised me when I was at home. They taught me life lessons as best they could, and I learned the rest from the people I met around the world. But for the most part, my parents did a good job with me. They are good people, or try to be, but like me they have their flaws. My father was usually grumpy as we grew up, and we were never really that close. My mother was always there, but as I’ve grown and evolved and sunk deeper into my TCK upbringing, I have started to notice that there are many things about this world and the cultures within it she simply doesn’t understand. Her view of the big picture only extends as far as most FCKs views extend. It’s not her fault, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of by any means, it’s just a difference in our lives that makes it very hard for me to relate to her these days. We fight more than we should, but that’s because deep down, we are both fundamentally different thinkers. I believe that’s a good thing, though. We learn the most from those that are different to us. Mostly, we learn why we don’t believe what they believe, and why those beliefs are important to us. Without her knowing it, my mother’s drastically different views on the world have done nothing but strengthen mine by showing me more and more why I don’t believe what she believes.

I digress, however, because the point in today’s post is this: Though my parents have never been what I would call the closest people in my life, they certainly hold a lot more value in my heart than I ever knew. My dad, who I’ve always told people I love and respect, just don’t really know, is shockingly closer to my heart that I ever realized. I know this because three days ago, he came down with a sore throat. That sore throat turned into an infection, a bad one, in a matter of hours. He was feeling bad by 08:00, and by 13:00, his vocal chords had swollen to a point he couldn’t swallow, couldn’t take, and could hardly breathe.

My mother was out of town with my grandfather who is visiting from England, both of them in Lubbock visiting my younger brother, so I took my dad to the doctor, who told me to take him to the Emergency Room at the hospital. As soon as we walked in, he was admitted, plugged into an IV, fed fluids, put on a monitor, given steroids, antibiotics, and oxygen. They kept telling us it would be okay, but that ability to read people better than they know that most TCKs have kept tingling in the back of my mind. Something in their voices, their expressions, it just didn’t feel right.

At 21:00, Dad was still in the ER. I stepped out of his room and hovered nearby, listening to the nurses at the nursing station. I heard them saying that everyone was fine on the floor, except for the patient in room 22 who’s blood pressure and heart rate were high enough that he was risking cardiac arrest. They said he needed to remain calm under all circumstances or he could suffocate, or worse, slip into cardiac arrest. My father was the patient in room 22.

For the first time, I had to make a decision based on what I’d learned that could greatly shape the lives of many different people. I could call my mother and tell her it was much more serious than they thought, and she could be on the first flight back to Houston the next day, or I could bite my tongue and ride it out. I realized that these events would take place within the next 12-18 hours, so even if my mother knew, she would not return in time. Telling her would only panic her, and possibly cause her to speak to Dad and panic him too, which was the one thing the nurses said couldn’t happen. His heart rate couldn’t go up.

So I chose to say nothing.

My dad was moved to the Intensive Care Unit for two days. For the entire first night, he was high risk. His heart rate began to drop when they put some more medicine into his IV, but they were still worried his throat might close. I stayed with him a long time that night, and we didn’t talk, because he couldn’t. I simply handed him a bucket he was spitting into between reading my book while he slipped in and out of delirious consciousness. But in that silence, I got to understand his importance. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if people annoy you, or if you don’t understand the importance of family. Sometimes, there are just some people in this world that the tricks a TCK has learned in accepting loss just don’t work on.

My dad is one of those people, and now that he’s stable and grumpy again, I’m hoping I can go to sleep for the first time in over 48 hours.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener