|View from the Cliveden House- location for my grandfather's 80th birthday celebration.|
The five of us squeeze into the back of the car as the cab winds toward our Regent Street hotel, the darkened winter sky cooling the early evening.
My dad chats with the driver, commenting on the winter fair set up in Hyde Park—“a whole lot of money for a whole lot of nothing,” the cabbie said.
“It’s up every year?”
"Of course not," the driver responded. “You’re not from here?” he asked, confused by my father’s accent and taken aback after my dad’s response that the family now lives in Florida.
“I love Florida,” he replied. “How long since you left London?"
“17 years,” my father answered.
“Eh,” the cab driver said, drawing out his answer, a slight twang to his British intonation. “You’re American now, ain’t you?”
The blue shoes are still snug in their plastic bag, a musty smell from the months stored away in the UPS box. I had bought a replacement pair prior to leaving for Paris in January, but those too had broken while abroad. There’s a holey trend to the shoes; apparently none are meant for walking.
I returned from Paris early August with two weeks in Florida before heading back up to Washington—a semester to tackle among job and internship responsibilities to balance. I'd laid my life abroad to rest, never expecting I'd return across the Atlantic so soon after six months of life abroad. But the call had come about a month ago, the telephone ring having replaced my morning alarm-- my parents asking if I’d be interested in a four-day trip to London for my grandfather’s 80th birthday.
Any chance to travel, really. Might as well just buy me the ticket and tell me to pencil in the dates into my calendar.
Which is when it came to me; why not extend the trip. A side trip to Paris? I asked.
Sure, my parents answered. But that, ma cherie, would be out of your own pocket.
I love travel—the rush of lives across the globe, the challenge of observing without judging, accepting the differences in culture among the similarities within the daily pace of lives around the world.
I met William, my 19-year-old brother, at customs in the Heathrow airport. We had arrived 30 minutes of each other so as to take the train into central London together, flagging a cab at Paddington to get to our hotel.
We haven't gone to London as a family since getting our Green Cards twelve years ago. I’ve been back on my own since, having spent my sophomore year spring break at my grandparents’ central London home, tackling the city through tourist goggles.
I had used the trip as a means to discover my place within the city, leaving with a stronger understanding of my British heritage yet still feeling American, above all else.
I visited London this past summer for a few days during the Queen’s Jubilee. The national pride ran rampant throughout the country, my grandparent’s having draped their front window with two Union Jacks bearing the Queen’s face.
It’s strange to have ties to a place nowhere near the environment you grew up in, yet an understanding it’s a part of your definition. It was through my summer and spring break trip that, for the first time, I faced my own challenge of understanding where my British nationality fits within my own identity.
|My grandfather, on the left.|
We began the afternoon with drinks in the library, moving into a separate room for the meal. My mother, uncle and former ambassador gave speeches—honoring the man who had inspired so many in his service to the country as a British diplomat to Paris, as a grandfather, father, friend and husband.
My grandfather's speech was last, using snippets of memories from his 80 years to emphasize the value of leading a fulfilling, promising and enriching life.
I can’t completely put to words how incredible it was to celebrate such an honor as a family. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t grow up surrounded by family outside that of my parents and brothers. But to sit at a table with my aunt, uncle and cousins, to watch my mother and uncle speak such warm words of my grandfather and to see my grandparents surrounded by some of their oldest friends- it truly was special.
On the other side of the Atlantic, there’s a connection that binds my family, the strongest reminder of the British roots that tie to a part of my definition.
I've come far in my own discovery process over the past three years, and it with this trip back to London as a family that I had the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned into where it all began.
|The birthday boy!|
This trip back was the most British I’ve ever felt, watching how at home my parents seemed within the environment they grew up in. My parents pinpointed landmarks during our drive home from the luncheon—a countryside, quaint restaurant in which my mother’s family had eaten an egg brunch; the King David room, “where all the young Jews get married,” my dad said—my parents included.
It's comforting knowing that at a point, my parents too had to redefine their place as they created a new life in America. There's a sense of a nomad existence to their living: to not really being an American, yet having lived in the states for such an extended time to warrant the title. The trick: to not merge the worlds, my mother said. Context shapes behavior, frames connections. Her American life relates little to the norms she applies to that of her British roots.
Life isn’t a single definition, but rather a series of defining moments that we build and continually renew over the course of our lives. For now, the hardest part is not seeing ahead. My friends and I are at a crossroads in our lives—graduating school in a semester, the blur of the future hazing the comfort as to where we go next.
We develop an identity in order to understand our role within today’s framework. But with tomorrow’s changes, it's for us to reevaluate where we stand. And in doing so, identity and and definition adjusts.
It’s not about letting go. Nor is it about a new replacing the old. It’s about building, constant acceptance of the experiences that shape how we approach what lies ahead.
I bid my parents farewell Sunday evening given I’d catch an early train to Paris the following Monday morning, my father headed to Switzerland, William headed to New York and my mother and Adam back to Florida.
My grandparents would stay in London, my grandmother under strict medical orders to put the travel to rest until her health betters.
But they too will be back off.
We’re a unique family, I’ve decided. Jet setting the world in search of our place within it.
Though maybe if we stayed in one place, we wouldn’t have the challenge.
But then again, life wouldn’t be as exciting.