One of the many things that have made up the experiences of my life is the 7 years as an adult that I spent living in South Korea. When I talk about it with people, those who haven’t lived an appreciable time in a foreign culture think it sounds cool and a little scary. Often the question they’ll ask me is “wasn’t it hard?”, meaning the whole leaving Canada, moving to a place where I was a clear minority, knew nobody and didn’t even speak the language. Of course, there were difficulties in doing all that, and I made a lot of mistakes (some of which I now realize enough to regret). But that wasn’t the most difficult part of the whole endeavour.
The hardest part was coming home.
That isn’t to say I wish I still lived in Korea. Even though Koreans are some of the nicest people I’ve known, and their country is beautiful, God called me back home, and I am happy to be here in Newfoundland. But when I was moving to Korea I expected all of the difficulties, and the people around me expected me to be having difficulties. That wasn’t the case when I moved back.
The fact was that I assumed on Canada, and Canada assumed on me. While I was gone for 7 years, I assumed that things had stayed the same at home, but they hadn’t. There had been huge changes (not all of them I found welcome), and yet I had assumed that I would have nothing to get used to. Instead, I had to get used to single friends who were now married and married friends who were now single. My parents were now much older. Things I had been used to had changed, and yet because I was going “home” I wasn’t ready for it, and I had to get used to the new normal all at once.
At the same time, people who had missed me while I was gone, had largely assumed I had stayed the same as well. I was no longer the slightly arrogant law school grad in his late 20s, I was now a middle-aged man who had been humbled a few times. Where I had been more tentative about some of the things I believed, 7 years of reflection and thought had changed some of my opinions, weakened some others, and hardened yet others. I had new skills and new ideas, and some of the changes were welcome while others were not.
While I looked like an older version of the guy who’d left, there had been serious changes to the kind of guy I was, and now my friends here in Canada were dealing with my 7 years of growth and change all at once, as I was facing 7 years of changes to Canada and everyone in it all at once as well.
I say this because we are about to go through, as a culture, a very similar experience now. Within a month, if all goes well, all of the provincial health restrictions that have been in place for 2 years will be gone. We will suddenly be able to mingle and meet as we only have in very limited ways over the past 2 years. And yet, for good or ill, we have all changed over that 2 years. The men and women coming out of Covid are not the same people who went in, and since we’re tempted to imagine that we’re returning to normal, we may think that we’ll simply step out of Covid as if nothing has happened.
Worse, as Covid has limited much of the movement that was normal as part of society, the removal of Covid will likely mean that almost 2 years of massive life changes that could not happen during Covid will now happen all at once. I’ve already started to see it around me, and the feeling I’m getting is oddly familiar.
The positive part is that we will largely all be doing this at some level together. If we are wise, we will be able to use that to transition well back to what is the heir to the home country we knew before everything locked down. We will be wise to remember that this shift will be as traumatic as the shift we made into lockdowns, though now we have the ability to give ourselves some time. We will also be wise to give some grace to others as they struggle in ways different to our own, but knowing that we are struggling in some ways too.
I guess we will now have an opportunity to obey a command that the Bible gives us at least 6 different times (Le 19:18, Mt. 22:39, Mk. 12:31, Lk 10:27 Gal. 5:14, Jas. 2:8, Rm 13:9).
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”