By Josh Leskar
In 2010, the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I finagled my way into traveling around the world, mixing in two studies abroad for some educational justification. Over the course of my three-month adventure, I made it to nine countries on four continents and met some of the most fantastic people along the way. To this day, that trip remains one of the most inspiring, life-altering trips of my life.
For the majority of my journey, I studied the social, political, and economic factors that the FIFA World Cup was having on the nation of South Africa, and in an attempt to immerse the students most fully, our program assigned each student to live with a host family. Living situations differed – some homes had two parents, many had one, a few had brothers and sister and, in one case, a student was older than both of her host parents.
I was paired up with my “Gogo,” or grandmother in Zulu, who was not only my grandmother, but was also the matriarch for the entire community. She was an elderly, heavyset woman with two different colored eyes, stern and firm in her ways. Yet from the moment I crossed the threshold of her cozy home in the city of Durban, she welcomed me, quite literally, with open arms. For the entire duration of my stay this amazing woman, living on a government pension, was as motherly a figure as one could imagine. She sent me off each morning with a piece of fruit for breakfast, cooked me dinner every night, washed my clothing when it didn’t need to be washed, and cared for me as if I were her own child.
We spent evenings watching soccer matches and soap operas in a language I couldn’t understand, chatting about politics and our family histories, and sharing stories about our lives on opposite ends of the world.
Parting ways brought tears to both of our eyes, and I vividly remember her insistence on carrying my bag from our house out to the car the day I left, even though it weighed entirely too much for her to lift.
And we haven’t spoken since.
This is nothing new: I’m a victim of immediacy, which is not to say I’m innocent. I’m closest to those nearby, when it’s most convenient for me. This trend is one I’ve found in my existence as a human being – the sociable person I am, I can never manage to maintain a consistent relationship with anyone who isn’t within close physical proximity. Not out of malice, but rather I simply let even the minutest obstacles keep me from completing the simple task of communicating with someone far away. Their address is in my notebook somewhere buried in the closet. I don’t have any thank-you cards. I have to set up a paid Skype account.
I often ask myself if it’s worth the effort to maintain contact with someone – and even that thought riddles me with guilt. From a logical standpoint, it comes down to a tradeoff between the joy a person brings into your life and the effort expended to achieve that joy.
The way I see it, these people have given so much to me – their time, their friendship, their love – that the five minutes it would take for me to write a letter, the two minutes it would take to make and complete a phone call, or the thirty seconds it would take me to send a measly email each seems like so insignificant a gesture that I’d be a complete jerk not to make the effort. Yet time and time again, it becomes too much of a hassle for one reason or another, and the more time that passes, the harder that gesture becomes.
So many people enter and exit your life, fleeting specks in the grand scheme of the world. Others stay and develop relationships that exponentially intensify in a beautiful coalescence of genuine compatibility. Often times, it’s hard to discern who will have the most lasting impact, and who will merely vanish into a distant memory as a temporary product of circumstance. For me, the problem persists because I always pour my heart and soul into every relationship, but once it becomes remotely difficult to maintain, I tend to abandon ship.
Perhaps I’m too egotistic, thinking I’ve had a significant impact on the lives of others I encounter: that my presence in their lives has any impact that is somehow so meaningful to them. It’s entirely possible that they quite frankly couldn’t care less about me, or worse, don’t remember I even existed. When my guilt hits hard, I like to believe this is true.
In my heart of hearts, I doubt it.
In the time it took me to write this article, I could have sent Gogo a gift, written her a letter, picked up the damn phone and called to let her know I’ve been thinking about her constantly for the past three years.
But I didn’t. And to be perfectly honest, I probably wont, for one excuse or another.