November 26, 2018

LEE | Growing Up While Growing Old

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As we near the end of the fall semester and get into the mood for final exams and projects, we also prepare to greet a new year in hopes for better times to come. While the below-freezing weather or piling-up work are nowhere near festive, the lingering spirit of Thanksgiving along with holiday decorations and Christmas songs played in stores convey just the right amount of cheerfulness we need to pull through the few more tasks to be completed for the year to culminate. 2018 may have been a pleasant year for some, disheartening for others. But as we contemplate all the different events that have taken place within the last 12 months or so, we realize how far we’ve come to be who we are at this point in time. And whether we like it or not, we are growing up as we grow older each year.

I love the holiday season. It evokes heartwarming memories of spending time with family and friends and leaves even a pretty cynical person like myself feeling thankful for the various experiences that have shaped me into the individual that I am as of now. Year-ends have always been delightful even in times of distress because they give rise to hope and a better year to look forward to.

In December of 2015, I spent one of the most exhilarating end-of-the-year periods after being accepted to Cornell for early decision. On December 25, 2017, I remember feeling at home attending Christmas mass with family at Myeong-dong Cathedral in Korea. Back in elementary school, my parents would regularly take me and my sister on road trips to beaches or mountains on New Year’s Day to see the sun rise and mark a new beginning.

At the center of all of these uplifting holiday season memories was my family. They were there as I parted with the old year and welcomed a new one, and their presence provided a sense of belonging that warmed my heart in the frigid winters. But this year, for the first time in my 21 years of life, I will be spending Christmas and New Year’s in the U.S. alone and away from family.

I realize that this is just the beginning of many more holidays and anniversaries to be spent away from the nest. I can’t recall the last time all four of my family members had gathered around the dinner table for Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, or Seollal, the Korean New Year. My father’s frequent business trips and relocation overseas, along with my sister’s departure for university, meant that at least one of us would be absent from major family occasions.

And now it has become my turn. I haven’t been able to spend Chuseok or Seollal with my family ever since I moved away to attend college in a distant country halfway across the globe. As my peers return home for Thanksgiving each year, I reflect upon just how far off I am from the nest. The empty campus reminds me of the physical and emotional connections I have left behind to embark upon a new stage in life. And as I plan for my future through taking part in internships over the breaks, returning home for the holidays is becoming increasingly difficult.

So here’s to all those who can’t go home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s or any other family occasion. From the cashier I met at the Collegetown 7-Eleven on Thanksgiving Day to the police officers working around the clock to make sure everyone else can safely enjoy their New Year’s Eve celebrations. To all the people who haven’t seen their family in weeks, months, or years, I stand by you. I had not realized how woeful it is to grow distant from loved ones as we grow up and map out our own lives. We come to terms with saying goodbyes to family and become accustomed to new beginnings. I now know that the hardest part of growing up is not aging itself but learning to accept this newfound sense of physical and emotional distance.

DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester. She can be reached at margaretlee@cornellsun.com.