This weekend my parents came to town. We had a great time with each other, but I think we’re all still trying to figure out what it means for them to visit without having to plan a wedding or go to meetings with vendors. See, we’ve been planning weddings since Dec. 25, 2007 when Robert and I got engaged. My sister got engaged a few months before our wedding, and her wedding was this past June. (Our poor mom.) In fact, I think this was the second visit we had without wedding plans being on the docket. It’s wonderful to be able to relax and enjoy each other’s company without a sense of rushing.
Yesterday, we decided to spend our family time by seeing a couple of movies. The girls went to see Eat Pray Love, while the boys went to see The Expendables. I have to say that 1. I am grateful I got to see this movie with my mom, my mother-in-law, and Robert’s grandmother. (My sister is a pharmacy student who, a week before classes start for the rest of the university, is already working her buns off for a class that had an early start. We missed her at the movie.) 2. I am relieved that my dad and my sister’s husband were interested in seeing The Expendableswith Robert because now I don’t have to go see it. I had absolutely zero interest in seeing this fast-paced shoot-’em-up. Yes, yes, I know who’s in the film; and, yes, yes, I understand the important implications of that. But I just still can’t work myself up to develop any interest in seeing it. When Robert and I reconvened after our movie, the first words we said to each other were, “You would have hated it.” Sometimes it’s nice to know your partner well enough to know better than to torture him or her with a movie they’d hate. And it’s even nicer when you have someone else to go with instead who will appreciate the movie.
Confucius said, “When father and mother are alive, one does not travel far;
and if one does travel, one must have a fixed destination” (The Analects, 4.19).
Another translation I’ve seen reads “…if one does travel, one must leave an address.”
I believe this portion of The Analects paints a clear picture not only of filial piety but of the path toward the Right Way of Being. It’s a matter of respect, love, compassion, and (sure) duty. It’s a feeling I myself have been grappling with as Robert and I start to consider our options for where we might like to settle. Soon, probably this month, we’re going to sit down and create a hard and fast list of schools for Robert to apply to–he wants to get his PhD as well, but we can’t afford for us both to be students simultaneously. Once we have that list secured, I’m going to create a list of schools in those areas that I’d like to look at as well. So far, though, our list does not include the states in which our parents live. And I am grappling with this on a level.
We live five minutes away from Robert’s parents–in fact, he grew up here, so no wonder he’s eager to fly away. We live about two hours away from my parents–I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18, but I’m not sure how eager I am to be a plane ride away from them. Of course, I want my husband to be happy, and happiness is key when choosing a PhD program. It is a 4-6 year commitment, and settling for a program that’s not a good fit can be like torture for those several years. Fortunately for me, I didn’t start to feel outgrown for my program until these past couple of years. But I also think that’s more of a sign that I’m ready to complete the program and move on with my life than it is a sign of anything else. But if going to the other side of the country is what will make Robert happy, then I will do everything in my power to help him achieve that happiness.
With that happiness, though, does come a level of sacrifice on my end. But, as Confucius says, not traveling far from one’s parents is more of an ideal than anything else. His advice does not end there. He continues to say that if extenuating circumstances require that we travel far from our parents, then we owe them at least a fixed destination (or an address). Our parents have to be able to reach us in some way; they have to know where we’re going. It’s much easier in this day and age to offer a fixed destination for our parents. Our world is a great deal smaller now, and it’s not just to do with the convenience of flight. That thought does offer some comfort.
After this weekend, though, I just realized how easy it was for us all to get together to watch a movie and have dinner. There were no plane tickets. Sure, my parents had to drive two hours to get here, but it’s not a terrible drive. And it’s one that Robert and I are able to make easily as well. If we end up on the other side of the country, we won’t be able to do this sort of thing on a whim. Seeing our parents will take more planning, both in selecting the appropriate date as well as setting aside money to travel. The same will affect them.
I am grateful for the time we got with our parents this weekend. I am eager to know what our future will hold and where Robert and I will find our true happiness. But I will also hold Confucius’ teaching in my heart: if you must travel far, at least tell your parents where you are. And I will be comforted by knowing that although the convenience and our activities may change, our world is a lot smaller than Confucius’ was. We will not disappear into the wild blue yonder, never to see our families again.
In the meantime, though, we will take advantage of our close proximity and of the time that we do have with them now.