How Could I Have Been So Out of Touch?

I’ve never been much of a fan of New Year’s. The traditional countdown to midnight always strikes me as a colossal anti-climax, cure and the festivities in general usually rather forced and not very festive.

But as I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the more serious aspect of the holiday, how the turning of the calendar can spur one to take stock of what they’ve done or not done in the last year or years, and how one might do things different in the year or years ahead.

Unfortunately, the more sober side of New Year’s has at this point become almost as hackneyed and commercialized as the parties, with even the US government offering an official list of “Popular New Year’s Resolutions” including such newfangled pledges as “reduce, reuse and recycle” among perennial favorites like “lose weight.”

Still, as artificial and cheesy as it may be to use the change in year to come clean and try to make a fresh start, it’s worth a try, especially if what one is trying to face up to and change is important.

I could probably benefit from following the Federal Government’s complete list of New Year’s Resolutions. But I’m going to focus on a different one, which involves a years-long communications blackout with some of my oldest friends back in the US, from where I moved away in the late 1990s.

First, as for why I am writing this here, there are a few reasons. One is that so much time has passed with some of these folks that it would be dishonest to pretend that an email to each telling the story about my dropping off the grid would actually be personalized. So I figure that maybe it is better to not pretend at all, and instead to post my own version of the mass “family update” letter you occasionally still get. Another is that I deserve having to publicly explain – and humiliate – myself, because I know I’ve caused no small amount of confusion and pain.

Before getting to the reasons I cut myself off, some good news. I’m alive, am far healthier than I have any right to be, and have two healthy and delightful children, and a wonderful wife. While my work life is a perpetual challenge, I am doing interesting things. In world and historical terms, I have a great if hectic and stressful life.

So as for why I’ve fallen out of touch with some people from “the old country,” one reason – and the most benign one – is just being overwhelmed. When one finds it hard to keep in touch with friends just across town, friends on the other side of the world suddenly seem even farther away. Adding to this is the “virtual” social fatigue that goes along with essentially being a small-town newspaper publisher, which is what I do – at least part of each day – at the All Hungary Media Group. But this doesn’t explain – or excuse – all the unanswered emails over the years from people with whom I actually have had long, real relationships with.

I will also readily confess that in general I have a problem with putting off unpleasant things, and thus needlessly letting small problems snowball into bigger ones. I’ve been working on this character glitch – which is probably my worst – for some time, but clearly I’ve got more work to do on it.

Another reason – and again, this is a reason, and not just an excuse – is the sense that I’ll never again get the chance to actually enjoy real, quality time (by which I mean in person, for more than a few hours) with these old friends. I’ve been back to the states several times in the past few years, but the visits have been wholly taken up with family. (And even this has been tough; last month I saw my sister for the first time in two years.) We plan to move back to America in the near to medium-term, but with the US tradition of a two-week vacation, and family on either side of the country, it has often just seemed futile trying to keep up with people I am unlikely to ever get a chance to actually hang out with.

There are also reasons that are a bit darker.

While I am not ashamed of where I am in life, catching up with people after a long spell does, like New Year’s, potentially entail a bit of painful stock-taking on both sides. And I’ll confess that I don’t particularly relish being reminded that, until one of my various hare-brained schemes hits, I’m just another marginally downwardly-mobile middle-aged white guy suffering through the inevitable hangover that inevitably comes after the sort of extended adolescence that my class and generation enjoyed. But I can handle that. What I fear I can’t handle is the traumas that others might be going through. I know that’s pretty weak, but at least I can say that one of the people I did keep up with (at least for a while) was going through the mother of all life traumas.

I also fear being a bearer of bad-tidings, or, as my mother recently put it, “a downer.” As you may have heard, things here in Hungary, and in Europe in general, are really on the edge, economically-speaking. I hope I am wrong, but I not only think we are going to fall off that edge, but that the US (and much of the rest of the world) will follow us down, and not into another short and sharp financial crisis but rather a grinding, decades-long slump. I fear that the America I will move back to will be like the Hungary I leave, an exhausted and cynical society where one person’s gain is automatically considered another’s loss and nice guys really do finish last. And I fear that if I do get a chance to reconnect with some of those I’ve lost touch with, this is what I am going to spend our precious time yammering on about.

But of course, if I am right, than this is all the more reason for me to try to not be another source of pain, and at least let the people I’ve wronged know that a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of them and wish they are doing even better than I can hope. And I really hope that next year, or at least some time, I can do so in person.