© Anushka Bose. All rights reserved.*
“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” — Charles Dickens
Christmas Tree in our Safaniya Drive home. December 2015.
As Christmas approaches, the Holidays are on my mind, especially as it relates to how my holidays used to be. I came across the Charles Dickens quote recently and it made me think so differently about Christmas breaks in Dhahran. It’s now going to be the second Christmas that I am not going to be there [as my family retired].
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.” While Dhahran was a part of my past, I always aim to integrate it into my present and future. I hope to do so by remembering those who made an impact on me while I was there, keeping all my pictures in a safe place, remembering and cherishing those memories of Christmas break when the Dhahran camp lit up with glimmering lights of Christmas decorations and the garages held out “Welcome Home” banners for many of the returning boarding school students. These recollections make me homesick and wish I was passing through the Bahrain Causeway, half-asleep in a car, only to be woken up by my parents saying that we are home.
Christmas Tree in our Safaniya Drive home. December 2016.
But these memories often make me emotional and such emotions don’t always serve me in my path to move forward. When a memory makes you emotional, there is a great deal of effort spent trying to suppress the emotions. If you let the past take up all the space in your mind and heart, then the present and the future don’t have any space to thrive. And it’s the same logic for those of us that constantly think about the future or present.
The integration of the three time lapses surely presents a real challenge — how do you hold the three together? I don’t quite have the answers, but I do know this, our mind and body have finite energy. If we spend our days collating all that energy into a tunnel-vision of the past or the future, we’re forgetting to live in the present. And the present is our binoculars to the past and precursor to the future. Who we are today is shaped by who we used to be, the impacts life and all its glory and point had on us. And who we are today is a precursor to the future as the actions we take today will determine what will become of us tomorrow. So, what is my point here? How does this relate to Dhahran?
A winter morning in Dhahran Hills. December 2017.
While reminiscing of Dhahran, I’ve spent so much time in the past, thinking, cherishing, and longing for the memories. And part of it stems from my family’s exit from the Kingdom and my inability to say goodbye to my home before their departure. However, the intense grief I felt around this time last year is now more removed from the broader picture. I will long and miss those carefree days in Dhahran, especially those Christmas mornings when the togetherness of my family and the crisp of the winter breeze and vegetable za’atar and cardamom tea was enough to make me elated. I still miss all of that. But as the intense emotions of grief distance themselves, they’re replaced by a sense of calm, which gives me hope. Perhaps this is how everyone’s past gets integrated into their lives as they move ahead. It is always woven into their story but the attention we put on it decreases.
Enjoying tea on Christmas Eve. December 2019.
Christmas Tree in our 6th Street home. December 2019.
This Christmas, I long for those days with my family by our Christmas tree in Dhahran, miss seeing my friends, and miss belonging in the carefree and safe communities that Aramco had built for us all. But instead of meeting those memories with heavy emotion, there is now a distance dividing the two, a distance that has redirected my energy more into the present and the future. The past will always be there to come back to, a chamber of memories and secrets in my mind that I can enter and rejoice and briefly relive those special moments. This Christmas, I am reminded of the Dickens quote, and I aspire to create space for living in all three parts — past, present, and future. Let’s allow ourselves to throw attention to all three and never be enthralled and pulled so deep into one that we forget to remember the other two.
A rainy winter afternoon. Taken from the study room in our old Safaniya Drive home.
Regardless of what state my emotions morph into, my admiration and love for Dhahran and all that it represented for me is forever embedded into my heart. The memory is the safe white knight that protects me from gloomier days.
For those that celebrate, wishing you a very Merry Christmas in advance. May the holidays bring you light and tranquility wherever you are, and may your memories of Saudi Arabia or your current lived experience continue to be cherished and to serve you in your path ahead.
Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.