This Isn’t Colorado
I don’t even know where to begin, because I can’t believe this is happening. Beware, this is a long post, but I promise it’s worth the read.
I’ve officially checked in to fly to the happiest place on Earth, and I’m not talking about Disney World. I’m heading to Finland! I was thinking about doing my usual climbing expedition in Colorado this summer while possibly adding a trip to Glacier, Zion, and Yosemite National Parks. However, I was tired of taking a vacation that required me to work so hard without much rest. While working several overtime shifts in retail during the first year of the pandemic, DoorDashing, and then working in a school with energetic students who were ready and not-so-ready to be back in the classroom, I knew I needed a bit of a break.
Who’s in Finland?
Who’s in Finland? Great question. Part of my family’s in Finland. Not my biological family, but my family I met during the pandemic. I was one of many who struggled during the beginning of the pandemic to the point where I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold on. My Kansas City friends and I all went on lockdown in 2020, and things have never been quite the same.
There were friends in which decided to spend time with their families only, some who had children, and there were friends in which I decided I needed to part ways with. While sad to part ways, I learned a great deal about myself during this pandemic and that I do deserve to be listened to and valued just as much as I tried to be supportive. I was struggling to deal with my dad having cancer on top of two friends passing away. I was a mess.
If you followed my blog last summer, you knew that I was saying, “Yes” to just about anything that came my way as I burnt out hard from this pandemic. I wasn’t sure how I could top last summer, but I figured out a way to do so. Back to this family in Finland. As I mentioned, I struggled a great deal during the first year of the pandemic. I felt alone despite being around my co-workers for 40-50 hours a week while others at home were on lockdown. I can’t even count the number of hikes I went on to keep myself sane. Going to work was another coping skill despite my body and mind suffering tremendously from the physical labor.
After a few weeks of isolation, I began to think back to a website I used to play board games on prior to the pandemic. I figured no one would remember who I was, or that no one I played games with would be on. I was wrong! Some people welcomed me back with open arms while others had no clue who I was as a record amount of people were turning to online board games and other forms of gaming. We crashed the servers at times because so many of us were that bored or stressed. A few board games require communication between one another, and the more we played to distract ourselves, the more some of us got to know one another.
Surprisingly, my friend, Delo from the Netherlands had a Discord server where many of us from the board game site came together to chat. It was interesting to hear about the different regulations in different countries, and I knew as soon as my European friends were hit with a new COVID wave, that the US was about to be hit with a wave a couple weeks later. With lockdowns and the unknown, this online community of friends was exactly what each one of us needed for ourselves. Even this introvert needed human interaction as we were all a mess.
Our little online family have fought with one another whether it be over a game, whether we didn’t like what one another said, or even just because we were stressed. We have struggled together. We have grieved together through death and mourned during events occurring in different countries. We have laughed very hard together and at one another. We have watched movies together with a snack and drink by our sides. I even got suckered into watching European football and Eurovision. We have a COVID channel for when any one of us discovered we had COVID so we could be supportive or simply complain about our symptoms. We have even celebrated birthdays and holidays together. Yes, it became a tradition to sing, “Happy Birthday” to the birthday lad or gal while having a drink and playing games together. We have helped plan part of a wedding – well, I recommended pizza, and that suggestion has been fulfilled. We have even sent Christmas gifts to one another despite the boxes having to be in quarantine at one point. Over time, these friendships turned into a much deeper bond than I have ever experienced as someone was always there for you when you needed them. The one great thing about the time zone differences is that if one of us was struggling, we could always call someone up from the other side of the globe to help one another through the moment.
It’s been bittersweet to see our large family turn into a smaller family. The bittersweet part knowing that others have gone back to work, school, or are spending more time with their families and friends doing things they couldn’t do for quite some time. It hit me one day that I needed to begin expanding my circle of friends here in the Kansas City area as life was beginning to return to normal. The truly special part of this online family is that we still talk to one another, and we continue to share our accomplishments and our struggles with one another. My signature line to my family when I’m heading out with friends has been, “Hey guys, I need to go interact with humans. Wish me luck.” It used to be followed by, “Boos,” but the boos have slowly shifted to acceptance of our family relationship changing.
I have received mixed reactions about meeting up with my online family. A couple think I’m out of my mind for visiting these people from various countries for three weeks while most have been much more accepting and supportive than I anticipated. My friends and family are understanding how incredibly special this adventure is to all of us as they, themselves dealt with the isolation or worked overtime. I even have a family who is taking time off from work just so I can spend time in their home. I am truly honored by their hospitality.
As I stated, this journey will be three weeks long. I will do my best to write about my unbelievable adventures that not even I can believe will be happening as I will be in several countries. I will be on a plane, in a car, on a train, or on a boat for several hours with my friend, Vesa in between cities and countries for the first couple of weeks. I have warned him that if he doesn’t provide me with my introverted time, he will be strapped to the roof of the car – kidding of course.
For several months, I have been eager to share my journey – not to boast by any means as I was actually terrified of being judged. I did what I needed to do to survive during a pandemic, and I have no shame for doing so. The purpose of this portion of my blog is to show how saying, “Yes” has brought a tremendous amount of joy to my life through new connections as well as a deeper appreciation for different cultures across the globe. By saying, “Yes”, I will arrive in Finland sometime hopefully tomorrow and then hop on a boat to travel Scandanavia for about a week. This three-week journey will likely entail nine different countries, and I will do my best to post updates.
At times, it has been challenging to spend less time talking with my family across the globe, but it has helped tremendously to have the courage to meet new friends that I can hang out with here in Kansas City while keeping in contact with my European family. By the way, if you want to know how Bobby the Bobcat was rescued, you can thank my online Belgium family for finding Operation Wildlife for me. Eve, I will never forgive you for telling me to pick up this cat who turned out to be a bobcat, but I do thank you for helping me rescue her.
To my European family, you truly are near and dear to my heart and have brought much joy into my soul during such a difficult time for all of us. You all are truly too weird to not love and share my special moments with. I can’t thank you enough for the emotional support along the way, and I hope I have provided you with some joy and support as well. I hope you all can handle my touristy sandals!