A long, long time ago…well thirty years ago to be precise…I was at University studying for my PhD. It’s hard to imagine that this was really thirty years ago, but that’s what the calendar says. My PhD was sponsored by a Big Pharma company. Not that I – or anyone else – understood the concept of big Pharma back then. Part of my sponsorship was the opportunity to spend three months in the Big Pharma laboratories working on my PhD.
Sounds great. They would take care of my accommodation and my travel and even my food. I just had to take advantage of the opportunity and do good work. I know my work went very well. I can just about remember my rented room…some of the travel…and nothing about the food.
The hardest thing was travelling to Big Pharma on a Sunday. It wasn’t so much the trains (which were poor) or the roads (which were awful). It was having to leave home. My wife and I rented an apartment near the University. On Sundays I left. And she stayed. She was working locally. We didn’t have text message or emails. I had to stand in line to use a public telephone to call her when I arrived. And again during the week. Three months was a very long time. Thirty years ago. Even now I can feel how much I missed her.
After three months I made a promise. I promised I would never leave her like that again. Ever. I made the promise to her and I made the promise to myself.
I thought about my promise last Sunday when I set off to drive to my rented apartment near our UK Laboratories. I think about that promise every Sunday… whether I set off to my rented apartment or to Heathrow airport.
As I turn out of the driveway, my mind is a mix of the rational and the emotional. Everything I see, hear, feel and think is telling me to stay at home. My wife and family only ever ask me to drive carefully and to text them when I stop…or to call them on the way if I want to chat. But everything says don’t go. Stay here. With her. With them. It’s the hardest thing ever. Every week.
And when I force myself to move from the emotional, my first logical thought is always the same question…have I broken my promise from thirty years ago? Not just any promise. That promise. To myself and to my wife.
I have got better at moving my mind onto other things. I listen to the radio. Plan my route. I listen to music. I drive. But whatever I do I always think…
I realise now my promise to my wife was not specific. I never defined ‘like that’. When I left on Sundays thirty years ago my wife was alone in our apartment. She is not alone now. She has our son, and – over the holidays – our daughter with her. I come home every Friday. I always come home. But have I kept my promise to her?
I know I have broken my promise to myself. I know it when I arrive at my apartment late on Sunday. I know it when I get back to the apartment after a day at work.
I am often asked how I cope with travelling so much. But travelling is easy – it is being away from home that is hard. Breaking promises is hard.
I am at home next week and the week after. I am looking forward to being with my family. With my wife.