In an email this week, my wise friend Molly said “Don’t underestimate the difficulties of living in a foreign place: culture shock and acclimation make the days all the more intense: hard days harder and good days better.”

I’m connecting with lots of interesting and wonderful people here in Dubrovnik–ex-pats and locals alike. But I miss my loved ones, the people who moderate my intense highs and lows through their presence in my life. By default, I’m volatile. And as a result, I tend to be drawn to people who balance that, whose stability anchors me.

And as much as I love the way the internet helps me stay connected to them–through video chats and emails and status updates and photos–networked traces of them often feel ephemeral and intangible rather than sturdy and reassuring.

Which is why I’m grateful for the tangible reminders I have of those people. Touchstones, totems. (Is there a word for an object that symbolizes a human rather than animal “spirit guide”? I couldn’t find one.)

They’re small things, these totems. A spoon from Elouise. A post-it note from Mitch. A candleholder that matches one sitting by Sebastian’s computer. A gold necklace from my mother that’s identical to one that she wears, and a silver one with affirmations that I got from Lili. But they ground me, and I’m grateful for the way they link my local space to my distant anchors.

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