Do you remember “From a Distance,” a song Bette Midler made popular several years ago? A bit of its theology gave me pause – the God I know doesn’t watch from a distance – but it was a nice song overall and made some good points about viewing people from different vantages. The lines about far-away enemies looking like friends and the Earth appearing peaceful give a nice sense of the perspective of distance. But lately I’ve been thinking about a different issue, namely, perspective on distance.
This line of thought began with news of a ship. (I know – first it was food, and now it’s the maritime trade.) This particular ship matters a lot to Mark and me, because somewhere in the bowels of the Brevik Bridge is a cargo container with 29 boxes of our stuff. Yes, 29 is an odd number, literally and figuratively; heck, it’s even a prime number, and I dislike prime numbers on the grounds that they are unfriendly and do not play well with the other digits. But, alas, when the packing dust settled, we’d filled 29 boxes, and it’s sufficiently expensive per box that I just didn’t have the heart to tack on one more to round things out. So when we got an email this week telling us that the BB was leaving Charleston with our prime number of boxes, it was great news.
It turns out that even more fun lay ahead. Mark discovered a cool website where you can track ships. So we cheered when the Brevik Bridge sailed out of Charleston harbor and groaned when it had to wait to load in Savannah. Today’s update tells us that our ship is headed out into the ocean. Next stop, Le Havre! At the risk of sounding like someone who watches the Weather Channel all day, tracking the relatively slow progress of my carefully-packed Cutco knives and my beloved T-shirt quilt is remarkably entertaining.
Looking at the map to see the ship’s progress has gotten me to thinking about my perspective on distance. The ship seems far, far away. Our stuff seems far, far away. But interestingly, our families and friends in the US don’t seem so far away at all. Facebook, email, FaceTime, and cell phones keep us in pretty good contact. I send birthday wishes, hear about friends’ kids’ school plays and gymnastics meets, have nice chats with our kids and my sister, and keep up with what my book group is reading. Sure, I can’t go out to lunch with my buddies or get grand hugs from my friends at church, but Mark and I both feel like we’re keeping up with you all, which is wonderful. Please reach out to us if you want to be in contact!
Similarly, and probably more weirdly, we feel here the same lack of power to affect forces shaping our lives. Skipping merrily over politics, because it’s too early to start drinking, I’d lift up as an example the called General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Here comes a little religious inside baseball, but it’s much on my heart this week. This conference most likely will determine whether our denomination, if it survives as a denomination, will end its shameful treatment of LGBTQ persons. Mark and I both love our church and grieve its despicable stance and actions on this issue, but besides praying, we can do nothing to affect the conference’s outcome. But the same would be true if we were in the US, although if we were there we could be hanging out with our friends who are in the same boat – or in this case, I guess, on the same ship.
Now, on some level I’ve already known that how distant you feel is more of a perception than an objective reality. Being a mom is a case in point. Because our home in the States is in Texas and both our daughters and our son-in-law live in the Midwest, we’ve relied for a long time on technology and airplanes to stay in touch. So do I miss the kids more because we’re physically farther away? Not really. But do I miss the kids? Of course I do, so much that it hurts sometimes. But of course that process of detaching from them starts, literally, the day they’re born. As soon as they
slip out from between your legs, they are separating from you. Sure, I got to hold my precious girls right after they were born, but then they get whisked off to a nursery to do God knows what. It’s started – they’re in a different room. That becomes a different building, then a different state, and, now, a different country. Do I miss them? No, because they are amazing, functional adults. Yes, because they are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, and part of me is gone forever.
So there’s distance and there’s DISTANCE, and on some level it’s all a matter of perspective. And of practicality – our kids are great, the Methodists will do what they will do, and pretty soon Facebook will be filled with pictures of Austin sunsets and what everyone is having for dinner. And before long I will be typing other blog entries on my tablet while snuggled under my T-shirt quilt while the dishwasher chugs away cleaning the Cutco. And to that, let the people and Bette Midler say amen.