Over the last few days I have received a number of letters from old and dear friends living far away in other countries. It was wonderful to hear from them, but I also felt the ache of their absence. One especially close friend brought back a lot of irreplaceable memories, of laughter and long walks and the fragrance of eucalyptus leaves and fried sole. Perhaps it is the concentration recently on writing about places that matter most to me that brought on the feelings of bobbing way out on the water, looking back at the shore, and making out the vague forms of kin and of kith.
Many people often remark to me how envious they are of my global upbringing and all the places I have seen and lived in. They remark how they, too, wish that they could see all those distant wonders and meet people who live such varied lives. This privalege is not lost on me, of course, and I hold dear the bouquet of experiences that reside in my chest and in my head. A glimpse into my own inner landscape reveals a sea with many shores and comfort in the wide swath of territory I have explored.
But a person can only spread their hands so wide before they lose contact with the intimacy of touch and talk. We are animals designed to cling to one another and face the world together. Alone our nakedness leaves us cold and vulnerable. And while I love to step out of the crowd and stride along the unpeopled trails, revelling in solitude, inevitably I return to the fold to take comfort in welcoming arms and warm greetings. Even out in the high mountains that I so revere, meeting another soul during storms or in the dark nearly always brings me joy. I am not the hermit that I so often dreamed of becoming when I was a boy.
And so the long distances from friends and family haunt me. I miss what I shared with those closest to me, and wait for the days when I can once again knock on one of their doors, embrace, and shout, “It’s so good to see you again!” Life is so short and our time with loved ones always so inadequate. Those uproarous parties are always so ephemeral; the moments sitting together on the beach watching the sun go down, so elusive; the arguments that seemed so important at the time, so frail and seemingly misspent; the saying of good-bye, so abrupt and final… I lean forward with a keening heart and try to reach out across the telephone lines, hoping that perhaps the world will close in and distances collapse. But it is never so…
The remedy is sleep. Sleep and a letter, some sweat over good work, and then a long walk. And of course, those friends just around the corner (“…one is silver and the other is gold…”). And you keep the fire burning just in case. You never know just who will drop by.