I'm a terrible long-distance friend. When we're in the same town, participating in the same groups, attending the same functions, we're thick as thieves. But then someone moves. We exchange tearful goodbyes, certain we'll talk at least weekly, check one another's Facebook/blog/Twitter, and meet up for caffeinated beverages as often as possible.
Several days pass.
I think to myself, "It's too soon to call--she's only been gone a little while."
Several weeks pass.
I think to myself, "Ok, now it's embarrassing that I haven't called."
Several months pass.
I think to myself, "Now I can't call--I'm too ashamed."
And so it goes.
There's a palpable absence in these relationships. I am constantly aware of the fact that the friend isn't there and of my own communication failings. It becomes a living, breathing thing between us, a beast of regret and recrimination.
Perhaps I'm being melodramatic, but we all have relationships in our lives which exist more as an absence than a presence. There's a person-shaped hole.
And it's not like it used to be--calling up a friend involved long-distance charges which could bankrupt you. Writing a letter was much cheaper but more involved. Do I have enough to say to fill up a letter? Is there anything newsworthy to report? Does it sound goofy when I write, "How are you? I am fine. The weather has been temperate." How did Paul of Tarsus do it?
Now, we've got lots of virtually free methods of keeping in touch--calling my friend in California is no different than calling my friend here in Cincinnati. And yet...
...and yet every time I do actually contact someone, it's all "I've missed you," and "I was just thinking about you," and "Tell me everything!" The palpable absence, the person-shaped hole is really a presence--it reminds me of the person, that our relationship continues despite distance and silence. That absence marks an intimacy that can't be destroyed--like matter and energy--it just changes over time. We are different people when we reconnect--see also Mary Magdalene mistaking the risen Jesus for the gardener--yet the kernel of our relationship continues to grow in each of us. It's not the end.