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April 6, 2014 / annakpf11

On Living Far Away


“…Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route.”

From “The Blue House” prose poem by Swedish poet and Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer (1931— )

The hedgerow is in shadow, but late afternoon sun illuminates the fields behind Long Barn, spotlighting a small herd of cattle. Some caramel-colored, some white, some black, they stand with heads bent to the grass, peaceful as statues. I am looking out the window above the kitchen sink (such an important place in a house; such an important place for a view), absent-mindedly observing this tranquil slice of world where we live.

I am thinking about the choices we make in life, the unpredictable path that led us here, and about loved ones far away. Dave and I feel ‘at home’ here in the UK; we love the place (yes, even the weather!), the people we’ve met, and the way of life we’ve found, and yet there is no denying that family and friends dear to us no longer live near to us. I worry about the separate orbits of our daily lives, about missing holidays and milestones, and about being absent in times of need. I tell myself that proximity doesn’t define closeness, and that the magic of Skype keeps us connected (surprisingly well, in fact), but the human tendency to worry, to scan the horizon for what’s wrong, or what might go wrong, keeps a sense of separation bobbing and floating on the surface of my awareness. How much of this low-grade worry is adaptive, a legacy of ancestors who survived because they paid attention to what caused pain and harm? Neuroscientists say that we have developed a ‘negativity bias:’ our brains are primed to spot potential threats, and our instinctive memory preferentially imprints the negative stuff of life, so if we are to fully inhabit our time on earth, we must remain vigilant to beauty, open to delight.


Unexpected movement draws my eye to the field outside the kitchen window: two fawn-colored, long-legged calves are chasing each other back and forth across the pasture. To and fro they run, moving in gawky splendor, gold-toned flanks catching the day’s last light. In and around they weave, disappearing and then reappearing among bushes and placid cows, propelled by some inner impulse to movement, to motion, and, I like to think, to bovine joy. I savor the sight, and the feeling it engenders in me.  I imagine the elasticity of running free, the synchrony of mind, body, and breath. I relish this vicarious exhilaration until it becomes part of me, a bright, indelible thread in the fabric of my being.

Yes, distance imposes limits. But it also creates possibility. Living far away crystallises our sense of what is important as it expands our field of shared experience, so that the nature of the time we now spend with family and friends—whether we visit them in California or they travel to Long Barn—is even more cherished, certainly more concentrated, and arguably richer and more intimate than before.

The sun has left the field now; the calves have abandoned their game. My gaze turns to the persimmon painted walls of our kitchen, my thoughts to the evening meal. I pull scissors from a drawer, open the back door and step into the garden. The long blue hour of twilight has begun. A blackbird perches on a treetop, proclaiming his rights in flutelike song. I snip the herbs I planted last summer—chives, mint, parsley—already greening in anticipation of spring.

Later, Dave and I will sit down to dinner, and as we always do, we will recall the roses and thorns in our respective days. Thorns, we notice, arrive with plenty of neural fanfare; roses require presence of heart. I will tell him what I witnessed out the window above the kitchen sink, what I would not have seen if I hadn’t been in a receptive frame of mind. I will describe how the beauty of the light, the green field, and the unfettered aliveness of the calves made me feel full, and whole, and part of everything. How, at such a moment, even though we live far away, everyone we love seems very near indeed.


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