Today, my little sister flies off to Hawaii.
She’s not going to be gone very long. Maybe just a year at most. But maybe because she’s my little sister, or maybe because it’s Hawaii, or maybe because “just a year at most” is a very real maybe (who knows what happens to little sisters in Hawaii?) there’s a heaviness in my chest that’s not the by-product of a recent asthma attack.
For all the work I’ve done in impermanence and surrender and letting go, the goodbyes still get me every single time. I know there’s Facebook and Skype and WhatsApp, but there’s an intimacy in physical proximity that can’t be replaced by overt communication no matter how deliberately arranged and meaningfully expressed. In my twenties, I believed in the power of overt communication—placed my faith in the ability of the daily call and the weekly letter—to maintain the bonds of affection. But the loosening of so many bonds (the loss of so many friendships to the erosions of distance!) have made me acutely aware of the limits of disembodied relationships.
We are painfully (but also joyfully) incarnate beings, and our connections are most fully lived in the flesh: in the coziness of mealtime conversations, in the silence of mutual preoccupations, in the camaraderie of shared space. There is, for lack of a better word, an intimacy granted to strangers who share the same train ride everyday that is not given to the most effusive exchangers of correspondence. The postmodern ubiquity of communication devices conceals the fact that a profound amount of human communication is, in fact, nonverbal, and that the warmth (and yes heat!) of our relationships is often generated from the friction of daily interaction.
So maybe I’m waxing philosophical as a way of dealing with my sister’s departure. (Scratch that maybe: I am waxing philosophical to avoid dealing with my sister’s departure.) But I’d like to think that this particular evasion has a point. Even if globalization and its attendant migratory trends make it practically impossible, I really do think we should move around a lot less and root a lot more. It’s just, I don’t know, better for the heart I guess.