Calling distance from others difficult is an understatement. If unloved, distance can be especially maddening. You might as well be a ghost in the world, seeing but never seen, hearing but never heard.
Here’s Dickinson celebrating distance. A letter requires it, and “a letter is a joy of Earth:”
A Letter is a joy of Earth (1639) Emily Dickinson A Letter is a joy of Earth — It is denied the Gods —
I’m almost tempted to regret the times I was hurt and alone. But I know I couldn’t simply have changed my feelings through enthusiasm for letter writing. People do neglect each other cruelly, and we do need to recognize each other in order to understand who we are and what we’re doing.
Short poems tempt. They’re read because they can beautify a moment, a day. No one wasted time trying to take a few lines of Dickinson to heart. However, beautiful words are no substitute for our judgment, even when they express sublime and sincere emotion. The pain of distance is all too real. One might say it underlies every religious impulse the human race has had.
Still. Sometimes, distance has a use. We panic far too much about not knowing who others truly are. Whether elaborate frauds are built in order to make oneself always attractive, beyond judgment.
My letters so far have been failures. They try to say too much. I want them to be memorable and profound, so I try to speak about issues that take months of serious conversation to appreciate. And I’ll reduce those issues to a few awkward paragraphs and come off as clueless and misinformed.
I’m thinking now that the failure of the letters wasn’t the worst outcome. There’s lots to talk about and understand. The letters were pointing to the opportunity to be real and share experiences. They were pointing to a self to which I could aspire, one who could hear another and give something credible to them.
This is a very Earthly joy. The teenage complaint “you don’t know me” has relative value. Here it’s an opening to faith, hope, and love. Yeah, lots of people are fake—I’m not going to deny that’s a problem. But finding what they’re real about takes time. Often, neither party in a friendship or a relationship knows this from the outset.
I can’t help but feel the “Gods” in this fragment correspond to our consumerist visions of finding love. They have everything and must always be intimate. In fact, that intimacy and proximity are conjoined is a curse. They have to live out a version of “The Bachelor” every day of their lives.
There’s nothing to discover, despite how glorious everything is to see, hear, and touch. There’s no privacy when everything is known. The Gods may be eloquent, but they can’t speak love. I don’t know, for myself, how much I can deal with uncertainty in relationships. It isn’t as much fun as this reading of the fragment would suggest. I do remember how much fun it was to discover something new about someone I loved.