December winds down, and in January my brother moves to California. That will put the expanse of a continent between us. I am a big boy now, so it isn’t a big deal. At least, that is what I tell myself. It’s true–in the grand scheme of things this isn’t important. Still, it is a reminder to me how parting is the space between every note in the song of life, and finishes every end.
Parting comes more naturally to some people, but it never is entirely natural. People were meant to live together in community, and when the circle is broken we feel it. But ours is a transient culture so for many the sting of lost communion is dulled by the constant repetition of that rupture.
If that is modern life, mine was not a modern childhood. My family did not move often (I have clear memories of only two moves, and by the time I was eight we had settled into the house where I would spend the rest of my youth). As children my siblings and I stuck together. So when my brother left home for college when I was nineteen I felt my first parting with particular vividness.
Even then I sensed how the partings of life echo death. In the early days when my brother was gone at college I would find myself thinking of things and the impulse would come, “Oh, I’ll share that with Arlan–” and in the next instant I caught myself and remembered he wasn’t around. The thought couldn’t be shared.
Arlan wasn’t permanently gone at college, he would be home to visit. But those momentary catches when absence was felt so plainly are the very things we feel with such cutting finality in death. A person is gone and there will be no more sharing. The unease felt in all the partings of life is our hearts knowing what each small parting foretells.
From an early age I grasped the idea of parting and instinctively knew I didn’t want that in my life. My family and I–we would always stick together. Then life happened and I discovered that assumption was the dream of childhood. In this world we all walk our own paths, and often we walk alone. There are many partings in life, and with the years final partings begin to collect. With each we learn that life is hard, and not what we dreamed as children.
This distance between the East and West coast is not the distance between heaven and earth. A resurrection isn’t needed to cross, and in the normal course of life I can expect to see my brother again. And yet, with every parting I am reminded of the losses in this life and how nobody is around forever. As parting adds to parting in my life I have noticed I share less. It feels inevitable, the response to no surety of the enduring presence of others. And yet I don’t like it. A part of me longs to live like I did as a child when partings were un-imagined and sharing was free. Here in this place, I’m not sure how to live.