In a very real sense, dealing with distance enlivens us. Connecting across divisions brings us to life – not only in the relative sense that it makes us feel more alive than we already are, but also in a very real and absolute sense. Just as light is both particle and wave, our sensory perceiving system is two-fold. Separated is What It Is. Connection is What It Does. And in the midst of disparate parts, we have a dynamic process that overcomes our separations and makes them all about connection. The impulses that traverse our neural pathways are the very stuff of life – and they cannot stop without bringing our entire systems to a screeching halt.
And in the same way that we have a process of physical connection on a moment-by-moment basis, every living instant of our lives, we have corresponding temporal and conceptual connection processes. These occur throughout our entire system, involving body, mind, heart, and spirit. Consider the world’s literature, along with every other sort of culture, whether arts and letters, sport, politics or the everyday business of going about your life and interacting with others. It’s all about negotiating distance. Separation and the tension it produces, as well as all the things we do to deal with that, are every bit as central to our human experience, as the firing of synapses that tell your brain what’s going on in the world.
We often want what we cannot have, or what is just beyond our reach. It piques our interest, it motivates us to do what’s necessary to get that thing/person/situation. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” as longing for loved ones far away makes them seem even more beloved. Our thoughts about them can become more positive and rosier when we imagine them from a distance, than if they’re at our side 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Limited-availability consumer goods and homes in exclusive zip codes command higher prices and confer upon their owners a higher social status, than stuff that just anybody can get. I’ve noticed marked differences in how people treated me in 1993, when I was driving a borrowed Mercedes 500-Class sedan, versus when I was driving my paid-for ’79 Honda Prelude. The change in attitude towards me was palpable, and I felt different, myself.
In the case of temporal distance, looking forward to things sharpens our longing. Being separated from what we want by time – anticipating getting what we don’t yet have – whets our appetite. Many of us feel as though we are always working toward something in the future, saving for a house or a car, working towards an academic degree, or putting in a lot of hard work on the job so that we can advance professionally. But we do it gladly, because in the end, we expect to “arrive”. Having to work at something and wait for it raises its value in our minds. If something doesn’t happen overnight, that makes it more valuable to us – and others. It becomes a worthwhile investment of time and effort in what we are doing, and that investment deepens our relationship to the object of our desire. It involves us in the achievement of it. And it evolves us in the process of drawing nearer our goals.
Memories of distant loved ones and past situations (involving temporal distance) tend to become more fond – and more flattering – more valuable, the longer they’re separated from us. It’s not uncommon for people at a funeral to wax eloquent about the value of someone’s life and how wonderful they were while they were still living, when in fact the person delivering the eulogy had not been in regular contact with that individual for months, even years – and the times that they did spend together were filled with conflict, distance, and a host of other challenges which don’t exactly correlate with their glowing accounts of the deceased.