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Can presence and distance live in peace?

The philosopher, the writer, the journalist—and many others—work at cultivating distance in relationship even as they stand in the present.

Why do that?

The work of analysis, of illustrating via story and reportage all require distance for the facts to sort themselves. Just like the passage of time has a way of revealing what was important ten, twenty and two hundred years ago. Just like the artist learns to imagine a two-dimensional plane to begin to make marks with/on their media.

Distance starts to open a way forward by helping us see differently. Presence demands attention—that’s the human piece of empathy and mercy. Sometimes we need to slip from present to distant and back again. All the while avoiding absence.

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My conversation with the hospice chaplain reminded me of the help a bit of distance brings to sufferers and those in grief. The person slightly distant brings a perspective the sufferer may need to hear, though that perspective may not be immediately welcome. Best if that slightly distant perspective comes wrapped in empathy and mercy.

But even at work we can cultivate a bit of distance for the sake of clarity. When the boss pontificates it doesn’t hurt to ask why she does so and what rhetorical goals her sermon serves.

And even at home we can mingle distance and presence: staying present with family (versus attaching to whatever screen or podcast holds our attention) is the first order of business. But we bring perspective when we step back.

We need presence and distance to move forward.

Absence rarely aids progress.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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