Loving From A Distance

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For the past week or more I’ve been saying to myself, “I really must write my next article for ANC.” I fancied writing some kind of Christmas piece but kept falling short in the ideas-department. It’s not that I didn’t have any holiday cheer, but… no, wait, that’s probably exactly what it was. Life has been hard, friends, and for some reason I was extra-emotional this year, what with one thing and another, so my Christmas cup was a bit on the empty side. Fortunately that changed, and Sem and I had a really lovely, peaceful, happy Christmas. If you celebrate anything this time of year I hope you had a festive time, too.

Part of what helped to fill my heart was seeing photos of the children of my friends’ children. Yep, another generation is with us, giggling, stretching, learning, growing… smiling through the lens and straight into my heart. Special mention goes to bright-eyed, adorable Jakub and the personality-packed cutie, Lillian. I’ve known their mamas since they themselves were born, and now in the blink of an eye, they have their own babies. I knew Jakub’s and Lillian’s great-grandparents for almost all of my life, from when I was as small as they are, now. It shouldn’t be that astounding to me, but it is. Anyone else hearing the chorus of ‘The Circle of Life’ at the moment, or is it just me?

These little sweethearts are mothers, now! I thank them for the photo-posting permission.

If you’ve never lived far from the people you care about, you might not know how much of an impact photos can have, in the best of ways. There’s a little wistfulness at not being there in person, yes, but mainly it’s gratitude that I feel, for living in this photo-centric age when so many events are photographed and shared. It’s not that long since far-flung friends and family rarely exchanged photos, perhaps including a few snaps in a handful of letters sent over the years. We have so few photos of my cousins in Germany that I pretty much know each picture by heart. My parents probably didn’t send that many pictures of us over to Germany either, which isn’t a complaint, just an observation. Things were different in the days when photos were on film which then had to be developed and printed in order to be shared. It means, though, that these captured images are etched upon my memory because they were rare. Click! One cousin is two years old, grinning into the camera with a sticky marmalade smile. Click! Another cousin is nine or ten, posing by the Christmas tree in one of the most beautiful snapshots I’ve ever seen. So it was, with my cousins from both the north and south of Germany (all of us now in our 50s and 60s). Sadly, I hardly know them, especially my Bavarian cousins, but I’m fortunate that some of us have found each other on Facebook. Say what you like about Zuckerberg’s creation, I’m glad it exists; thanks to the ease with which we can share our lives these days, I get to “see” my loved ones even though it’s from a distance. I marvel at family resemblances: in one photo, wee Jakub looks just like one of his great-grandfathers, and in another, Lillian’s expressions perfectly mirror her mother’s when she was a similar age. I know it’s just genetics but sometimes it seems like magic, and seeing friends’ children growing and changing in ‘real time’ is truly a gift.

The many smiles of Jakub.

One of my second cousins in Germany said long ago to someone, about his family, “Oh and there’s some aunt in America somewhere…” With time I might become vaguely known to this next generation as a sort of ‘auntie’ in Scotland somewhere, and that’s okay. I love them even if they won’t know me. They don’t have to know me or love me back; it is enough that they now grace our world, and are loved and cherished by those whom I love, too.

Can’t you just hear Lil’s giggle?

The reality is that other than family, some of my nearest and dearest have moved away from Pennsylvania, too, so even if I hadn’t come to Scotland we would still be pretty far apart. Where once we saw each other often, we would seldom see each other at all, if I was still there. I find that so hard to fathom. When you leave a place behind it remains kind of frozen in time, in your mind but of course it’s not really like that: life goes on for everyone. Knowing that “back home” is a vastly different thing than it used to be is a little disconcerting, but being able to see things as they change helps me to stay current. It gives me a warm flicker of happiness to look in on the lives of those I love when they share photographs or updates about their lives. I am apart, yet still a part, and we remain connected, which means a lot to me.

Inch o’ time, inch o’ gold.

Not everyone shares their lives on social media, so there are family members I ‘see’ much less of, and some I don’t know at all. It’s so strange to me that I actually have a very big family; I just don’t know many of them. But the ones I do know, I love, even if we have very little contact. It means a lot to be able to see how they are doing, however sporadically. That goes equally for those who are my chosen family; the friends who are so close that we might as well be related. I lost many of them to distance when I moved but I still love seeing them on screen, when they share photos. I’ve seen wedding snapshots that were so filled with joy I could feel it across the miles, and it doesn’t really matter if I only know one half of a happy couple, it’s just great to see the love between them shining through. Being able to watch little ones growing up from infancy is so lovely, too, even though I will likely never meet them. My life was once beautifully entwined with some of the friends whose stories I now mostly only observe, but I am so happy to be able to do so. Every new photo brings perspective not just at how quickly life roars past, but how full of love and connection it can be.

If love itself could build an actual bridge (with, it must be said, some kind of hyperfast transportation system), I would be with those I love at every opportunity. I’d hug my Mama every day and I’d visit my friends and their kids and grandkids often. I’d make up stories for the wee ones and be that crazy auntie filled with nonsense and silliness and the occasional bit of wisdom. But love doesn’t build those kinds of bridges. Fortunately what it can do is create links that transcend distance and time, so even if I can’t be with my family and friends I can still know and love them and – when they share their lives online or in emails – take part in a small way by instantly being able to respond. Even if the bonds of friendship have slackened a little bit, the foundations are deep and strong. Isn’t that a fine thing!

This piece ran away with me. I had no idea when I sat down an hour ago and started to write that this is where my column would lead, today. It has nothing to do with Christmastime and contains no end-of-year musings, which is what I thought would happen. Instead, on this quiet evening my thoughts found their way, as they so often do, to the people who mean so much me. I am so glad that I can still see them live and love, and grow and change, all from an ocean away.

Love is as close as a thought, and thoughts can be shared so quickly these days, through the help of the internet. So for my part, even though I am a spectator rather than a real participant in the lives of the people I care about away across the sea, as long as they keep sharing their photos and stories I will continue to smile along with them when they are happy, cheer on their accomplishments and triumphs, and hold them gently in my heart through the harder parts of life. Above all, I will love them no matter where in the world we all happen to be.

I wish for all of you, dear readers, a new year filled with love and contentment, and all the happiness your hearts and lives can hold.

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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24 Responses

  1. Avatar erin friedman says:

    Beautiful piece, Deborah. Those little faces are precious. Glad to hear that your Christmas was peaceful and happy. I have cousins far and wide, and Facebook is our main communication portal — and every time I read another scathing news story and think: “That’s it FB, I’m quitting you!” I can’t quite do it. For the moment, I will enjoy the smiles.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Erin, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I stay there in FB for exactly the same reasons as you do… family, smiles and love. Otherwise I’d be outta there. But it’s often my only link to the people I care about (old friends and new!), so I stay on my terms, and ignore the rest.

  2. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Dear Deb, I was wondering where you were! Great to hear from you! The distance thing surely resonates with me, here in California and my family all in UK/France. I had planned to come here for two years, way back when, (based on the old system when I was a child of families going to Australia for two years, to populate it). Then life takes on a life of its own and here I am. For better or worse, who can say for sure, but this is for sure my home now. I hope this year treats you and Sem very well.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m here! I think the auction moved everything back a bit, which is understandable and perfectly right :-). I’m already sitting on my next article, which I’ll be submitting to Doni, soon.

      I think there are a lot of people who find themselves permanently staying in a place that was going to be temporary, for various reasons. As you said, life takes on a life of its own! I hope that you have found happiness and contentment there over the years. Scotland is my home now, too…

      Wishing you a 2020 filled with all good things, Eleanor!

  3. Avatar Jacqueline Breedlove says:

    Made my day and maybe year! Thank you, fantastic!

  4. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    Beautiful, as always! I never think about how difficult it must be for people who have family spread all over the country/world. I only have two cousins who I’m not close to and haven’t seen in many years, so pretty much everyone I’m related to would fit in a shuttle bus. But I can imagine not being able to see these family members frequently, and that would be so hard.

    You never stop teaching me new things about the heart.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      You mean PARTY BUS!

      Honestly, another great thing about all the pictures/videos on FB is that I get to “know” the people closest to the people I care about. So like, I could spot a few Grigsbys at ten paces even though I don’t really know them, all through you sharing your awesome family on your FB now and then.

      That sounds vaguely creepy, now that I re-read it. Letting it stand, anyway! 😀

  5. Avatar Erika Kilborn says:

    So yeah, I’m sitting on the Long Island Rail Road and sniffling. Just a wee bit. For the joy in your writing, for the adorable pictures, for the sadness I feel that so much of my family is gone. I’ll just sit here and wallow a little. But as always, I loved the piece.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m sorry. My mom had a similar reaction. I didn’t anticipate that it would make anyone sad, and I apologize.

  6. Dearest Deb, I love this piece, because I can relate, and because you so perfectly summed up what it’s like to love across the miles. Thank you for sharing your loved ones with us, complete with adorable photos.

    It’s all about connections, isn’t it, no matter how far we are from one another. Look, here you are, such a crucial part of the ANC family, and you’re in Scotland. But distance is no match for love and communication, and yes, although FB can drive me crazy sometimes, it’s how I keep up with many people I care about who are so far away … like you.

    Thank you, Deb! xod

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Doni! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, and those little lovable faces, too. You’re so right about loving/caring connections… it’s what makes live worth living. xo

  7. Avatar Hal Johnson says:

    I loved this, Deb. It really struck a chord with me.

  8. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Since about half of the USA seems intent on turning us into the Republic of Gilead, I daydream a lot about relocating to another country. New Zealand? Belize? Costa Rica? Spain? Italy? Vietnam?

    But I can’t. Not unless the kids and grandkids agree to come along. It pains me to go two weeks without seeing my Sacramento grandkids. It’s agonizing to consider that my youngest daughter might decide to relocate with her significant other to his native North Carolina, and that I might someday have grandkids who live on the other side of the continent.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I don’t have children of my own, so can only speak as the ‘child’ who left home (at age 41). The missing is hard… but it is survivable. Especially thanks to Aunty Internet. Emails, Skype, Facebook… it all helps.

      What makes it hardest of all is that we originally wanted to come back to the US at least every other year to visit my mom. Sadly, Sem’s illnesses made this impossible. We both feel that loss of travel-ability deeply, but it’s something we can’t do anything about. To not have seen my mom since our last trip anywhere (we met up in Germany at my aunt’s in 2010) is heartbreaking. I am so glad she embraced the previously-unknown-to-her land of computers and the internet!

  9. Avatar Gracious Palmer says:

    Dear Deb,
    Welcome to the North State fold ?.
    Thank you for your lovely words of love, contentment, and happiness.


    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Hi Gracious :). I’ve been here at ANC since 2014! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Thank you for telling me.

  10. Avatar Linda Cooper says:

    Deb, just lovely indeed. You express some of my heart! I agree with you, and others, about Facebook. Sigh. I keep having a fantasy that someone super rich, with a generous heart, will provide a new start up. Heck, I would be able to subscribe for say, twenty bucks a year? Chuckle. but maybe? Sorry, yet I have had the attention span of a pea the last couple of years. So I must ask, is the first “house” photo an image of your home? So (again) lovely!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Linda! FB is a necessary evil I suppose, though I choose carefully what I view so that it’s not evil at all :).

      Sadly no, that’s not our house – I wish! That’s a lounge in the hotel where we had a very nice Christmas Day lunch.

  11. Dear Deb, as others have said, you expressed this so beautifully. As we are distant from those we love, the photos and the love we share builds a sense of connection. I, too, wish love could build a beautiful, literal bridge. And this reminds me, too, to tell the ones in my life how much I love them! Thank you!

  12. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    I can really relate…I have no family in Redding..my son moved to Corvallis Oregon about about 25 years ago…think goodness for Skype as I can talk to him and my 2 grandsons every weekend. Facebook brought back friends from high school and my niece and family in Indiana. Plus, I have facebook artist friends all over the world. You have a knack for writing things we can all relate to..Like Anne Lamott.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you can stay in touch with far-flung friends and family, Peggy. It means so much, doesn’t it?