When Distance Makes the Heart Grow

TAsunsetThe little one wakes up at the same time every morning, give or take 15 minutes. Never mind that it’s the weekend. I long to sleep in, but my internal clock has adjusted to hers, which means I’m groggy but awake when she comes padding into my room.

“I miss daddy,” she says, leaning her face into mine. I run my tongue around the inside of my dry, sleepy mouth.

“I know. Me too,” I say. “Let’s FaceTime him.”

I pick up my phone from the bedside and press “Josh in Israel.” A shrill ring starts up immediately and within seconds we see him on the screen. Thousands of miles away, he sits at a beachfront café, the sun setting over the Mediterranean, his face warm and glowing, grinning. Here at home we are just waking up. My bed-head splayed across the propped up pillows, the sleep still heavy in my eyes, my cheeks not yet rosy. The morning sun comes through the window, weak after a night’s rain, gray tinged clouds hanging in the bluing sky.

“Hi daddy!” Lilah chirps. She is thrilled to see him in real time, but unfazed at the mind-blowing technology that makes it happen. We are at that point now, he and I, middle age, when formerly familiar bits and pieces of the world make themselves known as miracles. FaceTime is one of them.

He tells us about his adventures so far, shows us his frothy café hafuch with its milk on the bottom and espresso on the top and describes his dinner and jazz club plans with a friend. I haven’t seen him this happy and relaxed for a long time. It makes me smile. Soon Lilah is clamoring for breakfast just as the sun slips below his horizon. We say our I-love-yous and goodbyes. The screen goes blank. My heart swells.

I do not know that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but it does make the heart grow. We have been together for 16 years. Our hearts are plenty fond and plenty full, but “I love you” is a statement rather than an action item. We let it hang in the air around us, glancing up at it every once in a while to make sure it’s still there. Meanwhile, it’s the repetitive tasks and the short-term goals of living – grocery shopping, signing on new clients, picking up kids from school – that fill us up, leaving little room for the practice of love. It is when we are apart like this for days and days, he outside of our perimeter while I remain circumscribed within it, that I find room for love.

In the space and time between us, I untangle the knots, the criss-crossing of signals and mixed messages that catch in the web of our busy lives. Distance gives my heart perspective. Across the oceans his voice comes through content and satisfied. Instead of work, he talks about Turkish coffee and seared meats, music and a road trip up north. Apart from me, from us, he is the man I met all those years ago, entirely of himself, the man I fell in love with.

I think about all the ways we lose ourselves when we love someone and all the ways we emerge shiny and new in the same instance. At first we were all too happy to meld ourselves together, creating us. This is what we wanted after all, to be joined with the other, to be loved, to move from one to two, then to a family of five. In the joining together, identities shifted, titles bestowed and along with them responsibilities. I wish I’d known from the beginning how important it is to honor the core self in the midst of all this love.

Josh and I will FaceTime tomorrow, wide-eyed once again with amazement at how crisp we appear to each other on the screen, how cleanly our voices carry across the thousands of miles. It is a wonder to see him step outside of us and into himself. In the space he’s left behind, I am slipping back into myself too. It is from here my heart grows, not fonder or bigger, but with the breathtaking crush and whirl of who we can be when we are first true to ourselves.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt is, “I wish I’d known…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Kenya.

32 thoughts on “When Distance Makes the Heart Grow

  1. You’re so talented and wonderful, Lisa. I love this so much and could perfectly imagine your morning and the wonder that technology brings to our lives. How you write about forming us, looking up to see the I love you… gorgeous. Truly.

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  2. Yes to all this, Lisa! For our 40th birthdays my husband and I each took our own solo mini trip, in part for logistical childcare reasons but also to enjoy and celebrate ourselves, alone. I did miss him when we was gone and I think it rekindled our appreciation of one another.

    I wish I had known how important it was to hold onto my core self early on, but glad I’m fully aware of it now.

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  3. Lisa, this is so lovely. A loving marriage in which, in place of envy or resentment, you shine inside when the other is lifted up. and in that space who they’re meant to be. This spoke volumes to me: “It is a wonder to see him step outside of us and into himself. In the space he’s left behind, I am slipping back into myself too.” So, so wonderful, unselfish, and insightful.

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    1. Thanks so much Julie. If there’s one thing I know it’s that envy and resentment get me nowhere. I’m all about opportunities, especially in midlife and marriage. All a work in progress…

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  4. Reminds me of Khalil Gibran’s words on marriage – ” But let there be spaces in your togetherness… For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” My husband and I worked together for 12 years. Every day. Sometimes it was kind of cool, but honestly we never had the opportunity to miss one another. Now that we have different careers and spend our days apart, I think it’s better this way.
    Really great post! I’m always amazed how many different stories emerge from these prompts.

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    1. Oh my, how I love that quote – thank you so much for sharing. Maybe it’s a midlife thing, but I’m more and more okay with us re-exploring ourselves within our marriage. It feels necessary in a way.

      Yes, it is amazing to read the different pieces that come out of FTSF. Love this community!

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  5. This is absolutely lovely and speaks so beautifully to the ways that marriage change over the years, the ways we settle into each other, the ways love takes shape over time. But it also highlights something else I find really important and that’s how important it is to recognize the value of space (from each other, for each other) and the ways of honoring the individuals we each still are, even those selves get muddied and buried and tussled. 🙂

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    1. Thank you Em. You know, it’s taken me all these years to overcome the feeling that we must always be WE and if we aren’t something is terribly off. It’s actually the other way around. We must each be true to ourselves and bring those selves to each other. It’s when we’re lost to ourselves that it goes downhill. Oh life! xo

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  6. We have a lot in common, I always relate to your stuff. My husband travels every week for work and he and I are both always so busy. What you say, “‘I love you’ is a statement more than an action item…” it really resonates.

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  7. My husband spent many years commuting to his job via airplane (although not nearly as far as Israel). I love what you said about each of you stepping back into the person you were when you first fell in love. I never thought of that. Thanks for the wise insight so beautifully said.

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  8. I think the thing which struck me most about this piece is how you share not the ways you miss him, or the ways you wish he could be more part of the ‘together’ part of the life you’ve both signed up to, but how the ‘apart’ is keeping him HIM, how it nurtures and enables him to continue being himself, and the ways in which you’re remaining true to your inner self, as well. That’s beautiful, and a testament to the delight of love – that you let him go, and find him more wonderful, not less.

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    1. I love the way you say this Lizzi – yes, that’s it exactly! For so long we’ve felt like we have to always function as US and we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be just ourselves. That doesn’t mean the US is failing (although that’s work too), but I do believe it means we are the sorts of people who need to recollect ourselves in order to be better in the US. Thank you, as always, for your insights. xo

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  9. Amazing talent! Unlike you, I flounder for words to convey my thoughts. I truly appreciate the images in my mind that you have created…just from finishing a phrase! Thank you for sharing your life.
    Lauri

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