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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Differently

Our lives are shaped by many things – our relationships perhaps most of all. How we connect, with whom we spend our time, who we emulate, where we learn mannerisms and gather our beliefs. These are often active, dynamic, living engagements. On-going conversations and social encounters evolving through the days, months, years and decades of our lives. What of those relationships frozen in time? Halted at a point sooner than expected. Conversations paused and engagements unrealized through the departure of death.

Tomorrow marks 25 years since my dad died. I was 14. While it would seem obvious that this is a landmark moment in my life, it was just a few weeks ago that I realized the powerful shaping this absence has had on my life this quarter of a century later. This is not to say, “how might things have been different?” because there is no different. This was always the path – my life was never destined to have his living presence beyond that fourteenth year despite any expectations that might have existed otherwise. It is simply to notice that the growth and development I experienced was shaped by the absence and to examine with curiosity how that has an effect just as strongly as presence can.

I think about the human body and adaptation. When an organ is removed, the space is filled with neighboring contents, accommodation is made by nerves and vasculature seeking to return back to full expression of health. When a limb is absent, the person adapts to function fully in new ways, perhaps different in detail from those with all appendages intact, but no less complete in their humanity.

I think about nature and the movement toward equilibrium. The emergence of groundcover to protect an empty field, making way for the next season and fertile the soil for new growth. The automatic rebalancing that takes place to create a sustainable ecosystem when an anticipated factor is unexpectedly removed.

I see my own adaptation. With this relationship removed, neighboring connections accommodate to bring me back to full expression of health. With the father absent, I learned to function fully in new ways, different in detail but no less complete in my humanity.

I see my movement toward equilibrium and am grateful for the groundcover of siblings and friends who protected the empty field of fathering to make way for the next season in my life, with a heart capable of new growth. I see the automatic rebalancing that emerged to create a sustainable ecosystem in my life when the father factor was unexpectedly removed.

I will never know specifically how it is that I am different because of life’s unfolding in 1995, but I can more intentionally accept myself and the experiences that brought me to this moment. Presence maintained through stories, a handful of memories and letters. Absence that created a space into which I grew – with earlier independence, reverence for life, acceptance of death, honoring of connection and love of the written word.

May we honor the shaping of our lives and hearts both from the presence and absence of those with whom we share them, growing fully into ourselves, just as we are.


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