500 miles separate me from my daughters.
I live in Washington, on the east coast; they live in Charleston, in the deep south. I have a house there too, but it seems a stretch to think of it as home, so rarely I am there. I no longer enjoy driving the distance at one go, and so going there entails planning ahead and using a hotel as a midway stop.
The bigger reason for my rare trips is that I have become accustomed to my house and my town. It is a pleasant enough house, larger than my needs. I rarely use a floor, and I am content using only the kitchen, a bathroom and the large bedroom I have made my study. A smaller bedroom I use only to sleep in and the deck outside is my favorite haunt, to read and to daydream.
Even the city, Washington, though I live outside its limits, has its fascination for me. It is a busy city, always vibrant, resonant with memories of the places where I have lived, worked, eaten, met with friends, watched plays, heard concerts. Its streets mean something for me, its hotels have memories for me, its old buildings fascinate me. Its free museums are an eternal charm, its think tanks with their talks and debates never fail to draw me.
Yet my daughters are there. At 500 miles. Every time I see them my heart takes a leap.
My life is peaceful. My work was just the opposite. I started with business, but in a sizable corporation. So life wasn’t topsy-turvy from day to day, my livelihood did not depend on a weekly revenue. Yet clashes and conflicts were a daily occurrence. The uncertainties of life are one thing, but another thing was the personal fights, turf wars and departmental skirmishes. When I went to work for an international organization, these clashes were compounded by ethnic biases and national discords. These came into the open when I started my diplomatic career. Little prejudices and large assumptions lay behind the gloss and glitter. It amazed me that big people seemed to have such small minds. Large issues remained unresolved because of petty antagonisms.
Now I live a comparatively tranquil life. It is largely a life of quiet study, sustained exploration and a peaceful probe of troubling matters. I am happy in my home, relaxed in my fitful interviews and at home when I travel to unfamiliar shores. But it is all by myself. If I am happy, there is scantly anyone to share my happiness with.
My daughters are 500 miles away. In another world.
Of course, I love to see them. I take breaks from whatever I do, and spend a few days with them. I would have preferred them to be a little nearer; I could drive over and visit them more often. The distance is a bit more than I care to drive in a day, ten to eleven hours. The pandemic makes it harder. I am forced to stay in a hotel overnight, where it is not easy to avoid other people in a confined space or maintain social distance.
For months I have not seen my daughters. I speak to them on the phone, even see them periodically on my computer. I miss feeling close to them. I miss holding their hands or hugging them. They tell me of the improvements they have made in their homes. They have bought shiny new cars. I haven’t seen any of those. It frustrates me, even when they send me photographs or try to show me on the phone. I am old-fashioned enough to want to see it all directly, standing next to my daughters, and be able to tell them what I think of them. I want to be able to share, in my limited way, their life with me. I want to feel a part of their fast-changing life.
But they live 500 miles away. An intolerably large space in the middle.
No longer. Last week I took a decision. The decision to take a risk and drive the 500 miles and visit them. A decent hotel offered to give me a room, fully sanitized and safe, exempt from any service or maintenance staff. I stayed there a cautious night and drove the rest of the distance through the deep south to Charleston.
As I came closer, every hour I said to myself I am an hour closer to my daughters. The drive seemed easy, the traffic insignificant. I drove steadily, reluctant to stop at the inviting rest stops on the way, and finally entered Charleston.
For my convenience, they are both waiting in my Charleston home. They have brought food, plenty of food. They have chilled the wine. They have placed the covers and cutlery on the large dining table. But first I must hug them and kiss them and see at close range their beautiful faces. They are smiling and my heart is bursting. What did I do to deserve such loving, charming daughters!
But, wait, what else have they placed on the table? A large cake, a big, luscious birthday cake. They remembered it was my birthday! I invite my daughter’s tousle-haired little girl, just three, to come and help me dice the cake. Excited, laughing, she comes and places her soft little hand on mine and steadies the knife before it enters the large cake.
All the 500 miles have simply melted away, like the butter and sugar in my cake.