We think about distance all the time in our lives. We think of it when we have to run up the street to the store, or plan a bigger shopping trip to a bigger store further away. We talk about how many miles it is from our home, to another home when we might want to visit. Or perhaps how far we travel to church on Sunday. Frequently we talk about distance in terms of time – of how long it will take to reach a location. But what we almost never think about until it’s devastating, is what is the cost of distance?
When we’re kids turning 16, 17, 18, 19, maybe even all the way into our 30s, we can’t wait to move out of home and put some distance between us and our parents. They’ve been running our lives for 18 years – gotta go! Whether college out of state, or a job in another part of the country, we can’t wait to be independent. Maybe it’s just that – a seeking of independence, or perhaps it’s a need or desire to move away from the drama that a family lives in.
We see clearly the benefits of distance: space, freedom, a fresh start, nobody telling us we’re doing it wrong, woot woot! But almost never do we see, or truly understand the cost of distance until something goes wrong. We get busy in life enjoying our freedom, building existences that mean so much to us, making new friends, and doing whatever it is we do because we love it and we fail to realize what distance is doing.
Distance doesn’t only come in the form of miles, or time. We also use distance to measure the status of relationships. How many times have we heard the soon to be ex-spouse say to a friend, “We’ve just grown apart?” Or maybe, “We’re just not as close as we used to be.” This is the real problem with distance. This is the hidden side effect, or consequence of independence. For some it’s a choice. For others it’s not. But either way, as we live lives which are not intentional about maintaining relationships, eventually those relationships dwindle. You may always feel a love for a person like mom, or dad, but a time comes when you reach a spot where distance has been permitted to make you strangers. “We don’t even know each other anymore.”
A point comes when a parent no longer really knows a child, a child doesn’t remember what a father, or grandfather is like, a husband feels nothing toward a wife, or children that he hardly sees. It gets easy to be hard toward them, and gets hard to become close friends again. Can this be avoided? Yes, but only intentionally, and with a crazy amount of work that very few actually commit to doing.
Distance means you miss things. You miss your child’s first steps, your best friend’s birthday, or your parent’s wedding anniversary. It’s okay though, because next year, there will be another first, or another birthday, and even another anniversary! We don’t have time this year, we’re working, or going on a cruise, or celebrating with a new friend that we have met by putting distance between ourselves and what was once very important to us. This new passion has our attention. Work, cars, games…
Today I got hit in the face with distance and I realized, with all my experience with it, I still forget how fast it can do damage. How quickly the side effects of missed moments, and lost opportunities can accumulate. My father is laying in the hospital as I write this. He’s got an infection in his leg that for a week the doctors have not been able to stop. It’s spreading with tremendous speed, and if not slowed down by tomorrow morning he’ll likely find himself in surgery.
My father lives next to me and I have let distance creep in. I’ve been “busy” trying to get a business going, and “busy” taking care of children, and when he calls for help I often either cut him short (when I do help) or let him know that I’m too “busy.” Now living next door, the relationship takes a lot longer to fade. We’ve never been really close, but it hasn’t really gotten worse as a result of my being busy. But that doesn’t mean the distance hasn’t robbed me of opportunities to grow that relationship – to build memories. But it wasn’t until I sent a message to my oldest son, that I have been avoiding sending for at least 24 hours, that it hit me square between the eyes. “You’re grandpa is in the hospital with a crazy infection that isn’t slowing down.”
My son is currently on the other side of the globe. Literally. He moved out at 18 years old, joined the military, and moved 1000 miles away. He came home, married the woman of his dreams, and took her back with him when he left. I’ve seen him maybe five times in the last 5 years. Maybe. He’s currently stationed in South Korea, where he does his job while his wife is back home in Oklahoma and I knew he was virtually alone as I was about to deliver this message.
I remembered the positions my own choices had put me in when bad news came in. Years ago I chose to separate from my family and go drive semi-trucks across the country. A lifestyle I love. I had even convinced myself that it didn’t bother me to be away. While I loved my family, I loved the job, and the money was decent. I’d traded cash, and self-satisfaction for distance, and the consequences that would come with it. My wife and I came to the edge of divorce before realizing how to keep growing through the distance (an act of God helped a lot too). But even despite my marriage growing, my wife and I were more friends, than we were “one.” It would be years after I came off the road before either of us realized what we were missing.
But it wasn’t my relationship with my wife back then that kept me from wanting to tell my son about his grandfather. It was my remembering what it was like to get that news while out, where you couldn’t do anything about it. You have got to know what is going on back home, but finding out, when you’re half way across the world or country, is the most horrifying, lonely, devastating feeling I think I can remember. You can do nothing even if you’re with them, but worse than that is, you simply can’t be with them. I was half way across the country when my Grandma on my Father’s side died. I was in Nebraska when the call came in that my grandma on my Mother’s side passed away, I was in Tennessee when the news that my wife may have cancer came in, and I was just loading in Kansas City, MO when I got the call that the child my wife was carrying was dying inside her.
Every time one of those calls came in, I was faced with what I’d missed because of the choices I’d made. With my grandparents, I’d never see them another time. With my wife I couldn’t hold her. With my child I couldn’t talk to the doctors, couldn’t console the mother, couldn’t sit next to anyone’s side. I had chosen freedom, and a career, and distance over the “problems” that come with being close to people. But when I traded away the problems, I also traded away the experiences that build memories. The kind of memories you want to keep.
As I sent that message today, I felt every bit of his pain as I delivered a message that no doubt made him feel like someone kicked him in the guts. The message that would make him want to curl up and stay in bed for the day, or throw something through the wall. Not because of anger at illness, but at the utter frustration of feeling like a trapped rat with no options. No way to escape the feeling that someone that, at least once in your life was close to you, was back at home without you, and in trouble. And I knew as I delivered the message, that in my son’s case, there was no coming home regardless of what happens. They will bring him in for mother, father, spouse, children, and siblings. Not grandparents. Despite knowing it, I felt the knife twist for him as he told me he could do nothing.
Distance. It comes with undefinable emotional destruction. The type of destruction that the saying, “you don’t know what you had until it’s gone” was really made for. It’s horrifying when those calls come in in the best of circumstances. It’s magnified when you’ve allowed the distance.
Nobody can tell another how to live their life. We each have to do what is right for us, at least within the confines of what God lays out. However, I can’t begin to encourage you enough, don’t let this be you if you can help it. Are you sure your career is worth the distance and the hidden damage it will do? Is there no other way? Are you sure a closer school, or a lower paying job isn’t worth it? Because you just can not put a price tag on this.
You see, everything you do will die with you. No matter how accomplished you are, no matter what you build, no matter what you invent, your legacy will mean nothing to the people closest to you. To the people you leave behind. To the people that will wish they had one more hour of your time. It will mean nothing to your children that you discovered the cure for cancer if you abandon them to do it. It just won’t.
And as for you, the excitement of living your dreams will be utterly destroyed when someone you love dearly dies in your absence, or needs you close but you can’t be there, and you realize what you’ve traded in for your “dreams.” That is unless you’re fortunate enough to have had enough time go by that distance killed that relationship ahead of time.
Is chasing your passions, and dreams at the expense of relationships with those you love, really worth it? Because those relationships may very well be the cost of your freedom. The cost of your dreams. The cost of nicer weather. The cost of making more money. You may very well be trading something you truly love, for something you think you do.
Is what you’re about to chase, or chasing, really worth the distance?