Is distance good for us?

“Man, you really like those long-distance relationships, huh?” my friend asked - the latest remark in a series of many I’ve heard over the past 5 years. Though typically a comical topic of discussion, LDRs are actually pretty brutal, especially when I’m away from home missing the comfort of a hug, an embrace, or a simple touch of affirmation that everything will be okay. Believe it or not, I don’t seek this type of relationship so that I can have my space and do my own thing, rather I think God likes to be funny by throwing me some curveballs to keep me on my toes hoping I learn a lesson or two.

Right now, the entire world finds itself in an unprecedented situation where the most routine activities we’ve done our entire lives have been taken away in the blink of an eye. There seems to be a great divide between how people are responding. On one hand, families are coming together, enjoying quality time via neighborhood strolls, Zooming with friends and relatives, preparing home-cooked dinners, and partaking in family bonding activities such as board games or movie night. Unfortunately, as the mandated stay-at-home orders remain and even extend in some states, the other side is becoming more antsy, frustrated, and desperate resulting in large protests and disregard for public health guidelines. I understand both perspectives and sympathize with all those affected physically, emotionally, and mentally from the devastating ramifications of the pandemic. Regardless of which side you find yourself on (maybe you’re teetering back and forth depending on the day of the week), one thing is true for everyone: we’ve all encountered distance from something valuable. For me, it’s not being able to physically interact with my parents or girlfriend because of my high exposure risk working in the hospital. For others, it’s isolation from community or helplessness due to unemployment. Everyone desires a sense of security - job security, financial security, emotional security in a relationship, or literal security to keep you and your family safe. When that security is breached, we feel incredibly uneasy and anxious. What I’ve learned from this whole ordeal is that I shouldn’t place my security in the fleeting things of this world, here today and gone tomorrow. In times like these when everything is stripped away, I'm more aware of what’s everlasting: my family, camaraderie, and a God that is right there with me in the struggle.

Why don’t we appreciate or realize how important something is to us until it’s gone? Before the pandemic, perhaps the daily grind (work, hobbies, social media, etc.) distracted us from the truly important matters. From my LDR experiences and through my struggles during this pandemic, I believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Isn’t it interesting that you always long for the things that you do not yet have? Like a boy chasing the girl of his dreams, the excitement leading up to graduation, counting down the days until your wedding, or saving up for that first house, when we finally obtain those things, it's somewhat anticlimactic. What’s next? There’s got to be more, right? As long as distance remains between you and that thing, there will be an insatiable desire that can only be quelled by obtaining it. I would go as far as claiming that the anticipation is more exciting than the thing itself. It's a puzzling phenomenon that's especially apparent given the current circumstances.

When the dust settles, I hope that we learn a valuable lesson, or it will have all been in vain. As our favorite activities and spots reopen and order is (semi) reestablished, just remember what it felt like to not have those things. For me, I'm looking forward to sharing a meal at the dinner table with my parents, something so mundane I’d done for 20+ years but hadn’t appreciated until I felt this absence. I can't wait to give my girlfriend the biggest hug, embracing the precious opportunity to finally be together. As hard as it is to continue waiting, let’s focus on the things you now have more time for, rather than on what's taken away; I promise you'll feel better. Cultivating deep appreciation for your loved ones and for the little things in life will undoubtedly foster a more positive outlook on life, no matter what’s going on in the world. My favorite fortune cookie quote reads "It's not about the things that happen to you, but it's how you respond to them that matters." So as my friends joke about my knack for long-distance relationships, I’ll have the last laugh because the absence will actually help me go the distance.