The Most Powerful Absence I Know

I wish I were back on the islands.

I wish I were back among the islands.

27 August 2013
11:07 pm

T. —

I don’t know, T. I have such good intentions for each of these days when they start out. I have a list of things to do and time to do them all in, and books to read and letters to write and poetry to engage with. It kind of tends to get lost, doesn’t it? I’m taking a few Coursera courses starting in September. I’m hoping they will help with… I don’t know… the impulse to get things done?

Last week I was unsure if it was a good idea to go to the Isle of Skye. It’s such a sacred place for me. I knew Mom and Andrew would love it. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to share it just yet. Today, I’m wishing we hadn’t gone — not because of the sharing part of it. It was actually really wonderful to share the island with them, and to hear how much it took their breath away, how much it affected their souls as much as it does mine. No, today I wish I hadn’t gone because it’s the hardest kind of absence now: not being there. It sounds ridiculous. I’ve never lived on an island before. Scotland’s winter cripples me even on the mainland. I don’t have a job that supports me. I’m not independently wealthy. I don’t come from a stock of sailors or people of the sea. It’s just…

I started reading a book today about a man who inherited three islands off the west coast of Scotland, and within the very first chapter I heard all of my own thoughts about the islands here.

I have felt at times and perhaps this is a kind of delirium, no gap between me and the place. I have absorbed it and been absorbed by it, as if I have had no existence apart from it. I have been shaped by those island times, and find it difficult now to achieve any kind of distance from them. The place has entered me. It has coloured my life like a stain.

Those were the moments, not in their presence, when I felt most deeply attached to them. The Shiants are the most powerful absence I know. On every flight across the Atlantic, I would peer out for them, looking for an opening in the clouds to see them there, still and map-like below me, with the sea sheened and glittery around them, while the stewardess handed out headsets and warm towels. That too would be a moment of dreaded loss.

– Sea Room by Adam Nicolson

Imagine: inheriting that kind of space. That kind of presence. Living the rest of your life with that gaping absence.

My mother also left today. Is this what my life will be for the foreseeable future: a vast span of distance and goodbyes?

Better tomorrow. Just start again tomorrow.



One thought on “The Most Powerful Absence I Know

  1. It’s almost eight in the morning, and I am off to sleep. Will post my letter in a minute. Just want you to know that I’ve read this, and it has resonated with me. My mind is a bit muddled though and you deserve a more proper reply. So will come back to it later with a clearer mind.


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