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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Shape of Absence

We have this fixed idea of youthfulness from our teens or our 20s. But, actually, there’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s or your 80s or your 90s. It’s this sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. Fiercer, more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.  ~ David Whyte

The quote above comes from a beautiful and captivating conversation between English/Irish Poet-Philosopher, David Whyte and Krista Tippett on Ms. Tippett's radio/internet show, On Being.  The idea and image that absence has shape never really occurred to me and now captures my imagination.

To me, and I suspect to many others, absence usually means empty, nothing, not here. For someone to be absent means they, you, or I are not present.  However, if as Mr. Whyte suggests, absence has shape we begin to imagine what this shape looks like and what fills it, and as he says "...what you're going to pass on and leave behind you..."  Looking at the big picture, "What is a person's legacy?" 

However, there are smaller shapes of absence.  What about when we simply walk out of a room or leave a building?  What do we leave behind?  How about simply passing someone on a sidewalk or even on a highway at a much faster speed?  What is the impression or shape we leave for those who stay?  Is it pleasant, kind, positive, cheerful, encouraging?  Or, do we leave a trail of fears and tears?

Of course all of the small shapes end up becoming the substance of our larger shape of absence. The truth is, like it or not, we leave a shape of absence.  What that shape looks and feels like is determined by whether or not we are actually engaged and aware while present.  The way in which we are missed and remembered is in many ways equal to the way we participate here and now.  This is also the way we miss and remember those whose absent shapes we experience and eventually inhabit.

As the season of Easter continues, perhaps one way to explore Jesus' resurrection is by embracing the empty tomb as the shape of Jesus' absence.  Jesus leaves a shape of love, compassion, forgiveness, and justice which we are invited to enter, inhabit, and live.  By doing so we then create similar shapes of absence for those whom we encounter along life's way.  Is this perhaps what Jesus means when saying, "Follow me?"  Isn't he inviting us into the shape of his absence?   

1 comment:

  1. In taking on the shape of others' absence, we are choosing to fill a time and space with what matters most to them. By our choice, we declare that it also matters to us.

    St. John of Chrysystom once wrote: "Those whom we've loved and lost are no longer where they once were. They are now wherever we are."
    Maybe he was trying to describe our taking up the mantle of the shape of their absence.

    Thank you for sharing.